U.S. rabbit populations contend with lethal virus, RHDV2

May 22, 2020 by  
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Wildlife  officials recently announced outbreaks of Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus Type 2 (RHDV2) ravaging Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and California. The  U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)  deems RHDV2 as seriously contagious and nearly always fatal amongst domestic and wild rabbit species and their close relatives, hares and pikas. RHDV2 is not zoonotic, so it won’t infect livestock, pets or humans, asserts the  California Department of Fish & Wildlife (CDFW) . Still,  Texas Parks & Wildlife (TPW)  advise against pets consuming rabbit carcasses. Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV) is the viral agent causing rabbit hemorrhagic disease (RHD).  Science Direct  says RHDV belongs in the calicivirus family, which infects many  animals  including pigs, cattle, cats and even humans. Norovirus, for example, is a human calicivirus. But humans seem unaffected by RHDV.  Related:  What’s causing the decline in monarch butterfly populations? There are two worrisome strains of RHDV — RHDV1 and RHDV2.  House Rabbit Society ,  Veterinary Practice , as well as both the Vaccine and Veterinary Research  journals document RHDV1 as first emerging in China back in 1984, when, in just one year, 140 million rabbits were decimated. China claims that the outbreak started in Angora rabbits imported from Europe. Eventually, RHDV1 spread to over 40 countries and hit the U.S. in 2000. Given its estimated 95% mortality rate, Australia and New Zealand notoriously introduced RHDV1 into their wild rabbit populations as pest biocontrol. RHDV1 mutated, begetting RHDV2, which was first identified in 2010 when domesticated rabbits in France showed clinical signs of RHD despite being already vaccinated against RHDV1. By September 2018, RHDV2 reached the U.S., manifesting among domestic rabbits in a rural Ohio farm, documents the  Veterinary Information Network (VIN) News Service . The USDA considers both RHDV1 and RHDV2 invasive pathogens, as they are not native to North America. A  joint paper  put forth by the Center for Food Security & Public Health , Institute for International Cooperation in Animal Biologics, Iowa State University, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and the USDA revealed RHD can be difficult to eradicate. Not only can the virus strains survive over seven months on rabbit carcasses, but they also withstand temperatures below freezing and above 120 degrees Fahrenheit.  House Rabbit Society  cites several differences between RHDV1 and RHDV2. Incubation is two to 10 days for RHDV1, but three to nine days for RHDV2. Rabbits with RHDV2 can be asymptomatic yet spread the virus for up to two months. There is no known cure for either strain. While a vaccine exists for RHDV1, there are currently no USDA -licensed vaccines for RHDV2. That RHDV2 can “potentially surviv[e] more than 3 months without a host” has prompted some U.S. veterinarians to import RHDV2 vaccines despite a convoluted process. The  USDA  and  VIN News Service  warn RHD is highly contagious, spreading easily by direct contact with rabbit excretions and secretions — saliva, sweat and biowaste. Sharing food, water, bedding, fomites and vehicles spreads RHD. Other vectors are infected rabbit meat, pelts, even insects. Besides farmers and pet owners, biologists and  conservationists  are worried about this virus. As declining rabbit populations have repercussions in  habitat  food chains, RHDV2 could cause severe consequences down the line. + Veterinary Information Network (VIN) News Service Via USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and House Rabbit Society Images via Pexels

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U.S. rabbit populations contend with lethal virus, RHDV2

Ancient Mayan-inspired Casa Merida operates off the grid in Mexico

May 22, 2020 by  
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In the hot and humid Yucatán capital of Mérida, blasting air conditioning all day is commonly regarded as a necessity of life. But Mexico City-based Ludwig Godefroy Architecture has rebelled against this belief with its design of Casa Merida, a self-sufficient dwelling that uses passive solar principles to stay naturally cool. Sustainable in both energy use and design, the contemporary, solar-powered home draws references from traditional Mayan architecture and uses locally produced materials wherever possible. Built primarily of board-formed concrete, Casa Merida is organized as a series of “broken” volumes that reads as an 80-meter-long rectangle with 8-meter-wide sections. This lane-like form was created to follow traditional airflow cooling concepts and to evoke the ancient Mayan sacbé , a term that translates to “white path” and describes stone walkways covered in white limestone. All parts of the home open up to the outdoors via large wooden louver doors that let in cooling breezes, natural light and views of green courtyards interspersed throughout the property. Related: This modular, off-grid design can adapt to any landscape The indoor-outdoor connection is key in the design of the home, which was crafted to feel completely disconnected from the city. This is achieved by placing the communal areas — including the living room, kitchen and swimming pool — at the far end and quietest part of the property instead of placing them near the backyard. The backyard is used as a buffer zone from the urban environment. To help the home meet goals of self sufficiency, the architects installed rainwater collection systems with sculptural water collectors that add to the beauty of the residence. A biodigester is used to treat blackwater, which is then used to irrigate the garden. Heating and all of the home’s electricity needs are provided for via solar hot water heaters and solar panels. “The construction is reaching a 90% made on-site, with local materials and built exclusively by Yucatec masons and carpenters, a sort of modern reinterpretation of what could mean vernacular architecture,” the architects said. “Made of massive materials that do not require special treatments or maintenance, accepting aging and time as part of the architecture process, the house has been conceptualized to end up one day covered by a new coat of materiality: a layer of patina.” + Ludwig Godefroy Architecture Photography by Rory Gardiner via Ludwig Godefroy Architecture

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Take a virtual dive with NOAA

April 22, 2020 by  
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NOAA has released a series of virtual dives to keep stay-at-homers entertained,  educated  and interested in the undersea world even when everybody’s stuck on the couch. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration takes viewers deep into national marine sanctuaries, revealing sights non- divers have likely never seen. The creators used 360-degree images to show off  corals , sea creatures and the undersea habitat. You can virtually visit these sanctuaries on your personal computer or smartphone. For more fun, pair your device with virtual reality goggles or a headset. Sanctuaries available for VR visits include American Samoa, the Florida Keys, Flower Garden Banks off Galveston, Texas, Gray’s Reef in Georgia, Monterey Bay, the Olympic Coast in Washington state, Stellwagen Bank in  Maine and Thunder Bay in Michigan. Each sanctuary offers a handful of dives to choose from featuring different types of sea life. A sea lion-focused dive was filmed in California’s Channel Islands. The virtual dives feature something for a wide variety of interests. You can get up close to a huge barrel sponge at Flower Gardens, or watch marine invertebrates called tunicates duke it out with orange cup corals in a turf war for the rocky substrate of  Washington’s Tatoosh Island. Those more intrigued by human drama can check out the remains of the  Paul Palmer,  a coal schooner built in 1902 that now lies atop Stellwagen Bank. Maybe it shouldn’t have started that final voyage on Friday the 13th, 1913. These 360-degree photos allow visitors to view spots within sanctuaries from every angle, almost as if you were turning your head to see what’s over yonder. Divers with special cameras take the underwater photos, which are then edited together.  NOAA plans to add to the gallery as divers take more shots. This collaboration between NOAA and the  Ocean Agency , a nonprofit ad agency that focuses on the sea, will open underwater doors for parents suddenly thrust into the role of home school teachers. + NOAA Images via Pexels

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UK bees and wildflowers thrive during lockdown

April 13, 2020 by  
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While humans stay at home and the workforce cuts back to only those who provide essential services, mowing the verges along roadsides in the U.K. is not a top priority. This coronavirus -induced oversight may prove to be beneficial for the U.K.’s bees, butterflies, bats and wildflowers. Much of the U.K.’s natural meadows have long been converted to housing estates and farmland, so the country’s 700 wildflower species find few places to grow freely. Roadside verges — narrow grassy strips along the highways — are a last haven and home to about 45% of U.K. flora. Related: Planting wildflower strips across crop fields could slash pesticide use The lockdown coincidentally benefits a campaign by Plantlife , a wild plant conservation charity. Its road verge campaign calls on officials to reduce the cutting schedule from four cuts per year to only two. As Plantlife’s website points out, the U.K. has 238,000 hectares of road verges but only 85,000 hectares of wild grassland. “It’s a real opportunity for verges to flower again, some for the first time,” Trevor Dines, Plantlife’s botanical specialist, told The Guardian. “If the lockdown ends in late May, drivers will see great swaths of oxeye daisies and ladies bedstraw.” Various councils around the U.K. have already delayed or scaled back mowing, including Flintshire in Wales, Somerset in southwest England, Newcastle in the northeast and Lincolnshire in eastern England. These areas can expect explosive wildflower displays this spring, featuring oxeye daisy, wild carrot, yellow rattle, betony, meadow crane’s-bill, greater knapweed, harebell and other varieties that will thrill pollinators like butterflies, bees and bats. “This will certainly be good for pollinators,” said Dines, who is also a beekeeper. “Last year, we already saw improvement in the areas where councils were cutting less. I had my best ever year for honey.” Colorful flowers will also boost mental health . “People are desperate for wildlife and colour right now. Let’s see what the public response is. For lots of commuters, myself included, verges are the only chance to see wild plants.” Via The Guardian Image via Phil Gayton

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Los Angeles air quality improves amid pandemic

April 10, 2020 by  
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There is one positive impact of the tragic coronavirus pandemic — Los Angeles is experiencing its longest stretch of good air quality since 1995. On April 7, Swiss air quality technology company IQAir cited LA as one of the cities with the cleanest air in the world. While the notoriously smoggy city is on lockdown, highway traffic has dropped 80% throughout the entire state of California, which probably accounts for much of the improvement. “With less cars on the road and less emissions coming from those tailpipes, it’s not surprising to see improvements in the air quality overall,” Yifang Zhu, professor of environmental health science at UCLA, told CNN. Zhu and her team of scientists measured a 20% overall improvement in southern California’s air quality between March 16 and April 6. They also recorded a 40% drop in PM 2.5 levels. This microscopic air pollutant is linked to both respiratory and cardiovascular problems, especially in the very young and very old. A recently released Harvard study linked PM 2.5 exposure to an increased likelihood of dying from COVID-19 . Related: Coronavirus and its impact on carbon emissions All over the world, scientists are noting that cleaner air is a side effect of the pandemic . Satellite images have revealed much lower concentrations of nitrogen dioxide over industrial areas of Europe and Asia in the past six weeks. The drops in nitrogen dioxide levels over Wuhan — a city of 11 million — and the factory-filled Po Valley of northern Italy are especially striking. “It’s quite unprecedented,” Vincent-Henri Peuch, director of the Copernicus Atmosphere Service, told the Guardian. “In the past, we have seen big variations for a day or so because of weather. But no signal on emissions that has lasted so long.” Alas, when lockdowns lift and Angelenos return to the highways, the pollution will likely return. Zhu hopes that this glimpse of clear, blue skies will inspire people to work for better air quality post-pandemic. “From the society level, I think we need to think really hard about how to bring about a more sustainable world, where technologies and policies come together to bring us cleaner energy ,” she said. “So that the air that we’re breathing will stay as clean as what we’re breathing today.” Via CNN and The Guardian Image by Joseph Ngabo

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Dairy farmers forced to dump milk

April 9, 2020 by  
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Dairy farmers are suffering from pandemic-related kinks in the supply chain. Even as consumers face limits on how many dairy products they can buy at their local stores, farmers are dumping thousands of gallons of milk, which can also contaminate groundwater. Dairy cooperatives have asked members to start dumping milk , and Wisconsin-based Foremost Farms USA even suggested that members cull their herds. The cooperatives will reimburse members for at least part of the cost of the milk. But that barely soothes farmers’ feelings as they watch hard work go down the drain. Related: How to choose the healthiest, most sustainable milk alternative Since restaurants, schools and other wholesale food buyers have temporarily closed, processing plants have lost customers for their milk, cheese and butter. The dairy export market has tanked, and trucking companies have trouble finding enough drivers to get fresh milk to stores. Texas-based dairy food manufacturer Dean Foods Co. is offering new drivers $1,000 sign-on bonuses if they have experience hauling dairy, according to Reuters. As restaurant sales plummet, home cooking has soared. “About half of U.S. consumers’ food budget was spent on restaurants, and we’ve shut that spigot off,” said Matt Gould, editor at trade publication Dairy & Food Market Analyst. But dairy processing factories lack agility. Switching from manufacturing quantities of fast-food slices or bulk bags of shredded cheddar for commercial use to small bags for home use is too costly. Dairy isn’t the only industry to face supply chain problems. But because milk is highly perishable and raw milk needs to be processed before drinking, farmers can’t just donate it to food banks for later use. States expect farmers to follow certain guidelines to properly dispose of milk. In Ohio, “direct land application or transfer to on-site liquid manure storage structures” is allowed. Improper disposal of milk can contaminate groundwater. Milk has an even higher content of nutrients than manure, so dumping milk into bodies of water is even worse than discharging manure into it. Fish could be in danger if farmers fail to follow the proper protocols, and the smell of rotting milk won’t help lake recreation and tourism rebound when the coronavirus pandemic is finally over. Via ABC WISN 12 and Reuters Image via Pixabay

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Dairy farmers forced to dump milk

Climate Change, COVID-19: How To React to Sensational News

April 6, 2020 by  
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With the outbreak of the new coronavirus, we’ve seen a … The post Climate Change, COVID-19: How To React to Sensational News appeared first on Earth911.com.

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Meghan Markle narrates new Disney elephant documentary

March 27, 2020 by  
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Meghan Markle is returning to show biz to narrate a new Disney documentary about African elephants . This will be her first film since the former Suits star gave up her career to marry Prince Harry. The film Elephant will start streaming on April 3 on Disney+. Elephant focuses on Shani, an African elephant, and her son, Jomo, as they migrate across the Kalahari Desert in Botswana. Led by matriarch Gaia and accompanied by the rest of their herd, they face common problems of the modern elephant: predators, diminished resources and brutal heat. Related: Villagers in India knit sweaters to protect rescued elephants from the cold Disneynature and the Disney Conservation Fund will donate some of the film’s proceeds to Elephants Without Borders . This charitable organization focuses on elephant research, education and outreach and works with the government of Botswana and Botswana’s Department of Wildlife & National Parks to run an elephant orphanage . This latest documentary is one of a series of Disneynature films narrated by celebrities. Meryl Streep, Jane Goodall and Morgan Freeman have also done voiceovers on Disneynature productions. Natalie Portman narrated Dolphin Reef, which will also premiere on April 3. You can see a joint trailer for Elephants and Dolphin Reef here . Botswana featured prominently in the royal love story between Markle and Harry. Harry has long been active in conservation work in Africa, having visited since his teens. He became president of African Parks in late 2017 and is a patron Rhino Conservation Botswana. Soon after Markle met him in 2016, Harry invited her to camp in the Botswana wilderness . “She came and joined me for five days out there, which was absolutely fantastic,” he said, according to People. “So then we were really by ourselves, which was crucial to me to make sure that we had a chance to know each other.” The following year, they again visited Botswana, this time to aid Dr. Mike Chase of Elephants Without Borders. + People Image via Wikimedia Commons

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Scientists get closer to artificial photosynthesis for renewable energy

March 26, 2020 by  
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Scientists at Berkeley Lab are getting close to a long-held goal of using artificial photosynthesis to generate renewable energy from the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. If produced in large enough quantities, the energy created from artificial photosynthesis could be a huge step to slowing climate change. Photosynthesis is the chemical reaction by which algae and green plants turn carbon dioxide into cellular fuel. Scientists at Berkeley have designed square solar fuel tiles containing billions of nanoscale tubes between two pieces of thin, flexible silicate. These squares will comprise the new artificial photosynthesis system. Related: New photosynthesis machine is twice as efficient at creating hydrogen fuel The Berkeley scientists recently published a paper in Advanced Functional Materials explaining how their design “allows for the rapid flow of protons from the interior space of the tube, where they are generated from splitting water molecules, to the outside, where they combine with CO2 and electrons to form the fuel.” So far, the scientists have managed to produce carbon monoxide as the fuel but are trying for methanol. “There are two challenges that have not yet been met,” said senior scientist Heinz Frei in a press release from Berkeley Lab . “One of them is scalability. If we want to keep fossil fuels in the ground, we need to be able to make energy in terawatts — an enormous amount of fuel. And, you need to make a liquid hydrocarbon fuel so that we can actually use it with the trillions of dollars’ worth of existing infrastructure and technology.” Once the scientists are satisfied with their model, they should be able to quickly build a solar fuel farm out of the tiles, which measure a few inches across. “We, as basic scientists, need to deliver a tile that works, with all questions about its performance settled,” Frei said. “And engineers in industry know how to connect these tiles. When we’ve figured out square inches, they’ll be able to make square miles.” + Berkeley Lab Images via Andreas Senftleben

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Scientists get closer to artificial photosynthesis for renewable energy

Border wall could end jaguar recovery

March 25, 2020 by  
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The Department of Homeland Security announced last week that it will waive many public health and environmental laws to fast-track border wall construction in remote, mountainous areas of California, Texas and Arizona. The new sections of the border wall will block the remaining corridors that connect jaguars from the U.S. to Sonora, Mexico. The wall will also harm more than 90 other threatened and endangered species . “The new border walls will mean the end of jaguar recovery in the United States,” Randy Serraglio, a conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, said . “This tragedy’s all the more heartbreaking because walling off these beautiful wildlands is completely unnecessary and futile. It has nothing to do with border security and everything to do to with Trump’s racist campaign promise.” Related: $87M wildlife bridge in California will be a haven for mountain lions Jaguars are shy animals that mostly move around at night over highland trails. Conservationists worry that blocking border access will halt the jaguars’ ability to repopulate the Peloncillo Mountains east of Douglas, Arizona and that jaguars fleeing human encroachment in northern Mexico will have nowhere to go. Other threatened, endangered and rare species that call the border region home include the lesser long-nosed bat, Sonoran pronghorn, Mexican gray wolf, ocelot and the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl. The more than 650 miles of barriers currently blocking the border disrupt animal migration, cause flooding and decimate these animals’ fragile ecosystems . Jaguars are found from the southwestern U.S. down to south-central Argentina. This mammal is the most powerful and largest cat in the western hemisphere and one of four big cats of the Panthera genus. The other three are lions, leopards and tigers . “Jaguars are a key part of the stunningly diverse web of life in the borderlands that will fall apart if these walls are built,” Serraglio said. “The crisis of runaway extinction is devastating wildlife and wild places all over our planet. Trump’s border wall is pouring gas on that fire, and we’ll continue to fight it every step of the way.” The Center for Biological Diversity has helped launch a campaign to oppose the border wall. Individuals can sign the nonprofit conservation organization’s pledge to oppose the wall here . + Center for Biological Diversity Images via Center for Biological Diversity and Pixabay

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