Flinders Ranges, Australia; Photo by European Space Agency

SCIENCE NEWS: Human effects on historic drought cycles, Invasive or not?, The silent extinction of freshwater mussels, What happens to bees after a fire?, and more …

Tales of dry times: human effects on historic drought cycles

After an exceptionally dry spring,  drought casts its ominous shadow over the western United States. Dry times are not uncommon in this arid region, but a pattern emerging over the past several decades forebodes something more sinister: megadrought. These are severe, multi-decade events, and although the past few years have seen high levels of rain and snow, the dry start to 2020 has led to concerns that a megadrought is ongoing. Fully understanding the severity of this exceptional dry spell – and deducing its causes – requires historical perspective. Using climate data alongside sophisticated modern models, scientists recently conducted an analysis to compare the ongoing megadrought to climate patterns dating all the way back to 800 CE (Williams et al. 2020). Their findings published in the journal Science reveal the current drought to be among the most severe to occur in the past 1,200 years, as well as troubling indications that human-driven climate change made it far worse. … ”  Read more from FishBio here:  Tales of dry times: human effects on historic drought cycles

Invasive or not?

Many invasive species look similar to the local plants and animals that belong in our backyards, deserts, forests and streams. Despite their ability to blend in, invasive species can be destructive to both native plants and animals, and humans.  They are often great adapters, and can outcompete important native species, disrupting ecosystems or causing native or rare species to decline. Conversely, native species help keep our ecosystems healthy and in balance.  Let’s compare a few invasive (and non-native) species that look highly similar to some of their local, native counterparts … ”  Read more from the US Fish & Wildlife Service here:  Invasive or not?

Losing mussel mass – the silent extinction of freshwater mussels

Throughout my career I’ve spent some time studying the fascinating ecology and conservation issues of freshwater mussels (Fig. 1). For me, learning about mussels has fortified a recurring theme of the natural world – that everything is connected and that small changes in one part of a system can yield unexpected changes elsewhere, often many years later. More importantly, freshwater mussels are essentially threatened everywhere. And because we don’t often hear about them, it is hard to save them, because public will is so critical to generating change. … ”  Read more from the California Water Blog here:  Losing mussel mass – the silent extinction of freshwater mussels

What happens to bees after a fire? It depends on the fire.

Over the last decade, scientists have shown widespread insect declines driven by human encroachment, changes in land management, and climate change, leading to headlines of an “insect apocalypse.” But two recent studies on bumblebee populations after fires in Northern California show how hard it is to measure change, and even more, to make sense of it.  Bumblebees live in wildly different types of habitats, have unique tastes, and aren’t necessarily the easiest things to track, making it hard to understand how their populations are faring. … ”  Read more from Bay Nature here:  What happens to bees after a fire? It depends on the fire.

Western wildfires will be a boon for these native species

Earlier this month a series of lightning strikes touched off dozens of fires across California, burning 1.5 million acres, choking cities with smoke and claiming at least six lives. Outside California, large wildfires are burning in Colorado and Oregon, too.  For people who live near the path of flames or the drifting smoke, wildfire season can be dangerous. And this year’s sudden eruption of multiple blazes is stretching resources thin, as firefighters — already facing restrictions due to the pandemic — work hard to protect lives and property. … ”  Read more from The Revelator here: Western wildfires will be a boon for these native species

Help needed for Scotts Creek coho in wake of fire

On California’s Central Coast, the CZU Lightning Complex fire has transformed the normally foggy forests of the region into a smoldering landscape of ash and debris. Ignited by multiple lightning strikes on August 16, the blaze is still burning as firefighting crews battle to get it under control. The wildfire has significantly impacted humans and wildlife alike, and there will be a long road to recovery of the hundreds of buildings and over 85,000 acres of habitat that have burned. Fire has been a natural part of California ecosystems for many thousands of years, but climate change and decades of fire suppression have acted as a catalyst for increasingly destructive burns. For species that are already imperiled due to other human-driven changes, these fires pose a risk of being the final nail in the coffin of extinction. … ”  Read more from FishBio here: Help needed for Scotts Creek coho in wake of fire

Mapping wildlife habitat with VegCAMP

California is home to more than 6,500 plant species, which offer sustenance and shelter to more than 1,000 animal species (this figure doesn’t include invertebrates).  In fact, part of the mission of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is to manage the habitats upon which our fish and wildlife species depend. The cornerstone of those management efforts is knowledge of the plant assemblages that are unique to each habitat – where these natural communities are located, how prevalent (or rare) they are, and monitoring how their distribution may shrink or grow over time. … ”  Read more from CDFW here: Mapping Wildlife Habitat with VegCAMP

Featured scientist: Jennifer Garrison

“Jennifer Garrison is a senior environmental scientist (specialist) based in Fort Bragg, Mendocino County. She joined CDFW’s Habitat Conservation Planning Branch in Sacramento in 2013 after working more than a decade as a project manager and environmental consultant in the private sector. Jenn moved to Fort Bragg in 2017 to bring her expertise and experience in conservation planning, habitat connectivity, mitigation and regional planning to Mendocino County. … ”  Read more from CDFW here: Featured scientist: Jennifer Garrison

New tool quantifies and predicts snow droughts

Although snowfall is often seen as a nuisance—a chore to be shoveled, a danger to drive on, a reason for flight delays—snow is also a vital component of the hydrological cycle on Earth. Snowpacks store water and release it over time. This release can be gradual, sustaining agriculture and ecosystems long into summer months, or dangerously rapid when rainfall melts huge swaths of snow all at once, creating flash floods and other water management challenges. Snow’s socioeconomic impact extends to tourism and the multibillion-dollar skiing industry. … ”  Read more from EOS here: New tool quantifies and predicts snow droughts 

Common sunscreen ingredients prove dangerous for freshwater ecosystems

The active ingredients found in sunscreen have detrimental effects on freshwater ecosystems, according to new research by University of Alberta biologists.  The results show that long-term exposure to ultraviolet (UV) filters — including avobenzone, oxybenzone, and octocrylene — is lethal for some organisms living in freshwater environments. One of the largest sources of UV-filter contamination in both marine and freshwater environments is from sunscreen leaching off of the skin while swimming. ... ”  Read more from Science Daily here:  Common sunscreen ingredients prove dangerous for freshwater ecosystems

Maven’s XKCD Comic Pick of the Week …

Photo credit:  Flinders Ranges, Australia; photo by the European Space Agency


About Science News and Reports: This weekly feature, posted every Thursday, is a collection of the latest scientific research and reports with a focus on relevant issues to the Delta and to California water, although other issues such as climate change are sometimes included. Do you have an item to be included here? Submissions of relevant research and other materials is welcome. Email Maven

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