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.
A high-altitude tree species is being wiped out by a deadly fungus — but conservationists might have a solution.
The story: As the number of whitebark pine trees dwindles in the northwest United States, conservationists are combining traditional seed collection techniques with genetic technology to regrow populations of disease-resistant trees, reported Jim Morrison for Wired. Ranging from Nevada to Wyoming, whitebark pine trees provide critical nutrients for more than 100 species, including grizzly bears, birds and squirrels. However, long lasting droughts and a fungus known as blister rust have decimated whitebark pine populations in recent decades, and research shows that there are now more dead whitebark pines in the U.S. than live ones. To restore this species, scientists and conservationists are using gene sequencing techniques to identify and repopulate whitebark pine trees with a natural resistance to blister rust.
The big picture: Whitebark pine trees are “a keystone species so important to high-elevation ecosystems,” Melissa Jenkins, a forest expert, told Wired. “Man introduced the blister rust that has decimated this species, and I feel like it’s our responsibility to try and help restore the species.” According to Jenkins, the key to regrowing whitebark pine trees fast enough to keep pace with climate change is to increase investments in forest restoration.
A new marine protected area will provide a safe haven for sea turtles and sharks in West Africa.
The story: The government of the Ivory Coast in West Africa recently created the country’s first marine protected area, encompassing 2,590 square kilometers (1,000 square miles) of the Atlantic Ocean, reported Tope Alake for Bloomberg Green. Located off the town of Grand-Béréby, this protected area hosts more than 20 species of sharks and rays, including hammerhead sharks, mako sharks and manta rays. Additionally, the area will protect a critical nesting ground for species of leatherback and olive ridley sea turtles.
The big picture: “Levels of marine protection in West Africa are generally low, so the Ivorian government’s creation of a marine protected area is a big statement that will hopefully act as a regional exemplar,” Kristian Metcalfe, a marine biologist, said in a statement. Not only will this marine protected area conserve fish and other marine species, it will also protect the region’s mangroves and coral reefs, which are often converted into oil palm plantations or face overfishing by trawlers, experts say.
To adapt to the climate crisis, some winemakers in Bordeaux are testing out more heat-tolerant grapes to produce classic wines.
The story: As climate change accelerates, southern France is becoming less suitable for growing iconic wine grapes, but a new vineyard is working to cultivate warm-weather adapted grape vines, reported Sarah Kaplan for The Washington Post. Famous for its multi-billion-dollar wine industry, the Bordeaux region of France has experienced increasingly unpredictable weather in recent years, with average temperatures increasing by 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1950. These rising temperatures affect the way grapes grow, which can change the flavor of the wine they produce. To adapt, a new vineyard in Bordeaux is growing more than 50 types of heat-tolerant grapes that originated in countries across the Mediterranean in the hopes of developing wine that tastes traditional and is climate-resilient.
The big picture: According to a study co-authored by Conservation International’s Lee Hannah, climate change is affecting wine production all over the world. “Wine suitability is moving toward the poles,” said Hannah in an interview with Conservation News. “This will result in a global redistribution of wine-producing regions, with some serious consequences for ecosystems and wildlife habitat.” If winemakers start growing grapes in new regions, the development of vineyards could drive deforestation, disrupting wildlife habitats and fueling climate change, Hannah added.