Earth Month, Day 4: Birds, Wolverines, and Genetic Mutation

The Earth Month Bonanza continues! For your Friday reading pleasure, we have avian gourmands, mutating critters, and wolverines in limbo. lauren sommerFrom Lauren Sommer, at KQED Radio:

Amid California Drought, Migrating Birds Enjoy Pop-Up Cuisine

Millions of birds migrate through California this time of year, but the waterways and wetlands they rely on for food and rest are largely dry due to the ongoing drought. So farmers are keeping their fields flooded to make temporary wetlands, providing a place for migrating birds to rest and eat.

Rice farmer Douglas Thomas is one of these farmers. On a recent morning some 3,000 snow geese float in his rice fields in California's Central Valley. He's watching a young bald eagle awkwardly dive at the flock.

"As soon as they start getting here, this is what I sit and do," he says. "I keep my binoculars in my truck."... Read more.

Rice farmer Douglas Thomas watches snow geese take flight over his rice fields in California's Central Valley. (Photo by Lauren Sommer/KQED)

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sharon oosthoekFrom Sharon Oosthoek, writing for CBC News:

Cities Causing Genetic Changes in Plants, Animals

A researcher holds an adult female tomcod taken from New York's Hudson River. Most of the river's tomcod now carry a genetic variant that makes them resistant to the ill effects of PCBs humans have dumped into the river. (Photo by Christopher Chambers, Northeast Fisheries Science Center, NOAA)

Plants and animals have a long history of acclimatizing to city living - think of raccoons and their expert pillaging of compost bins. But now biologists are beginning to see signs that something more fundamental is happening. They say wild things may be changing at a genetic level to survive cities and their polluting, habitat-fragmenting ways.

 Fish in New York's chemically-laden Hudson River have evolved a genetic variation that gives them resistance to PCBs, for example. Birds nesting under highway overpasses in Nebraska have developed shorter, more agile wings, allowing them to quickly swerve from oncoming traffic... Read more.

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Sarah KellerAnd, from Sarah Keller with High Country News:

Climate-Based Wolverine Listing Delayed by Scientific Disputes

With thick fur and snowshoe-like feet, wolverines are well-adapted to live in snow caves and run straight up mountains. Their high elevation lifestyles have helped them stay out of harm’s way in recent decades, and stage a slow comeback from the rampant carnivore persecution of the early 1900s. Though elusive and tenacious, they won’t be insulated from human impacts forever. They face a precarious future as climate change eats away at the snowpack they need.

 

Wolverines are already one of the rarest carnivores in North America. With their fates tied to snow they may become rarer still. Photo by Steve Kroschel. Courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

That’s why the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to add them to the endangered species list, even as a handful of wide-ranging wolverines are venturing into states where they haven’t been seen for generations. The agency was slated to make a listing decision earlier this month as part of a legal settlement with environmental groups. But reputable wolverine biologists have criticized the scientific underpinnings of the agency’s proposed listing decision, especially the parts related to snowpack. Now, the FWS is delaying the decision for another six months so they can reconvene with scientists about wolverine habitat and climate impacts to it... Read more