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The latest environmental news from Alaskan beavers to electric cars


The Latest Environmental News From Alaskan Beavers To Plant Based Diets

Credit: Darrin Henein

A look into the lives of Alaskan beavers, and more environmental news from across the globe.

Beavers bite the tundra

Using detailed satellite data, researchers have tracked the activity of beavers in Alaska. What they have found is that in just a few years the beavers have expanded into regions where they have never been seen before. As they build new dams the beavers are creating new bodies of water. The reason the beavers can get into these regions is that warming due to climate change is causing shrubs to grow in areas where there was little vegetation before. For the beavers these shrubs are both food and building materials. Additionally, lakes that used to freeze no longer do, making them more beaver-friendly. Unfortunately, the beaver activity may cause the permafrost to thaw even more, and that will release more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The beavers might be enjoying it, but it’s a vicious climate change circle.

Source: Environmental Research Letters

COVID’s wildlife revelations

In the early part of 2020 many countries around the world went into lockdown to control the spread of COVID-19. These tragic circumstances also brought about a unique opportunity. This unprecedented immobility on the part of humans offered the chance for insights into the impacts humans have on wildlife. Anecdotally, researchers observe that animal behaviour has changed with pumas, for instance, in downtown city streets and dolphins in waters normally dominated by human boat traffic. To make use of this window into our impact on wildlife, biologists all over the world have fitted animals with miniature tracking devices. These “bio-loggers” will yield a treasure trove of information on animal movements and behaviour. By looking at how animals are responding to reduced levels of human activity the hope is to better understand how humans and wildlife interact so that we can develop strategies for sharing space on a crowded planet.

Source: Nature Ecology and Evolution

Electric cars pay off

We keep hearing that electric vehicles are the way of the future. Of course, we all know it won’t happen if it is not affordable. Costs to purchase a vehicle are easy to measure, and as they come down it makes the conversion to electric cars increasingly likely. But there still remains the question of what it costs to run an electric vehicle. This is what has been studied by researchers who wanted to compare the cost of running an electric vehicle over its lifetime to one that is run on petrol. To do this they based their calculations on 81 per cent of charging being done at home (mostly at night when electricity rates are cheapest), 14 per cent at work or a public station, and 5 per cent using a fast charger. The findings were that over the 15-year life of a car, the electrical vehicle was US$14,500 cheaper to run.

Source: Joule

Future feed

The demand for animal products for human nutrition continues to grow. While plant-based eating has planetary and health advantages, the reality is that humans will continue to consume animal products for some time to come. We also know that animals require substantial amounts of protein in their diet. The imperative, then, is to find protein sources as animal feed that do not require deforestation in their production. So researchers sought to see if alternative protein sources to soy would influence meat quality in chickens. They fed chickens either soy, spirulina (algae) or insects. The results of taste-testing showed that there was no difference when the protein source was spirulina or insects as compared to soy. Currently, microalgae like spirulina are much more expensive than soy to produce and insects are not approved as poultry feed (although they are approved for human consumption). Nevertheless, this is the kind of thinking we must apply to future food production.

Source: Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture