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Common milkweed isn’t a particularly finicky plant—it has “weed” in its name for a reason and can be found growing on roadsides, empty lots, and old fields. But over the last two decades, Asclepias syriaca, which is primarily found in the Midwest and eastern United States, has disappeared from most agricultural landscapes. Along with it, the population of the iconic migratory monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus plexippus, which relies on the plant for reproduction, has also crashed, so much so that it is being considered for endangered status.
According to researchers, 1.3 billion stems of milkweed have disappeared from Midwestern farmlands over the last 20 years. This has led to an 80 percent crash in the migratory monarch, which winters in the mountains of Mexico and breeds in the central and eastern United States during the spring and summer. Since hitting an estimated high of 682 million monarchs in 1997, the species dropped to just 42 million in 2015. According to another study, milkweed in and near cropland in Illinois, prime monarch habitat, has dropped by 95 percent over the same period—representing a 50 percent drop in the total milkweed population.
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BIRD OF THE WORK
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Mergus serrator
HABITAT: Breeds on wooded lakes and tundra ponds; winters mainly on salt water.
The handsome Red-breasted Merganser is a welcome sight along coastlines during the winter. This sea-going duck is notable for its long, red, serrated bill, which gives it the species name serrator.
One of the Red-breasted Merganser’s notable features is a shaggy-looking double crest, which reminds some of a bad case of “bed head.” The colorful male sports a metallic-green head, white neck band and wing patches, a red bill and eyes, and a reddish, black-speckled breast, for which the bird is named. The female is mostly gray with an orange-brown head.
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A new report from the National Audubon Society shows that two-thirds of North America’s birds face major challenges including extinction if global temperatures are allowed to increase 3 degrees Celsius by 2100. However, if temperature rise is limited to 1.5 degrees, the majority of those disruptions can be stopped.
The report, Society Survival by Degrees: 389 Bird Species on the Brink, is a major update of Audubon’s influential 2014 Birds and Climate Change Report, which examined the impacts and range shift of 588 birds in North America under various climate scenarios. In the new report, researchers looked at data for 604 species collected from 70 sources including over 140 million individual records of birds. They were able to overlay this information with data on human land use, agriculture, and urbanization trends that were not available in 2014. The researchers were able to model this data at a resolution of one square kilometer, 10 times finer than the scale used in the 2014 report.
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Cause for Hope: We’re On Track to Move Beyond Coal:
If you’re alarmed or distressed by the major new climate findings released this week, I have good news to restore your hope and pull you back from the edge of despair. But first, in case you missed the headlines, the major scientific analysis released this weekend by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a staggering wake-up call to action on climate.