Editor's note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Conservation News shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.
Seaweed could help curb methane emissions from livestock.
The story: Recent research found that incorporating seaweed into just 0.2 percent of a cow’s daily feed could decrease the methane it produces by 98 percent, reported Tatiana Schlossberg for The Washington Post. When a cow eats and digests its feed — which is typically made up of grass and other fibrous plants —its stomach produces methane, which is released into the atmosphere through burping. According to a UN report, these burps have added up, with livestock accounting for 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions — roughly 40 percent of which is linked to methane. To reduce the emissions released by livestock, scientists are testing the use of a new type feed made up of grass and two species of crimson seaweed, which prevent methane from forming in a cow’s stomach during the digestive process.
The big picture: Not only could using seaweed in feed help reduce the emissions released by livestock, it could also help cows grow and produce more milk, some studies show. Additionally, a growing body of marine research finds that seaweed farming could help absorb carbon emissions from the atmosphere and slow climate change. According to the research, seaweed acts as an efficient carbon sink — a natural reservoir that absorbs and stores carbon — thereby helping protect the ocean from temperature changes.
Social inequality could exacerbate the impacts of natural disasters, a new index found.
The story: A newly developed index revealed that some inland counties across the U.S. are especially vulnerable to rising sea levels due to their socioeconomic conditions, reported Thomas Frank for Scientific American. Assessing natural disaster risks such as flooding, heat waves and drought, the index was developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) — a branch of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. For the first time ever, the index analyzes not only the likelihood of a disaster and the damage it could cause, but also a community’s ability to recover by taking into consideration socioeconomic factors such as poverty rates, racial composition and housing inequality. According to the index, many inland counties are vulnerable because they do not have the infrastructure or socioeconomic conditions to recover from flooded lakes and rivers, which are associated with sea-level rise.
The big picture: “It’s going to be very useful for the public to begin to understand what the risks are in their state or in their county, and how these risks can be amplified by the level of social vulnerability and attenuated by strong community resilience,” Susan Cutter, who helped develop the index, told Scientific American. Experts agree that this index could help FEMA and other government organizations allocate resources to highly vulnerable counties to prepare for and recover from natural disasters such as flooding, which is projected to become more frequent as climate change accelerates.
Canada’s most endangered mammal is bouncing back from the edge of extinction.
The story: As a result of an intensive captive breeding program, Vancouver Island marmots — members of the squirrel family about the size of a house cat — have bounced back from the brink of extinction in Canada, reported Rochelle Baker for Wired. Decimated by habitat loss and degradation due to human activities, only 30 marmots remained throughout Vancouver Island in 2003. One year later, conservationists and zoos throughout Canada teamed up to develop a captive breeding program to reestablish marmot populations, restore their habitats and gradually reintroduce them back into the wild. Now, there are more than 200 marmot colonies living across Vancouver Island.
The big picture: “We need success stories in the conservation world,” Adam Taylor, the executive director of the Vancouver Island Marmot Recovery Foundation, told Wired. “We need to be able to demonstrate that it's possible to bring these species back, because that's the task we're going to be engaged in more and more often.” A 2019 UN report revealed that nearly 1 million species face extinction due to human activities and climate change. The most endangered mammal in Canada, the Vancouver Island marmot offers proof that intensive conservation efforts can help protect threatened species and prevent widespread extinctions, experts say.