Denver Sees First Snowfall After Breaking 87-Year-Old Record

It wasn’t much: The official measurement at the Denver International Airport was three-tenths of an inch (7.6 millimeters).

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A Collection of Bird Calls Climbs Australia’s Music Charts

In Australia, today’s top hits may surprise you. Just one week after its release, an album featuring 40 years’ worth of bird calls has taken the No. 5 spot on the music charts, beating out Abba, Mariah Carey, and Michael Bublé.


Songs of Disappearance features calls from 53 threatened Australian bird species, which were recorded over a span of 40 years. The album proceeds will benefit BirdLife Australia, an avian conservation organization.

“The title track celebrates the incredible diversity of the Australian soundscape, and highlights what we stand to lose without taking action,” the album description reads. “Be immersed in a chorus of iconic cockatoos, the buzzing of bowerbirds, a bizarre symphony of seabirds, and the haunting call of one of the last remaining night parrots.”

The project is a collaboration among David Stewart, a renowned nature recordist, the Bowerbird Collective, BirdLife Australia, Charles Darwin University and Mervyn Street of Mangkaja Arts. It started when Stephen Garnett, author of the Australian Action Plan for Birds, asked Anthony Albrecht of the Bowerbird Collective if the collective could help promote the action plan. The action plan brings to light that one in six birds in Australia are threatened with extinction.

So Albrecht and Simone Slattery, Bowerbird Collective co-founder and violinist, got to work arranging the songs of 53 threatened birds into an opening track for the now chart-topping album, Songs of Disappearance. The calls and songs were recorded by Stewart, whose collections of nature recordings have been housed in The British Library, National Sound Archive and the Macaulay Laboratory of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York.

“I listened to the birds [as recorded by Stewart] one after the other and I found it incredibly moving,” Slattery tells The Guardian. “I kept listening until I could feel a structure coming to me, like a quirky dawn chorus. Some of these sounds will shock listeners because they’re extremely percussive, they’re not melodious at all. They’re clicks, they’re rattles, they’re squawks and deep bass notes.”

For interested listeners in Australia, you can purchase a hard copy of the CD, and digital downloads are available internationally. The album, available here, is $9.08 and includes 54 tracks ranging from 11 seconds to 2 minutes, 55 seconds long. The songs are also available individually for purchase for $1.54 each, in case you just want to replay the title track on loop or plan to fall asleep to the sounds of the Mallee Whipbird.

Federal Budget Deficit Widened in November on Increased Spending

The federal government ran a $191 billion deficit during November, a bigger gap when compared with a year earlier, as additional revenue from payroll taxes and other receipts was more than offset by increased spending.

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Microplastics Can Kill Human Cells at Concentrations Found in the Environment, Scientists Say

One of the major concerns surrounding plastic pollution is that microplastics may work their way from the ocean or soil, into tiny organisms, up the food chain and onto our plates. However, scientists are still unsure what ingesting microplastics actually does to human health.


Now, a first-of-its kind study published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials found that microplastics can result in cell death at “environmentally-relevant” levels.

“This is the first-time scientists have attempted to quantify the effects of the levels of microplastics on human cells using a statistical analysis of the available published studies,” lead author and Ph.D. student at Hull York Medical School Evangelos Danopoulos said in a University of York press release. “What we have found is that in toxicology tests, we are seeing reactions including cell death and allergic reactions as potential effects of ingesting or inhaling high levels of microplastics.”

The researchers reviewed previous studies that looked at the impacts of microplastics on cells. In particular, the studies tested for five different effects:

  1. Cytotoxicity, or cell death.
  2. Immune responses like allergic reactions.
  3. Impacts on cell membranes or the ability to penetrate them.
  4. The ability to cause oxidative stress, which can cause cell and tissue damage.
  5. Genotoxicity, or the ability to damage a cell’s genetic information.

They found that microplastics could contribute to the first four effects at certain levels. In particular, microplastic concentrations of 10 micrograms per milliliter could harm cell viability and concentrations of 20 micrograms per milliliter could generate an allergic reaction, the study authors wrote.

The researchers also compared the concentrations that harmed cells to concentrations that humans might reasonably ingest. They looked at three previous studies conducted by Danopoulos and the Human Health and Emerging Environmental Contaminants research group at the University of Hull, which counted microplastics in drinking water, sea food and table salt.

“Our research shows that we are ingesting microplastics at the levels consistent with harmful effects on cells, which are in many cases the initiating event for health effects,” Danopoulos said in the press release.

That said, there are still many uncertainties because scientists don’t know what these microplastics do once they are actually in the body.

“[T]he biggest uncertainty at the present time is how ingested microplastics are excreted from the body,” Danopoulos added. “This is a crucial point to understand the true level of risk.”

It is possible that human beings consume between 39,000 to 52,000 microplastic particles a year, The Independent reported.

There is a growing body of evidence suggesting this is a health problem. A recent study found that microplastics may help bacteria to become resistant to antibiotics.

Other research has shown that microplastics can change cell shape, decluster human lung cells, cross the blood-brain barrier in mice and contain chemicals that harm brain cells, New Atlas reported.

Cleared Land Can Return to Tropical Forest in Just 20 Years

From the rapid rate of Amazon deforestation to the rainforest’s new role as a net emitter of carbon dioxide, the news about tropical rainforests is looking pretty grim.

Now, a study published in Science Thursday offers some hopeful news for a change: previously forested land can return to nearly 80 percent of its old-growth status if it’s left alone for just 20 years.


“That’s good news, because the implication is that, 20 years … that’s a realistic time that I can think of, and that my daughter can think of, and that the policymakers can think of,” lead author and functional ecology professor at Wageningen University in the Netherlands Lourens Poorter told The Guardian.

The researchers were interested in how fast secondary forests can regrow. Secondary forests are forests that regrow on their own after a piece of land has been cleared for human use, usually to plant crops or raise cattle, a Wageningen University press release explained.

An international team of more than 90 researchers considered how 12 different forest attributes recover by looking at 77 landscapes and 2,275 forest plots in the American and West African tropics, The Guardian explained. They used models to assess how the forests would recover, using a process called chronosequencing.

What they found was that the different attributes recover at different rates, according to the study. Soil can recover to 90 percent of its old-growth status in less than 10 years, plant function in less than 25 years, structure and biodiversity in 25 to 60 years and biomass and species composition in little over a century. However, overall the previously-cleared land would return to 78 percent of its old growth status in just 20 years.

The results indicate that letting forests regrow naturally may be a better way to protect biodiversity and fight the climate crisis than growing new trees in plantations.

“Compared to planting new trees, it performs way better in terms of biodiversity, climate change mitigation and recovering nutrients,” Poorter told The Guardian.

However, study last author Bruno Hérault, from CIRAD, Ivory Coast, said that all strategies could be used to regenerate forests.

“[T]here is no silver bullet to restoration, and a mix of natural and active restoration may be needed,” Hérault said in the press release. “There is a whole gradient of solutions, ranging from natural regeneration, assisted natural regeneration, agroforestry, to plantations. The optimal solution depends on local site conditions, the local people, and their needs. By using such a mix of approaches we can create more natural, biodiverse, and resilient landscapes.”

Cutting emissions from buildings is a key part of ‘building back better’

Birds are Fake. I Saw it on the Internet.

I knew that. All along. New York Times: In Pittsburgh, Memphis and Los Angeles, massive billboards recently popped up declaring, “Birds Aren’t Real.” On Instagram and TikTok, Birds Aren’t Real accounts have racked up hundreds of thousands of followers, and YouTube videos about it have gone viral. Last month, Birds Aren’t Real adherents even protested outside […]

U.S. Inflation Hits 39-Year High

Inflation reached a nearly four-decade high of 6.8% last month, as strong consumer demand collided with pandemic-related supply constraints.

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Western Honey Bees Most Likely Originated in Asia, Researchers Find

For decades, a hot topic in the world of western honey bees has been the question of where these essential crop pollinators and suppliers of most of the world’s honey originated.


The answer was previously believed to be Africa. But a team of scientists led by York University has reached a new conclusion after reconstructing the origin and dispersal pattern of the western honey bees. After sequencing 251 genomes of 18 subspecies from the bees’ native range and analyzing the genetic data, the team determined that the bees most likely originated in Western Asia rather than Africa.

“Our study answered a mystery in bee biology – where did the western honey bee come from? This topic has been intensely debated and recent studies were inconclusive,” said professor Amro Zayed, who teaches biology and serves as York University’s Research Chair in Genomics, in an interview with EcoWatch. “We sequenced the largest number of honeybee subspecies and our analysis indicated that the honey bee originated in Western Asia. We also discovered that the Egyptian honey bee – Apis mellifera lamarckii – is really distinct; its genome differs greatly from honey bees found in [Africa] and the Saudi peninsula.”

According to Zayed and the study’s co-authors, “The genus Apis is composed of 12 extant species that form three distinct groups: giant honeybees, dwarf honeybees, and cavity-nesting honeybees,” as reported by Science News.

“All but one of the extant Apis species are endemic to Asia. The exception, Apis mellifera, is native to Europe, Africa, and Western Asia,” Zayed and his colleagues said.

“By comparing how similar the bee genomes were to each other, the team estimated that the A. mellifera ancestor originated in Asia around 7 million years ago, then spread into both Africa and Europe around 6 million years ago,” Carissa Wong of NewScientist reported.

From its origins in Asia, the western honey bee spread into Africa and Europe, where it created seven distinct lineages that could be traced back to Western Asia, said York University in a press release, as reported by Phys.org. Being native to Africa, Asia and Europe, the honey bee has been able to survive in widely varied climates, from tropical rainforest to regions that are dry, temperate or cold.

“As one of the world’s most important pollinators, it’s essential to know the origin of the western honey bee to understand its evolution, genetics and how it adapted as it spread,” said Zayed, as reported by Phys.org.

“The genetic data allow us to draw an ‘evolutionary’ tree that connects the honey bee populations we see [today] to their ancestors that lived 5 to 10 million years ago before the western honey bee lineage split from its sister species,” Zayed told EcoWatch.

“We use the shape of the tree and the known geographic ranges of modern populations to infer where the ancestors of the western honey bee lived. We then compare the DNA of the different honey bee lineages to discover mutations that are mostly unique to specific lineages – these mutations are more likely to be involved in the adaptation of bee lineages to their local environment,” he added.

The result of the honey bees’ adaptation was the evolution of 27 unique honey bee subspecies. Two separate lineages, one in Egypt and the other in Madagascar, were discovered through the sequencing of the honey bee subspecies.

According to the study, there are “hot spots” in the genome of the honey bees that support their ability to adapt to new areas. Just 145 of the over 12,000 genes in the bee genome had “repeated signatures of adaptation associated with the formation of all major honey bee lineages found today,” according to Phys.org.

“These genes tended to affect development and behaviour, and tended to be expressed in worker bees. This suggests that mutations that affect worker traits and behaviour are key for helping the honey bee adapt to different environments across their vast range,” Zayed told EcoWatch.

The new honey bee data can be used to help protect the species in the future.

“The genomic data generated here can be used to define and protect native honey bee subspecies in Africa, Asia and Europe – some of these subspecies are at a great risk of ‘extinction-via-introgression’; essentially, managed honey bees in most parts of the world are typically a mix of European lineages, which can hybridize with pure subspecies and ‘dilute’ their purity,” remarked Zayed to EcoWatch.

“We can also apply our knowledge of the mutations that allow native bees to adapt to their environment to improve the fitness of managed bees, by – for example – using marker-assisted breeding,” he added.

With the mystery of the origin of the western honey bee solved, the research team hopes that future exploration can examine further how they came to adapt to particular geographic ranges and climates.

“We are in the process of combining our population genomic studies with [quantitative] genetic studies of managed honeybees. We are trying to directly identify mutations that affect the behaviour and health of honey bee colonies to understand the genetic and evolutionary basis of ‘super organismal’ traits,” Zayed told EcoWatch.

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Governor Murphy’s 2030 climate goal demands a new climate game plan for New Jersey