In case you missed it: 3 big stories from our world

Ecuador

Yasuní National Park, Ecuador. (© Joshua Bousel/Flickr Creative Commons)

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, Human Nature shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.

  1. New frog species is armed with special skin-puncturing claw

A newly discovered frog species may use its claw to defend itself against predators and knock out the competition.

The story: The Hyloscirtus hillisi frog was recently discovered in a largely unexplored region of the Andes in Ecuador, which is under threat from large-scale mining, Liz Langley reported for National Geographic last week. They, along with four other similar species of frog, have a claw structure on the side of their thumbs that is thought to be used to attack predators — or other frogs competing for mates.

The big picture: The discovery of a new species underscores how much more we still don’t know about the natural world — and how the current mass extinction of species will have effects that could go unnoticed until it’s too late.

Read the story here.

  1. How plastic cleanup threatens the ocean’s living islands

A garbage-removing mechanism in the ocean may cause more harm than good.

The story: Garbage-removing mechanisms such as the Ocean Cleanup’s project would remove plastics from the ocean, but they would also remove fragile ecosystems that exist within and around the plastics, Rebecca Helm reported for The Atlantic last week. Tiny creatures, such as jellyfish and snails, live in the neuston — or sea-surface ecosystem — and many other animals, such as sea turtles and octopi, rely on the neuston as a feeding ground.

The big picture: Removing the plastics within this neuston from the ocean would effectively remove (and kill) the majority of an ecosystem — one which hasn’t been closely studied. Preventing garbage from getting to the ocean in the first place should be the priority when it comes to addressing plastics pollution, Helm wrote.

Read the story here.

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  1. As climate warms, plants will absorb less CO2, study finds.

The notion that more carbon dioxide from climate change is good for plants is false, a new study finds.

The story: Previously it was believed that the increased carbon dioxide we are putting into the atmosphere would help plants to grow more, but a new study finds that in a changed climate, plants would actually be less efficient, Kendra Pierre-Louis reported for The New York Times last week. Because climate change will cause erratic weather patterns, such as prolonged droughts, plants will suffer and as a result be unable to absorb as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The big picture: “Carbon uptake is not a zero-sum game,” the story quoted a researcher as saying. In other words, an extremely dry year followed by a similarly wet year don’t cancel each other out, as it were. These sorts of “climactic seesaws,” Pierre-Louis reports, will reinforce global warming.

Read the story here.

Olivia DeSmit is a staff writer for Conservation International.

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