Shorebird conservation, new research

This 2016 video says about itself:

Migratory Shorebirds Depend on the Yellow Sea

This marvelously photographed video produced by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology in the USA documents the amazing journeys of migratory shorebirds in the East Asian–Australasian Flyway, focusing on such charismatic species as Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Red Knot and Bar-tailed Godwit, showing their dependence on the food-rich mudflats of the Yellow Sea to be able to undertake their annual migration.

EAAFP Partners and collaborators have helped translate the video into Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Russian. We hope that the video can raise awareness of the importance of the Yellow Sea to these birds and help save these critical mudflat habitats to allow the birds to continue these journeys and for people to be able to wonder at the amazing spectacle of shorebird migration for generations to come.

From Princeton University in the USA:

Study on shorebirds suggests that when conserving species, not all land is equal

June 9, 2020

Summary: Researchers may have solved the long-standing puzzle of why migratory shorebirds around the world are plummeting several times faster than coastal ecosystems are being developed. They discovered that shorebirds overwhelmingly rely on tidal zones closest to dry land, which are most often lost to development. The findings suggest that protecting species requires a detailed understanding of how animals interact with the landscape so that preserved habitats best serve endangered species’ needs.

Princeton University researchers may have solved a long-standing mystery in conservation that could influence how natural lands are designated for the preservation of endangered species.

Around the world, the migratory shorebirds that are a conspicuous feature of coastal habitats are losing access to the tidal flats — the areas between dry land and the sea — they rely on for food as they travel and prepare to breed. But a major puzzle has been that species’ populations are plummeting several times faster than the rate at which coastal ecosystems are lost to development.

Nowhere is the loss of tidal flats and shorebird species more acute than along the East Asia-Australasian Flyway (EAAF). An estimated 5 million migratory birds from 55 species use the flyway to travel from southern Australia to northern Siberia along the rapidly developing coast of China — where tidal flats can be more than 6 miles wide — at which birds stop to rest and refuel.

Since the 1980s, the loss of tidal flats around the Yellow Sea has averaged 1.2% per year. Yet, the annual loss of the most endangered bird species has averaged between 5.1 and 7.5%, with populations of species such as the critically endangered spoon-billed sandpipers (Calidris pygmaea) climbing as high as 26% each year.

In exploring this disparity, Princeton researchers Tong Mu and David Wilcove found a possible answer — the birds don’t use all parts of the tidal flat equally. They discovered that migratory shorebirds overwhelmingly rely on the upper tidal flats closest to dry land, which are the exact locations most often lost to development.

They report in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B that China’s upper tidal flats provided more than 70% of the cumulative foraging time for the species they studied at two Yellow Sea sites along the EAAF. The middle and lower flats that birds are increasingly pushed toward by human activity were less frequently foraged upon due to the tide cycle, which may be impacting species health and breeding success.

The findings stress the need for integrating upper tidal flats into conservation plans focused on migratory shorebirds, the authors reported.

“This is a new insight into Asian shorebirds, but I suspect that the upper intertidal is disproportionately important to shorebirds in other places, too, such as the East and West coasts of North America,” said Wilcove, who is a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and public affairs and the Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI).

“People start at the upper zone and work their way outward, so the best spots for the birds are the first to go,” he said. “It would probably be best to extend current developments farther into the intertidal zone rather than keep building parallel to the coast, which consumes more of the upper intertidal.

“Think of it as advocating for a rectangle with the long side pointing into the sea versus a rectangle with the long side hugging the shore,” Wilcove said.

The study results also suggest that protecting species and their habitats may mean more than designating land for wildlife — it may require identifying the right land to set aside by gaining a detailed understanding of exactly how animals interact with the landscape.

“Recognizing the importance of a kind of habitat to specific species or groups of species takes time, effort and thought,” said Mu, who is the paper’s first author and a Ph.D. candidate in ecology and evolutionary biology.

“Sometimes we just don’t know what to look for, or looking requires challenging some prevalent and maybe false perceptions,” he said. “But the situation is getting better and better. People are paying more attention to environmental issues, and the advances in technology are helping us gain more and newer insight into these questions.”

Mu conducted fieldwork between September 2016 and May 2017 at two well-known stopover sites — one outside of Beijing, the other near Shanghai — for migratory shorebirds in the Yellow Sea region. He focused on 17 species of birds, noting where along the tidal flat the animals preferred to feed.

A key difference to his approach, Mu said, is that most previous research focused on the low-tide period when all the tidal flats are exposed and the full range of intertidal species can be observed.

“It makes sense from an ecological point of view. During the high tides when only a portion of the tidal flats is accessible, the relationship usually still holds for the exposed area,” Mu said. “So, there’s little incentive to look at the periods other than low tide when researchers can get a more complete picture.”

What Mu thinks was missed, however, was that the upper tidal flats provide the most amount of foraging time for birds that have places to be. Even if the lower half of a 6-mile wide mudflat is set aside for migratory birds, they’re not getting the energy they need for the trip ahead during the high tide, he said.

“The value of the tidal flats comes from not only their size, but also how much foraging time they can provide,” Mu said. “The upper tidal area is exposed for a longer period during tidal cycles, compared to the middle and lower areas, which I think permits shorebirds to forage for a longer time and thus get more energy.”

The preservation of shorebirds should be driven by how integral the animals are to the health of intertidal zones, Mu and Wilcove said. In turn, tidal flats are not only vital to other marine life, but also provide people with seafood such as clams and crabs and protection from storms and storm surges that cause coastal flooding.

“Shorebirds facilitate the energy and nutrient exchanges between land and sea,” Mu said. “Because a lot of them are long-distance migrants, they also facilitate the energy and nutrient exchanges across different ecosystems and continents, something that is usually overlooked and underappreciated.”

Wilcove and Mu cited recent research showing that more than 15%, or more than 12,000 square miles, of the world’s natural tidal flats were lost between 1984-2016.

“Some of the greatest travelers on Earth are the shorebirds that migrate from Siberia to Southeast Asia and Australia,” Wilcove said. “Now, they’re declining in response to the loss of the tidal areas, and the full range of benefits those tidal flats provide are in some way being diminished.”

Hainan gibbons fight for survival

This 29 May 2020 video says about itself:

There are only around 30 Hainan gibbon individuals left in the world, but conservationists see a potential future for this animal.

In the 1970s, the Hainan gibbon almost went extinct on Hainan island off the southern tip of China. Habitat destruction and poaching brought populations down to a mere 7-9 individuals.

But a new gibbon couple has given hope for the rarest primate in the world. A male and female were recently heard “dueting”, which signifies their relationship is established, experts say.

Chinese wine cups in Dutch Rijksmuseum

This 3 April 2020 video from Amsterdam in the Netherlands says about itself:

Like to drink in style? Curatorial assistant Denise Campbell shows us this amazing set of twelve Chinese wine cups in a new episode of #Rijksmuseumfromhome. 🏠 Each ‘month cup’ represents the flower of the month. Cheers! 🍷

Eating cats, dogs banned in Shenzhen, China

This 2017 video from Switzerland says about itself:

First European restaurant to serve cats

This restaurant serves cats. The La table Suisse chef asks the question “Why do we eat some animals but not others?” The video has a surprise ending – keep watching!

Translated from Dutch NOS radio today:

The Chinese city of Shenzhen has banned the eating of dogs and cats. According to authorities, dogs and cats have a much closer relationship with humans than other animals. …

Scientists suspect that the coronavirus has been transmitted from animals to humans. The first infections were found in people at an animal market in Wuhan, where, eg, bats, snakes and civets were sold. Chinese President Xi already banned the sale and consumption of wild animals in February.

Animal rights organization Humane Society International praises Shenzhen’s decision. “Shenzhen is the first city in the world to take the lessons learned from this pandemic seriously and make the changes needed to avoid another pandemic”.

Extreme right abuses coronavirus for anti-Asian racism

This 30 March 2020 video from the USA says about itself:

Asian communities facing ‘racist aggression’ amid coronavirus pandemic

As panic escalates around the coronavirus, so do cases of aggression against the Asian community.

In recent weeks inward blame has become outward harassment across the world. Asian American studies professor Russel Jeung started tracking attacks on a new site called STOP APPI HATE. In the first eight days, the website received more than 650 reports of discrimination, largely in the Asian American community.

Sue Chen, President of the Chinese Association of West Michigan (CAWM), said these acts of racism are wrongfully targeting individuals of Asian descent, even as medical experts have found no evidence to support the virus being spread by a specific race.

“Much of this aggression is centered to the coronavirus … The Asian face makes people think this is from an Asian country. If you have a face similar like that, you will be the target,” Chen said.

By Steve Sweeney:

US senators accuse World Health Organisation of ‘peddling communist propaganda’ as they whip up anti-China hysteria

by Steve Sweeney

US REPUBLICANS have continued to stoke anti-China rhetoric over the coronavirus, as a senator demanded an investigation into the World Health Organisation over its “lies” in support of Beijing.

Republican Rick Scott demanded a Congressional inquiry, insisting that the body should be “held accountable for [its] role in promoting misinformation and helping communist China cover up a global pandemic.”

It reminds me of 1950s McCarthyist days when the extreme right in the USA accused (Republican) President Eisenhower of being a ‘Russian spy‘.

Anti-Chinese racism in the Netherlands

This 6 February 2020 video says about itself:

The coronavirus outbreak has brought increasing reports of racial abuse against Chinese communities in the UK and Europe.

Translated from Dutch NOS radio today:

A student complex at Wageningen University was daubed and smeared last night. Texts like ‘Die Chinese’, and ‘Chinese corona‘ are written in an elevator of the complex. The elevator was also smeared with faeces.

“This is more than discrimination and xenophobia. The person who does these kinds of terrible things lives with us but tries to destroy the lives of all tenants,” one of the residents writes on Facebook. According to the resident, many Chinese students live in the building.

A Chinese flag has also been torn from a room door and there has been thumping on apartment doors. It is still unclear who is behind it. The police are aware of the destruction. “My colleagues visited this morning to investigate the matter,” says a spokesperson. “In the meantime, everything has been cleaned up.”

Thousands of students affected by New Zealand’s anti-Chinese travel ban: here.

Coronavirus, health, economy and racism

This 31 January 2020 video from the USA says about itself:

Dr. Seema Yasmin breaks down everything you should know about the growing Coronavirus outbreak. Is it really as bad as it’s depicted in the media? How can you protect yourself? Is it safe to travel to China?

Seema Yasmin is a professor at Stanford School of Medicine, director of the Stanford Center for Health Communication and an Emmy Award-wining journalist. She was a CDC disease detective and a reporter for the Dallas Morning News, where she was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Dr. Yasmin trained in medicine at the University of Cambridge and in journalism at the University of Toronto.

Scientists question White House measures to limit spread of coronavirus. The risk of contracting the virus in the United States is still low: here.

By Benjamin Mateus in the USA, 1 February 2029:

US bans foreign nationals from entry over coronavirus …

The virus is being exploited to stoke anti-Chinese xenophobia in a number of countries. Rather than addressing the dire concerns in Wuhan and the Hubei province through international cooperation, petitions for banning Chinese nationals from entering have been launched in Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea. … In Australia, the Murdoch-owned Herald Sun in Melbourne ran a lurid front-page headline “Chinese Virus Pandamonium”. French newspaper Le Courrier Picard was compelled to apologize after running a racist headline labelling the virus a “Yellow Alert.”

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

Abused for coronavirus: “This is no excuse for being racist”

“Coronavirus!” On the open day of a high school, the word was thrown at Iris’ head for no reason. “He just walked by and said that to me. It didn’t feel right.”

It happens to more people with an Asian appearance on the street, at school and online in recent days. They are called out of nowhere or scolded because of the coronavirus.

Racist, discriminatory or anti-Chinese comments also appeared in reactions to NOS Facebook and Instagram posts about the coronavirus. Dutch people with a Chinese background explain what this means for them.

The economic effects of the coronavirus surged through global financial markets this week, producing sharp falls in Asia, Europe and the US. After a 450-point fall in the Dow on Monday, followed by a small upturn the following three days, the index fell by more than 600 points yesterday. It ended in negative territory for the month, the first time this has happened in five months: here.

By Inae Oh in the USA, 30 January 2020:

[United States Trump administration] Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on Thursday said that he believes the coronavirus is likely to “accelerate” the return of jobs to the United States and Mexico, as companies assess what he described as the potential “risk factor” for doing business in China. …

The remarks, which prompted immediate shock and outrage on social media, came as China announced that the death toll from the virus has risen to 170, with the New York Times reporting that every province and region in the country has been affected. The deadly outbreak has sparked a wave of misinformation online, as well as a renewal of racist stereotypes of Chinese people and food.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration appears woefully underprepared to tackle the virus.

Wilbur Ross Roundly Ripped For Predicting Coronavirus Will Be Good For U.S. Jobs. “The diseased mind of Secretary Ross in all of its glory, folks,” one tweeter responded to the commerce secretary’s suggestion on Fox Business: here.

Anti-Chinese racism in Hungarian speed skating

This 22 February 2018 video shows the Hungarian men’s short track speed skating relay team, led by their coach Ms Zhang Jing, win the Olympic Winter Games final, beating China and Canada.

We already knew that in Hungary under far-right Prime Minister Orban, there is homophobia; there is racism against refugees, against Jews and against Roma.

Now, it turns out there is anti-Chinese racism as well.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

National coach of Hungarian short track leaves after insults and racism towards China

The national coach of the Hungarian short track team Zhang Jing resigned after one of her pupils had made derogatory and racist remarks about China, precisely the country where the national coach is from.

The Hungarian short-tracker Csaba Burjan, who won gold with the relay team during the Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, is said to have expressed an insulting opinion of Chinese people and wrote ‘fucking China‘ in an Instagram post. The national coach reacted indignantly and shocked at those statements.

“I cannot tolerate a Hungarian skater, let alone an Olympic champion, making such racist comments about China,” Zhang said on social media. The Hungarian team still has two members who have Chinese roots, the brothers Shaoang Liu and Shaolin Liu. Their father is from China.

Zhang has been the national coach of the Hungarians since 2012 and achieved great success during her tenure. For example, under her leadership, Shaolin Liu once became world champion and four times European champion and he and his brother won silver and bronze at international championships. The Olympic gold with the relay team in Pyeongchang was the crowning glory.

New plover species discovery in China

This 2014 video from Thailand shows a white-faced plover.

From the University of Bath in England:

Spot the difference: Two identical-looking bird species with very different genes

November 13, 2019

Summary: While reports of species going extinct are sadly becoming common, an international team of scientists has identified a new species of bird living on the Southern coast of China, that diverged from their Northern relatives around half a million years ago.

New research by the Milner Centre for Evolution academics in collaboration with Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou (China) shows that Southern and Northern breeding populations of plovers in China are in fact two distinct species: Kentish plover (Charadrius alexandrinus) in the North and white-faced plover (Charadrius dealbatus) in the South.

Using state-of-the-art genomics analysis, the team revealed that the Kentish plover and white-faced plover diverged approximately half a million years ago due to cycling sea level changes between the Eastern and Southern China Sea causing intermittent isolation of the two regional populations.

The results show that despite looking very similar, the two plover species have high levels of genetic divergence on their sex chromosomes, (Z chromosome) than on other chromosomes, indicating that sexual selection might play a role to in the evolution of the two species.

Dr Yang Liu, a visiting scholar from Sun Yat-sen University at the Milner Centre for Evolution, led the work. He said: “The initial divergence of the two plovers was probably triggered by the geographical isolation.

“However, other factors, such as ecological specialisations, behavioural divergence, and sexual selection could also contribute to the speciation of the two species.

“In future studies, we wish to understand how these factors operate on plover populations.”

Dr Araxi Urrutia, Senior Lecturer from the Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath, said: “Speciation — the process by which new species evolve — is the basis of all biodiversity around us, yet our understanding of how new species arise is still limited.

“By studying recent divergence patterns, where the two species are still able to reproduce with each other, we can better understand the conditions on which all species, including our own species, have evolved.”

The team have published their findings in two papers. The first paper revealed small to moderate differences between Kentish and white-faced plover in their appearance (morphology), diet and behaviour. The second study produced the first genome of the Kentish plover, one of the few published genomes from shorebirds.

Dr Liu said: “The genomic resources generated by our team will help investigate other important evolutionary questions, such as genetic basis of local adaptation, migration and mating system variation.”

Led by Dr Liu, the research team also included Dr Araxi Urrutia, Professor Tamás Székely and a former NERC funded PhD student Dr Kathryn Maher.

The research is part of a long-term study on the Kentish plover that has been running for over 30 years, led by Professor Székely.

He said: “Plovers are excellent model systems to understand breeding system evolution.

“These small, drab shorebirds have worldwide distribution, and they are amenable to field studies.

“Using plovers as model organisms, we are currently testing for key hypotheses of several fundamental questions in biology using behavioral, genomic, immunological, and demographic approaches.”