Friday, 17 August 2018

The Summer of Plastic-Straw Bans: How We Got There – via Herp Digest

Once ubiquitous, plastic straws have become utensil non grata, with cities banning them and companies phasing them out

When reality-TV star Kim Kardashian West told her 115 million Instagram followers that her household had stopped using plastic straws, the head of an environmental nonprofit responded in disbelief.

“I thought, ‘Did we culture-hack this?’ ” said Dune Ives, executive director of Lonely Whale, whose #StopSucking social-media campaign advocates banning single-use plastic straws. “Did we change the conversation around straws?”

This is the summer of the plastic-straw ban. Bans on straws have swept through U.S. cities, businesses, restaurants and even sports venues at a surprising speed. In recent months, officials in cities including New York, San Francisco, Miami Beach, Fla., Santa Barbara, Calif., and Portland, Ore., have either proposed or passed bans on single-use plastic straws. Last month, Seattle became the first major U.S. city to put a ban into effect.

Starbucks Corp. , Hyatt Hotels Corp. , Disney Co. and the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, among others, said they would phase out single-use plastic straws last month.

The story of how plastic straws went from ubiquitous to utensil non grata is one of psychology, a well-timed turtle and the power of social media. There has also been minimal industry pushback.
Susan Clayton, a professor of psychology and environmental studies at the College of Wooster in Ohio, compared the movement to the Ice Bucket Challenge, a 2014 social-media sensation in which people posted videos of cold water being dumped on their heads and donated to charity.

Activities like avoiding straws can lead to something psychologists call moral licensing, Dr. Clayton said, in which some people feel good about themselves for changing certain behaviors, so don’t feel the need to take further action.

“Do you do this little thing and say, ‘Now I’ve done my part, so I can drive to Starbucks instead of walking’?” she said. “Or do you think, ‘This saving the environment stuff isn’t so hard after all’?”
While calls for straw bans have accelerated in recent months, advocates consider the movement’s major boosters a social-media campaign and a 2015 YouTube video of a bloodied straw being pulled out of a sea turtle’s nostril. The video has 32.6 million views.
(One of many videos showing a straw being taken out of sea turtles nostril

The video “opened up a broader question: What are we doing with single-use plastics?” said John Calvelli, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Give a Sip campaign, which seeks to educate New Yorkers about the impact of plastic pollution. (HD-Editor-This is the real purpose of such single-use campaigns-as metaphors to educate the general public of larger problems. Which is why their are local beach clean-ups, Or so I believe.)

Some also credit the influence of an oft-cited statistic that Americans use 500 million straws each day. The figure, which has been cited by the National Park Service and others, including The Wall Street Journal, comes from the 2011 research of a then nine-year-old Vermont boy and his mother. ( Editor of HD-Would love if they interviewed  the boy and/or his mother to see how they came up with number.)

Related Articles at Wall Street Journal

            Starbucks to Eliminate Plastic Straws by 2020 (July 9)
            The War on Straws Is Coming to a Bar Near You (March 19)

Straws aren’t the only single-use item to have been the subject of environmentalists’ ire. But campaigns to bring recyclable bags to the grocery store or tote around reusable mugs haven’t caught on with the same verve.

“The kind of sacrifice that someone has to make to not get a plastic bag is a bigger sacrifice than not having a straw,” said Melissa Checker, an environmental-psychology professor at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City.

Adding to the movement’s success is its lack of organized opposition. Some advocates for disabled people who need drinking straws have spoken out against the bans, leading to exceptions to some cities’ proposed rules. Others who have opposed bans include owners of bubble tea shops, who say the drinks’ tapioca balls require wide straws.

Some consumers note the convenience of plastic straws; they allow for slurping an iced coffee while driving or walking, without major spills. But such mundane complaints haven’t coalesced into a coalition.

To the extent that a straw-ban backlash has cropped up, much of it has come from people who oppose the craze that has surrounded the bans. Some oppose government working its way into their soft-drink cups. Others question whether the bans aren’t just a self-congratulatory, ecological fad with little environmental impact.

“It’s so trivial,” said Larry Grossman, 53, from Short Hills, N.J., as he left a Starbucks in Manhattan.

“I’ve got a plastic lid,” he said, pointing to his coffee cup. “If they get rid of the lid next, I’d have to find another way not to spill my coffee.”

            Alaska Airlines: Will use white-birch stir sticks and bamboo citrus picks. Nonplastic straws available upon request.
            American Airlines: Will use stir sticks made of bamboo. Lounges will use “a biodegradable, eco-friendly straw.”
            Barclays Center: Will use strawless lids. Compostable straws available upon request.
            Bon App├ętit Management: Paper straws available “to guests with physical challenges or who strongly feel they need a straw.”
            Hyatt Hotels: Straws and picks available on request. Will use “eco-friendly alternatives…where available.”
            Marriott International: Will offer alternative straws upon request.
            Royal Caribbean Cruises: Will offer paper straws upon request. Will also use wood coffee stirrers and bamboo garnish picks.
            SeaWorld Entertainment: Will use paper or reusable plastic straws.
            Starbucks: Will use strawless lids. Also plans to use paper or compostable straws with some beverages or upon request.
            Walt Disney: Paper and other kinds of straws will be available upon request.

After Last Year's Hurricanes, Caribbean Lizards Are Better at Holding on for Dear Life - via Herp Digest

A stunning case of natural selection in action
Ed Young, 7/25/18

The lizards didn’t see the hurricanes coming. Neither did Colin Donihue.

Last summer, Donihue, a researcher from Harvard University, traveled to the Caribbean islands of Turks and Caicos to study a local species of anole lizard. Conservationists were set to exterminate rats that had been introduced to the two islands to preserve their native wildlife, and Donihue wanted to see how the lizards might evolve once the rodents were gone. He and his colleagues captured dozens, and measured their bodies, legs, and toes. Then, in early September, they packed up and flew home, with a vague plan to return in a few years and measure the lizards again.

Four days later, Hurricane Irma arrived. It battered Turks and Caicos with 165-mph winds that created 20-foot waves, destroyed homes, snapped power lines, and killed at least 14 people. Two weeks later, Hurricane Maria delivered a second blow, only slightly less powerful than Irma’s.

Donihue and his team realized that they had a rare chance to see how natural disasters change the evolutionary fate of a group of animals. After all, they had been the last to observe the anoles before the hurricanes struck. So in October, they flew back to the islands.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect,” Donihue says. 

He found that the islands had clearly taken a severe hit, but were also rebounding quickly. Many trees had been uprooted and stripped bare, but those that had survived were already putting out new leaves. And among the fresh greenery, there were anoles.

The lizards can be found throughout the Caribbean, clinging to twigs and tree trunks with their sticky toes. Whenever Donihue spotted the lizards, he would lasso them with loops of string at the end of modified fishing poles. (“It doesn’t hurt them, because they have very strong neck muscles,” he says. “It’s much easier than running up and grabbing them with your hands.”)

“To be honest, given how catastrophic hurricanes are, I thought it was plausible that survival would be random—that there wouldn’t be an advantage that would help [the lizards] survive,” he says. But when he compared the survivors’ measurements with those of the pre-hurricane population, he realized he was wrong.

He found that, on average, the post-hurricane lizards had toe pads that were 6 to 9 percent bigger than those of pre-hurricane individuals, and front legs that were 2 percent longer. This wasn’t because the bodies of specific lizards had changed; there’s no evidence that the toes of adult anoles can grow by that amount. Instead, the storms had simply wiped out all the lizards with small toe pads. By selecting for individuals that were better at clinging to surfaces—and presumably at withstanding high winds—the storms had changed the average proportions of the population.

These sound like small changes, but natural selection famously works on small physical variations, favoring some over others across many generations. “The changes were subtle, and we couldn’t have noticed them just by holding the lizards in our hands,” Donihue says. “But they were consistent between the two island populations, which makes us feel more confident that this wasn’t a fluke.” The variation in the toe and leg measurements narrowed after the storms, too, adding further evidence that the hurricanes had selected for lizards with particular kinds of bodies.

But one trend didn’t make sense: After the hurricanes, the average length of the lizards’ hind legs was 6 percent shorter than before—the opposite pattern from their front legs. “This was a real head-scratcher,” Donihue says.

He and his colleagues worked out what had happened by placing the lizards on small wooden posts and subjecting them to gusts from “the largest leaf blower we could find,” he says. The lizards would shimmy to the sheltered side of the posts, tuck their front legs close to their bodies, and cling for dear life. But because of the way their legs are structured, their hind thighs would always jut out. These exposed thighs caught the wind like sails, and would eventually rip the lizards from their secure footing (and into the safety nets the team had set up).

Once the team realized this, everything clicked into place. “With shorter thighs, you’re catching less wind,” Donihue says.

“This is a striking case of rapid evolution, which, as we can see here, can proceed exceedingly fast, even within a generation,” says Carol Lee, who works at the Center for Rapid Evolution at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. “I expect there will be many more cases like this in the future, where catastrophic events impose strong selection on populations, and where populations will need to evolve or go extinct.”

For decades, Donihue’s colleagues, led by Jonathan Losos, have been documenting many examples of external threats quickly shaping the evolution of anoles. They’ve shown that some species evolved longer legs to better flee from invasive predators that were introduced to their islands. They’ve found that other anoles evolved larger toe pads to more effectively climb onto higher branches when new competitors drove them out of their usual low-lying habitats.

The team has also found examples of natural selection imposed by natural disasters. In 1998, they showed that over a 20-year period, anoles in the Bahamas tended to have longer legs in the months or years after hurricanes had hit. And just last year, they found that the extreme winter that hit the southern United States in late 2013 selected for Texan anoles that were more tolerant of the cold.

No one knows what will happen to the Texan anoles, or those in Turks and Caicos, in the long run. Now that the hurricanes have passed, the lizards are probably facing the same evolutionary pressures that they faced before, which might push their proportions back to baseline levels. Then again, another hurricane season looms. If these storms  mirror the severity of those in 2017, they might continue to direct the evolutionary fates of the anoles—and other Caribbean animals.

“I think we’ll find more and more of these studies coming out, since extreme climate events are becoming more frequent and more severe,” Donihue says. “Again and again, we’re seeing that these extreme events can have an evolutionary impact.”

Orca mother finally abandons dead calf she carried for more than two weeks

Researchers say endangered killer whale who lives off the coast of Seattle is back to feeding and frolicking with her pod

Guardian staff and agencies
Mon 13 Aug 2018 01.32 BSTLast modified on Mon 13 Aug 2018 10.02 BST

Researchers say an endangered killer whale that carried her dead calf on her head for more than two weeks has finally abandoned the calf’s body and is back to feeding and frolicking with her pod.

The Center for Whale Research in Washington state says it watched the orca, known as J35, chase a school of salmon in Haro Strait west of San Juan Island, between the US mainland and Vancouver Island, on Saturday afternoon.

J35’s calf died soon after birth on 24 July. The mother carried the baby on her head for at least 17 days, in an image of grief that struck an emotional chord worldwide.

She finally abandoned the carcass as it decomposed.

Center for Whale Research founder Ken Balcomb said he was immensely relieved to see J35 returning to typical behavior.

Three years have passed since an orca residing in the area has birthed a surviving calf. In the past 20 years, 40 orcas have been born into the group while 72 have died. Only 75 killer whales in the endangered group, known as southern resident orcas, remain.

Social isolation: Animals that break away from the pack can influence evolution

Date:  July 17, 2018
Source:  Cell Press

For some animals -- such as beetles, ants, toads, and primates -- short-term social isolation can be just as vital as social interaction to development and long-term evolution. In a review published July 17 in the journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution, two evolutionary biologists describe approaches for testing how an animal's isolation might impact natural selection and evolution. This framework can help design more effective breeding, reintroduction, and conservation strategies.

Research on evolution typically focuses on the importance of social interactions, including parent-offspring bonding, competition for resources, and courtship and mating rituals. But Nathan Bailey at the University of St Andrews in Scotland and his colleague Allen Moore at the University of Georgia realized that isolation must then be an extreme condition worthy of equal attention.

Acidic oceans cause fish to lose their sense of smell

July 23, 2018, University of Exeter

When carbon dioxide is absorbed by seawater carbonic acid is formed, making the water more acidic. Since the Industrial Revolution, oceanic CO2 has risen by 43% and is predicted to be two and a half times current levels by the end of this century.

Fish use their sense of smell (olfaction) to find food, safe habitats, avoid predators, recognize each other and find suitable spawning grounds. A reduction in their ability to smell therefore can compromise these essential functions for their survival.

The new study provides evidence that economically important species will be affected by elevated CO2, leaving fish vulnerable because it affects their ability to detect odours.

University of Exeter researcher Dr. Cosima Porteus, who led the study, said: "Our study is the first to examine the impact of rising carbon dioxidein the ocean on the olfactory system of fish. First we compared the behaviour of juvenile sea bass at CO2 levels typical of today's ocean conditions, and those predicted for the end of the century. Sea bass in acidic waters swam less and were less likely to respond when they encountered the smell of a predator. These fish were also more likely to "freeze" indicating anxiety."

Experts at the University of Exeter, in collaboration with scientists from the Centre of Marine Sciences (CCMar, Faro, Portugal) and the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), also tested the ability of the sea bass' nose to detect different smells. They did this by recording the activity in the nervous system while their nose was exposed to water with different levels of CO2 and acidity.

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