Canaries placed in coal mines were once a vital warning system for miners.
When the canaries in a coal mine were observed to be acting strange or heaven forbid actually dying the miners knew the environment had become dangerous and toxic. A single dead canary would result in evacuation of the mine until the source of what was likely poisonous explosive gas was eliminated. For the worlds oceans and other environments an ever increasing number of species are serving as warning canaries. Worst news of all is the canaries of all kinds are being seen in increasingly frequent mass die-offs.
Just how many canaries have to die before we recognize there is a crisis and take responsibility to replenish and restore vital ocean pastures.
Hundreds of reports show mass die-offs.
A new summary report provides in the journal of the National Academy of Science offers an analysis of 727 mass die-offs of nearly 2,500 animal species from the past 70 years reveals that such mass die-offs are increasing among birds, fish and marine invertebrates.
Although the die-offs are not so common as to portend species extinction, they deliver a devastating punch, potentially killing more than 90 percent of affected populations in one event. Until this study, there had been few quantitative analyses of the patterns of such mass mortality events.
Seabirds on the West coast of North America have been the most recent victims of such a mass die-off.
Tens of thousands of seabirds have been found on beaches from Canada to California since Christmas. The seabirds are species like the Cassins Auklet that normally live far out to sea feeding and flourishing on ocean plankton pastures.
But something is terribly wrong with their ocean pastures and as the staggering numbers of dead seabirds piling up on beaches have all starved to death. Just as pastures on land must have abundant grass for animals to survive there ocean pastures must have abundant plankton, the grass of the sea, for ocean life to survive.
“This is the first attempt to quantify patterns in the frequency, magnitude and cause of such mass kill events,” said study senior author Professor Stephanie Carlson, in the University of California, Berkeley’s Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management.
The study, published Monday, Jan. 12 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was led by researchers at UC Berkeley, the University of San Diego and Yale University.
The meta-research study reviewed nearly a thousand incidents of mass die-offs documented in scientific literature. The analysis focused on the period from 1940 to the present but included some reports as far back as the 1800’s. The researchers note that some of their findings of more die-offs may be due to an increase in the reporting of mass die-offs in recent decades. But they noted that even after accounting for this reporting bias, there was still an increase in mass die-offs for certain animals.
Prof. Carlson, a fisheries ecologist, and her UC Berkeley graduate students had observed such die-offs in their studies of fish in California streams and estuaries, originally piquing their interest in the topic.
“The catastrophic nature of sudden, mass die-offs of animal populations inherently captures human attention,” said Carlson. “In our studies, we have come across mass kills of federal fish species during the summer drought season as small streams dry up. The majority of studies we reviewed were of fish. When oxygen levels are depressed in the water column, the impact can affect a variety of species.”
Mass Die-Offs of ‘Canaries’ increasing every year.
The study found that the number of mass die-offs has been increasing by about one event per year over the 70 years the study covered.
“While this might not seem like much, one additional mass mortality event per year over 70 years translates into a considerable increase in the number of these events being reported each year,” said study co-lead author Adam Siepielski, an assistant professor of biology at the University of San Diego. “Going from one event to 70 each year is a substantial increase, especially given the increased magnitudes of mass mortality events for some of these organisms.
This study suggests that in addition to monitoring physical changes such as changes in temperature and precipitation patterns, it is important to document the biological response to regional and global environmental change. The researchers highlighted ways to improve documentation of such events in the future, including the possible use of citizen science to record mass mortality events in real time.
“The initial patterns are a bit surprising, in terms of the documented changes to frequencies of occurrences, magnitudes of each event and the causes of mass mortality,” said study co-lead author Samuel Fey, a postdoctoral fellow in ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale. “Yet these data show that we have a lot of room to improve how we document and study these types of rare events.”
We can save the ocean canaries by replenishing and restoring ocean pastures.
We’ve proven IT JUST WORKS.
40 Million Salmon Can’t Be Wrong.
If you want to learn why just listen to our song.
The above story is based in part on materials provided by the research institutions.