Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Journal: Ambio


A global trend of a warming climate may seriously affect species dependent on sea ice. We investigated the impact of climate on the Baltic ringed seals (Phoca hispida botnica), using historical and future climatological time series. Availability of suitable breeding ice is known to affect pup survival. We used detailed information on how winter temperatures affect the extent of breeding ice and a climatological model (RCA3) to project the expected effects on the Baltic ringed seal population. The population comprises of three sub-populations, and our simulations suggest that all of them will experience severely hampered growth rates during the coming 90 years. The projected 30 730 seals at the end of the twenty-first century constitutes only 16 % of the historical population size, and thus reduced ice cover alone will severely limit their growth rate. This adds burden to a species already haunted by other anthropogenic impacts.

Concepts: Population ecology, Climate, Pinniped, Global warming, Polar bear, Ringed Seal, Saimaa Ringed Seal, Pusa


The series of papers in this issue of AMBIO represent technical presentations made at the 7th International Phosphorus Workshop (IPW7), held in September, 2013 in Uppsala, Sweden. At that meeting, the 150 delegates were involved in round table discussions on major, predetermined themes facing the management of agricultural phosphorus (P) for optimum production goals with minimal water quality impairment. The six themes were (1) P management in a changing world; (2) transport pathways of P from soil to water; (3) monitoring, modeling, and communication; (4) importance of manure and agricultural production systems for P management; (5) identification of appropriate mitigation measures for reduction of P loss; and (6) implementation of mitigation strategies to reduce P loss. This paper details the major challenges and research needs that were identified for each theme and identifies a future roadmap for catchment management that cost-effectively minimizes P loss from agricultural activities.

Concepts: Agriculture, Water, Water pollution, Drainage basin, Sweden, Agricultural economics, Plan, Manure


We present a historical overview of forest concepts and definitions, linking these changes with distinct perspectives and management objectives. Policies dealing with a broad range of forest issues are often based on definitions created for the purpose of assessing global forest stocks, which do not distinguish between natural and planted forests or reforests, and which have not proved useful in assessing national and global rates of forest regrowth and restoration. Implementing and monitoring forest and landscape restoration requires additional approaches to defining and assessing forests that reveal the qualities and trajectories of forest patches in a spatially and temporally dynamic landscape matrix. New technologies and participatory assessment of forest states and trajectories offer the potential to operationalize such definitions. Purpose-built and contextualized definitions are needed to support policies that successfully protect, sustain, and regrow forests at national and global scales. We provide a framework to illustrate how different management objectives drive the relative importance of different aspects of forest state, dynamics, and landscape context.

Concepts: Philosophy of language, Ecosystem


Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an essential, omega-3, long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid that is a key component of cell membranes and plays a vital role in vertebrate brain function. The capacity to synthesize DHA is limited in mammals, despite its critical role in neurological development and health. For humans, DHA is most commonly obtained by eating fish. Global warming is predicted to reduce the de novo synthesis of DHA by algae, at the base of aquatic food chains, and which is expected to reduce DHA transferred to fish. We estimated the global quantity of DHA (total and per capita) currently available from commercial (wild caught and aquaculture) and recreational fisheries. The potential decrease in the amount of DHA available from fish for human consumption was modeled using the predicted effect of established global warming scenarios on algal DHA production and ensuing transfer to fish. We conclude that an increase in water temperature could result, depending on the climate scenario and location, in a ~ 10 to 58% loss of globally available DHA by 2100, potentially limiting the availability of this critical nutrient to humans. Inland waters show the greatest potential for climate-warming-induced decreases in DHA available for human consumption. The projected decrease in DHA availability as a result of global warming would disproportionately affect vulnerable populations (e.g., fetuses, infants), especially in inland Africa (due to low reported per capita DHA availability). We estimated, in the worst-case scenario, that DHA availability could decline to levels where 96% of the global population may not have access to sufficient DHA.


Seagrasses, flowering marine plants that form underwater meadows, play a significant global role in supporting food security, mitigating climate change and supporting biodiversity. Although progress is being made to conserve seagrass meadows in select areas, most meadows remain under significant pressure resulting in a decline in meadow condition and loss of function. Effective management strategies need to be implemented to reverse seagrass loss and enhance their fundamental role in coastal ocean habitats. Here we propose that seagrass meadows globally face a series of significant common challenges that must be addressed from a multifaceted and interdisciplinary perspective in order to achieve global conservation of seagrass meadows. The six main global challenges to seagrass conservation are (1) a lack of awareness of what seagrasses are and a limited societal recognition of the importance of seagrasses in coastal systems; (2) the status of many seagrass meadows are unknown, and up-to-date information on status and condition is essential; (3) understanding threatening activities at local scales is required to target management actions accordingly; (4) expanding our understanding of interactions between the socio-economic and ecological elements of seagrass systems is essential to balance the needs of people and the planet; (5) seagrass research should be expanded to generate scientific inquiries that support conservation actions; (6) increased understanding of the linkages between seagrass and climate change is required to adapt conservation accordingly. We also explicitly outline a series of proposed policy actions that will enable the scientific and conservation community to rise to these challenges. We urge the seagrass conservation community to engage stakeholders from local resource users to international policy-makers to address the challenges outlined here, in order to secure the future of the world’s seagrass ecosystems and maintain the vital services which they supply.


Globally, greenhouse gas budgets are dominated by natural sources, and aquatic ecosystems are a prominent source of methane (CH4) to the atmosphere. Beaver (Castor canadensis and Castor fiber) populations have experienced human-driven change, and CH4 emissions associated with their habitat remain uncertain. This study reports the effect of near extinction and recovery of beavers globally on aquatic CH4 emissions and habitat. Resurgence of native beaver populations and their introduction in other regions accounts for emission of 0.18-0.80 Tg CH4 year(-1) (year 2000). This flux is approximately 200 times larger than emissions from the same systems (ponds and flowing waters that became ponds) circa 1900. Beaver population recovery was estimated to have led to the creation of 9500-42 000 km(2) of ponded water, and increased riparian interface length of >200 000 km. Continued range expansion and population growth in South America and Europe could further increase CH4 emissions.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Natural gas, Beaver, Methane, Americas, Greenhouse gas, European Beaver, Beavers


Malaria is a serious global health issue, with around 200 million cases per year. As such, great effort has been put into the mass distribution of bed nets as a means of prophylaxis within Africa. Distributed mosquito nets are intended to be used for malaria protection, yet increasing evidence suggests that fishing is a primary use for these nets, providing fresh concerns for already stressed coastal ecosystems. While research documents the scale of mosquito net fisheries globally, no quantitative analysis of their landings exists. The effects of these fisheries on the wider ecosystem assemblages have not previously been examined. In this study, we present the first detailed analysis of the sustainability of these fisheries by examining the diversity, age class, trophic structure and magnitude of biomass removal. Dragnet landings, one of two gear types in which mosquito nets can be utilised, were recorded across ten sites in northern Mozambique where the use of Mosquito nets for fishing is common. Our results indicate a substantial removal of juveniles from coastal seagrass meadows, many of which are commercially important in the region or play important ecological roles. We conclude that the use of mosquito nets for fishing may contribute to food insecurity, greater poverty and the loss of ecosystem functioning.


Declining physiological status in marine top consumers has been observed worldwide. We investigate changes in the physiological status and population/community traits of six consumer species/groups in the Baltic Sea (1993-2014), spanning four trophic levels and using metrics currently operational or proposed as indicators of food-web status. We ask whether the physiological status of consumers can be explained by food-web structure and prey food value. This was tested using partial least square regressions with status metrics for gray seal, cod, herring, sprat and the benthic predatory isopod Saduria as response variables, and abundance and food value of their prey, abundance of competitors and predators as predictors. We find evidence that the physiological status of cod, herring and sprat is influenced by competition, predation, and prey availability; herring and sprat status also by prey size. Our study highlights the need for management approaches that account for species interactions across multiple trophic levels.


Representations of wildlife in television and films have long been hypothesized to shape human-wildlife interactions. A recent example is Pixar’s film Finding Dory, which featured a blue tang fish (Paracanthurus hepatus) as the main character and was widely reported in the popular press to have increased the number of such fish in the pet trade. We use Bayesian posterior predictive counterfactual models to evaluate the movie’s effect on three metrics of societal behaviour. Although there was an increase in global online searches for the blue tang 2-3 weeks after the movie, we find no substantial evidence for an increase in imports of blue tang fish into the US, or in number of visitors to US aquaria compared to counterfactual expectations. It is vital that an evidence-based discourse is used when communicating potential impacts of popular culture on human-wildlife relationships to avoid loss of credibility and misdirection of conservation resources.


Olympic shooters discharge, annually, thousands of tons of lead shot which pose toxic risks to animals and may pollute both surface and ground waters. Non-toxic steel shot is an acceptable and effective substitute, but International Shooting Sports Federation (ISSF) rules prevent its adoption. The present policy and rules of the ISSF on lead shot use contravene the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Charter position on environmental protection. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), a formal Olympic partner on environmental protection, has no stated policy on contamination from lead ammunition, despite having declared lead a Priority Area for remedial action, and is pressing to remove lead from the global human environment. The IOC Sport and Environment Commission and UNEP could examine the continued use of lead shot ammunition and advise the IOC Executive Board on appropriate changes in policy and rules that could halt the massive lead shot contamination of shooting range environments world-wide.

Concepts: Natural environment, Olympic Games, Environmentalism, 2008 Summer Olympics, International Olympic Committee, International Shooting Sport Federation, ISSF shooting events, Shooting sports