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News Brief: Week of March 4 – March 10

Environmental Edition

Kitefin Sharks: An article written on Feb. 26 for “Frontiers in Marine Science” revealed new abilities of kitefin sharks – they glow in the dark.

Researcher Jérôme Mallefet collaborated with scientists at the Catholic University of Louvain and the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research to study hoki populations. With the hoki, however, they also caught sharks, including the kitefin shark.

Malletfet and his team experimented on the sharks to test a previous hypothesis about melatonin related to bioluminescence. However, the triggers for melatonin and bioluminescence are unknown. Mallefet said he hopes to study more glowing creatures.

“Down there, there are glowing critters of different sizes, perhaps even larger than kitefin sharks, that we still know nothing about,” Malletfet said.

Red Wolves: Red wolves are becoming dangerously close to extinction again. For the first time in 30 years, no litters were born in 2019 or 2020. Only 10 red wolves roam free in North Carolina, while only 250 live in zoos. 

Wild red wolves were declared extinct in 1980, but captive-bred wolves were reintroduced in 1987.

Ron Sutherland, the chief scientist of the Wildland Network, expressed his concern.

“This population is extremely vulnerable to simply winking out of existence in the short, near term,” Sutherland said.

A lawsuit from environmental groups tipped the federal governments hand into releasing captive-bred red wolves into the wild. Two males were released in Feb. 2021 along with two wild females. One male was killed by a vehicle, but the other wolves are doing fine. Another pair will be released soon. 

“Pup fostering,” where captive bred pups are added to wild litters, may also help the population grow. This practice stopped in 2014, but it may be necessary again.

Sutherland said the Federal Wildlife Service should release even more wolves. 

“There is a desperate need to save the world’s only wild population of red wolves by releasing a large number of fresh animals from captivity, and the captive population can easily support such an effort,” Sutherland said. “There are far too many wolves that are just taking up pen space.”

Cannabis Carbon Footprint: A new study by Colorado State University found the growing demand for cannabis has a larger carbon footprint than what is healthy. 

Haily Summers, a graduate student at Colorado State, led the study, which tallied greenhouse gas emissions from the energy and materials required to grow cannabis.

“We knew the emissions were going to be large, but because they hadn’t been fully quantified previously, we identified this as a big research opportunity space,” Summers said. “We just wanted to run with it.”

Thirty-six states have legalized medical cannabis and 15 have legalized recreational cannabis.

Rat Islands Recovery: Invasive species removal has been a hot topic for years, especially in New Zealand which hopes to be invasive-predator free by 2050. Success has been varied, but one of the “Rat Islands” near Alaska’s Aleutian archipelago has finally recovered.

Carolyn Kurle, an associate professor at the University of California San Diego’s Division of Biological Sciences, said the recovery was estimated to be longer.

“We were surprised that the level of recovery unfolded so quickly,” Kurle said. “We thought it could be longer.”

Kurle and her colleagues have studied the islands since 2008, when the conservation efforts started. Five years later, the ecosystem started to recover until it reached full recovery in 2021. 

Recovery on the island mainly means shorebirds have returned, which keeps seashore invertebrate populations down and helps the kelp population.

Professor Donald Croll was the study’s co-author and reported his findings.

“This study both confirms the profound impacts of introduced species like rats across entire sensitive island ecosystems while at the same time demonstrating the remarkable conservation benefits of their removal,” Croll said.

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