Wildlife flee Kenyan forest fires


Hundreds of thousands of flamingos and other wildlife are at risk after five forest fires erupted in Kenya on Saturday, say wildlife officials.

The BBC News website reports that police say they suspect some of the still-raging blazes were started by communities to make space for farmland.

The fires have had an adverse effect on the Masai Mara and in Tanzania on the Serengeti national park, officials say.

Other wildlife reserves are under threat, including Lake Nakuru, which is home to almost a million flamingos.

According to the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), all the rivers that drain from south-western Kenya’s Mau forest into the lake have dried drastically.

Nearly 60 species of wildlife, including white rhino, depend on the lake.

By Sunday an estimated 200 hectares (500 acres) of woodland had been razed in Mau – East Africa’s largest indigenous forest.

KWS communications manager Paul Udoto told the BBC: “We now have to pump water from underground bore holes to shallow pans to water the animals in the park otherwise they will all die. This is costing us a lot of money.”

Members of communities opposed to government plans to move them out of the Mau forest are suspected, say police, and several people have been arrested, accused of arson.

Another blaze nearby has destroyed about a quarter of the 52 sq km (20 square miles) Mount Longonot National Park, an extinct volcano in Kenya’s Rift Valley, said officials.

Zebras, buffaloes, antelopes, gazelles and giraffes have fled the fires, crossing roads and residential areas to reach safety, said witnesses.

But some wildlife experts said snakes and smaller animals, like rabbits and mongooses, may not have managed to escape.

Kenya is suffering a drought this year that has contributed to hunger the government says is affecting 10 million people.

Source: BBC News website

Date: 23/03/2009

Twiglet: Trees and roots


  • First thing to emerge from a seed is the embryonic root – the radicle.
  • In most plants, this primary root will develop secondary or lateral roots that grow out away from the main root as the plant grows.
  • The growth of any root is dependent on a small ball of dividing cells just behind the root tip. This collection of cells is called a meristem; it generates new cells to extend the root and form new root tissue (such as the xylem and phloem – the conducting tissues).
  • A long tap root may develop in suitable soils, whilst, in sandy ot peaty soils, the lateral roots may dominate.
  • Studies indicate the dominance of the young tap root is often lost quite early in development in many tree species.
  • The deepest root systems are probably found on desert plants.
  • Tree roots do not generally occur too deep in the soil, with the majority of roots found in the top one to two metres.
  • Trees tend to have shallow but extensive root systems.
  • The spread of the lateral roots can be as great as the spread of the canopy or crown, even further in some cases.
  • One study showed that the root spread of poplars was three times the crown radius. This type of root system is sometimes referred to as an extensive system.
  • An intensive root system is one that is confined to a smaller volume of soil, relying on shorter lateral that have numerous fine endings. This system is seen in beech (Fagus sylvatica), which was one of the species that suffered more than most in the drought of 1976.
  • The survey of trees blown over in the October 1987 Great Storm showed that only 2-3% had distinct tap roots.
  • Oak, pine and silver fir are among the species with persistent tap roots.
  • Other species have what are known as “heart root systems”, where larger and smaller roots penetrate the soil diagonally from the main trunk. Trees such as larch, lime and birch can fall into this category.
  • A surface root system is one where the roots tend to run horizontally just below the soil surface, with a few roots going deeper and vertically. Ash, aspen and Norway spruce are examples of trees with these kinds of roots.
  • The root system depends upon the local geology, soil type, climate, drainage… so, if a local area is water logged, this will limit the gas exchange which in turn will affect the amount of oxygen the roots can get for respiration (which generates the energy needed for growth and the absorption of minerals).
  • When oxygen levels in the soil falls, root growth is reduced or stops completely — the availability of oxygen can also be reduced by the compaction of the soil.

Source: Woodland Trust

Teak trees offer clues to drought history


A group of scientists are developing more accurate drought and harvest forecasts for Indonesia using tree rings, historic rice production figures and sea surface temperature data, the Reuters news agency reports.

Indonesia is one of the world’s most populous nations and a major producer of rice, cocoa, coffee and tobacco.

But the country is regularly at risk of drought caused by the El Nino phenomenon, which causes the eastern Pacific ocean to heat up, resulting in  wet weather moving toward the east and leaving drier weather in west around South-East Asia and Australia.

US scientist Rosanne D’Arrigo and colleague Robert Wilson are working on simplified statistical models that can predict drought ahead of the main September-December rice planting season, and how severe the drought might be.

The models focus on Java, one of the world’s most densely populated islands with 120 million people.

“We’re trying to develop simple, predictive model of drought and crop productivity on Java,” said Dr D’Arrigo of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

“There are complex models out there but you need to have a local type of analysis and something simple for local people to use .”

She was speaking to Reuters from Dalat, southern Vietnam, where she was presenting her team’s work at a climate change conference this week.

A key part of the model is using sea surface temperature data from the tropical Pacific and from the Indian Ocean.

A separate phenomenon called the Indian Ocean Dipole can also cause drought in Australia and affect rainfall in Indonesia.

Other data, such as sea-level pressure and wind indexes, are also used.

The data are examined several months before the usual onset of the monsoon to try to accurately predict likely rainfall patterns over Indonesia.

Dr D’Arrigo said she also found good agreement between the sea surface temperature model, a local drought index in Java and government data on crop productivity.

This suggested “we could estimate not only the coming drought condition but also the kind of crop season you would expect to have,” she said, adding she was also looking at a predictive model for the onset of the monsoon.

Her team also looked at tree rings from old teak trees in Java and Sulawesi island to build up a chronology of past droughts and found a very strong correlation with El Nino.

“Indonesia is kind of unique in the sense that it’s probably the area where you have the greatest ‘ground-zero’ climate signal related to El Nino,” she explained.

The oldest teak tree ring records came from the 16th Century, she said, but added it had been hard work finding the remaining centuries-old teak trees.

“It takes fair a bit of research. You have to do a bit of detective work to find the few remaining last stands that haven’t been cut for furniture.”

Source: Reuters

Date: 18/02/2009

Forests face fiery future, warn UK’s Met Office


Climate change is putting further pressure on forests, with less rain and increased drought leading to increased risk from fire, the UK Met Office’s Hadley Centre has warned.

Deforestation is already a major cause of carbon emissions, it warns, and is currently estimated to exceed those from the global transport sector.

Hadley Centre scientists attending the UN climate conference in Poznan claimed that new estimates of future deforestation in critical regions, such as the Amazon, were much larger than those used by the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

With no controls on deforestation, the area of forest lost could be five times greater than outlined in the IPCC’s Special Report Emissions Scenarios (SRES).

The researchers warned that even with effective governance the loss could be double.

Dr Vicky Pope, head of climate advice at the Met Office, said: “In addition to man-made deforestation, climate change may cause the ‘die-back’ of the Amazonian forest.

“However, deliberate deforestation in Amazonia is likely to have a bigger impact in the short term.”

Climate scientists are assessing the potential impacts of ongoing deforestation on climate change and the extent to which reducing deforestation could contribute to stabilising greenhouse gas concentrations.

By avoiding deforestation during the early part of this century, carbon emissions would be reduced by up to 27 gigatonnes by 2050.

In a double benefit, preservation of the forest would maintain a carbon sink from carbon dioxide fertilisation of photosynthesis, which is worth a further four gigatonnes by 2050.

Climate change is also expected to put further pressure on forests, the UK researchers warn.

They said that in previous droughts, such as 2005, fires used for forest clearance became uncontrolled and larger areas were burnt through this “fire leakage”.

Climate change is also likely to reduce rainfall in the region.

The researchers suggest that even if this does not directly damage plants, it is likely to increase the risk of fire leakage which would magnify the impact of deforestation.

Source: UK Met Office press release

Date: 10/12/2008

Lebanon’s forests fires ‘product of climate change’


Devastating fires caused by climate change are threatening forests in Lebanon, in turn accelerating the pace of global warming, an environmental activist has warned.

“We are witnessing a rise in temperature which leads to the dryness of forest soil and pushes it towards desertification,” Sawsan Bou Fakhreddine, director-general of the Association for Forests, Development and Conservation (AFDC), a local NGO, told the UN’s IRIN news service.

She added that the country was witnessing forest fires earlier in the season than usual.

“We noticed that fires are starting in April, three months earlier than the usual season, which commences in June or July.

“With the ongoing increase in temperature, the land is losing much of its humidity and trees are becoming drier. This causes severe fires that are difficult to suppress.”

Ms Fakhreddine said, on average, about 1,500 hectares of woodland were affected by fires annually, yet more than 4,000 hectares of forests were ravaged in 2007 – the worst fires to hit Lebanon for decades.

“In one day we lost three times what we planted in 17 years,” she observed.

According to AFDC, forests covered 35 percent of Lebanon in 1965, but that figure had fallen to 13 percent in 2007.

Ms Fakhreddine warned: “If we witness fires like the ones that erupted last year, Lebanon will lose its forests completely in 15 to 20 years.”

Source: IRIN

Date: 25/09/2008

Drought threatens Jordan’s olive trees


Persistent drought in southern Jordan could lead to the decimation of thousands of olive trees in the city of Karak, 120km south of Amman, reports the UN’s IRIN news service.

“We witness in summer a dramatic increase in temperatures and in winter a lack of rain,” said Ahmed Koufahi, executive director of the Jordan Environment Society.

“Our problem will worsen in the future and drought could strike all around the kingdom,” Koufahi told IRIN.

Olive trees could end up dying in the town ahead of the coming winter season, said Abdullah Fadel, a farmer from Iraq town, 20km south of Karak.

“Last year we had little rain during winter. This resulted in a small output of olives compared with previous years, but now we fear that all trees will die because we have not been able to water them for a while now,” said Fadel.

Farmers said at least 30,000 olive trees were on the brink of dying after freshwater springs in the area dried up.

Many farmers resorted to purchasing water from tanks in the city, but the high cost prevented them from splashing out continuously.

“We are still far from the winter season. I don’t know what will happen until the first drop of rain comes, but it looks like all the trees in the town could die,” said Fadel.

At least 20 springs have provided the olive groves with water over the past decades, helping residents turn their town into a small green oasis.

But successive declines in levels of rain water have dried up almost 15 springs, said environmentalists.

Local residents use the springs for washing and cooking as the authorities often ration water to households in cities and towns across the kingdom because of chronic shortages.

In addition, the government has adopted a policy against digging underground water springs in an attempt to preserve water.

According to Aktham Mdanat, head of the Karak agriculture department, the drought is expected to lead to a 50% fall in this year’s olive harvest.

Residents of the town, which has a population of 7,000 people, have called for the construction of dams to help collect as much rainwater as possible during the winter season.

Jordan is one of the 10 most water-impoverished countries in the world.

The desert kingdom has no river capable of providing the country with enough water as the Jordan River has turned into a small stream after its tributaries were diverted by Israel for agricultural purposes, according to Salameh Hiari, a professor at the University of Jordan.

Jordan does not have natural lakes either. It’s population of 5.6m depends solely on rainfall for its water supply.

Source: IRIN News

Date: 17/09/2008

UK’s famous maples ‘must adapt to climate change’


The collection of Japanese maples at the UK National Arboretum need to adapt in order to survive the impacts of future climate change, a researcher has told a conference examining the problem.

Speaking at PlantNetwork’s “Climate Change and Planting for the Future” gathering, Dr Richard Jinks of Forest Research outlined how the UK Forestry Commission was embarking on a full-scale plan to ensure that the world-famous collection of Japanese maples at Westonbirt, Gloucestershire, could thrive in the future.

A press release from the Forestry Commission explained that an evaluation of these and other trees in the collection would assess their drought tolerance and the best way of helping them adapt to change.

Measures are likely to include succession planting and good horticultural practices to enhance soil moisture levels in dry summers.

There are more than 300 types of maples (acers) in the National Japanese Acer Collection at the National Arboretum.

Each autumn they put on a blazing show of colour, admired by many thousands of visitors from all over the world.

Dr Jinks said many acers thrived on a constant supply of moisture, and the evaluation would highlight how the trees could be susceptible to extended periods of drought.

“These acers are not only stunning trees but also form an important national collection,” he told delegates.

“It is vital that we take stock now and monitor them closely, putting plans in place to safeguard their future.

“We need to propagate and plant new collections now, not only for 50 years time but for far into the future.”

The PlantNetwork conference attracted more than 100 delegates from botanic and historic gardens, government agencies and research institutes.

It was held at the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester from 10-12 September.

Source: Forestry Commission press release

Date: 11/09/2008

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