BIRDS OF A FEATHER: Don't necessarily flock together, and thanks to bird feeders, some might even be splitting into different species. Researchers from Germany's University of Freiburg have discovered that Central European blackcap warblers have split into two separate reproductive groups — the first step of forming a new species — because U.K. bird feeders now allow about 30 percent of them to spend winters there. Blackcaps have historically migrated from Germany and Austria to Spain during the cold months, and any that tried wintering too far north died from starvation. But a growth in U.K. bird feeders has opened up new winter territory for them, in addition to shaving 360 miles off their traditional 1,000-mile migration to Spain. This shorter voyage gives the U.K. blackcaps an advantage, since they arrive home earlier in the summer, letting them stake out prized territory on the edges of forests and giving them the chance to mate with each other before their Spanish counterparts can return. Physical differences between the two groups are already emerging — the U.K. migrants have rounder wings, which offer improved maneuverability but also make them less suited for long-distance flights. They're also growing longer, thinner beaks that are less equipped for eating olives and other large fruits during winter, which aren't available in the U.K. "This is a nice example of the speed of evolution," says the study's lead author. "It is something that we can see with our own eyes if we only look closely enough. It doesn't have to take millions of years." (Sources: Times of London, BBC News, e! Science News)
HERBS IN THE 'BURBS: U.S. farming has traditionally been a rural pursuit, mainly because wide open spaces allow greater crop yields and greater profits. But with many inner cities declining in recent decades — and Americans becoming more aware of where their food comes from — a boom in small-scale, urban farming has taken root in big cities around the country. That seems to be helping some of those cities bounce back, and Alabama architect Forrest Fulton suggests on Civil Eats this week that local, sustainable farming could do the same thing for declining suburbs. Many 'burbs have been hit especially hard by the recession, leaving abandoned homes and even grocery stories dotting the perimeter of places like Birmingham, where Fulton lives and works. His idea is to reinvent the suburban grocery store, making it a producer and preparer of food instead of simply being a retailer. He envisions crops growing in the parking lot, with the inside of the big-box store becoming a greenhouse and restaurant. "One can imagine pushing a shopping cart through this suburban farm and picking your produce right from the vine, with the option to bring your harvest to the restaurant chef for preparation," Fulton writes. "Food cultivation, processing, preparation, and consumption integrate into a local, transparent process." (Source: Civil Eats via Huffington Post)
INDIA THROWS IN: Just days before Monday's kickoff of the long-anticipated U.N. climate summit in Copenhagen, India tossed its hat into the ring Thursday by announcing a voluntary plan to slow the pace of its greenhouse gas emissions. The move is a major shift for India, which has long balked at any restrictions that might hinder its economic growth, but the United States and China essentially forced its hand last week by announcing their own emissions targets. India took a page from China's playbook by offering to reduce its carbon intensity — i.e., emissions relative to the size of the economy — rather than its overall emissions, as the United States and other developed countries did. India will cut its carbon intensity 20 to 25 percent by 2020, announced environment minister Jairam Ramesh, who called the target "our basline," adding that India is "prepared to do even more" if an "equitable" deal can be reached during the Copenhagen talks. Emissions cuts are a hot topic in India, where many citizens and politicians don't want to be seen as catering to the West, who they blame for emitting most of the CO2 now in the atmosphere. "Our emissions will go up, but its pace will slow," Ramesh said Thursday. "We are not doing this because of the Copenhagen meeting but out of our own national interest." India's targets, like the United States' and China's, fall short of many scientists' and environmentalists' hopes, but still mark a major milestone in international climate negotiations. (Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Associated Press, Bloomberg News)
BROWN DOGS: A group of moderate Senate Democrats sent a letter to President Obama on Thursday, spelling out their conditions for supporting any domestic climate bill or global treaty to slash greenhouse gas emissions. The nine so-called "Brown Dogs" (including Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, pictured), who are all from industrial states or areas that rely heavily on coal for power, timed their letter so Obama would receive it just as he's preparing to visit Copenhagen next week to address world leaders about U.S. commitment to fighting climate change. The senators listed 10 demands that Obama can't ignore, since widespread GOP opposition to climate legislation means nearly all Senate Democrats will be needed to pass a domestic climate bill early next year. Among the Brown Dogs' conditions are that both developed and developing nations must be held to strict emissions limits, and that trade penalties should be used to punish countries that don't comply with whatever global agreement is produced in Copenhagen. (Source: Green Inc.)
LOAD OF CARP: The U.S. war on Asian carp got off to a promising start Thursday, as biologists removed the first dead carp after dumping thousands of gallons of poison into the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, which connects the Mississippi River to Lake Michigan. The immature, 22-inch specimen was closer to the Great Lakes than any Asian carp has ever been, and biologists say the invasive species would devastate the vast freshwater ecosystem if they're ever able to break in. "Asian carp are indeed knocking on the door of the Great Lakes," said an official with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, one of several state and federal agencies battling the carp. More dead carp are expected to start floating to the surface in the next few days — because of the species' large size, scientists say they'll sink in the first 24 hours after dying, and then rise as their bodies decompose. Asian carp were introduced to the United States in the 1970s and have been moving up the Mississippi River ever since, growing up to 100 pounds and eating 40 percent of their body weight daily. Many experts believe this insatiable appetite could quickly demolish the Great Lakes' $7 billion fish industry. (Source: Detroit News)
DAM WEATHER! Dams are usually built in an attempt to control nature, such as preventing floods or getting more drinking water in a given area. But they may actually be making their local weather wilder and less predictable, according to a new study from Tennessee Tech University. That's because, like a lake, a dam's reservoir adds a large amount of water into the nearby water cycle — reservoir water evaporates, forms clouds and boosts precipitation in the dam's immediate vicinity. Since dams were designed for the climate that existed before they were built, and since their very existence apparently can increase the likelihood of extreme weather that exceeds their capacity, then dams may automatically make themselves less safe. Dam reservoirs that are too close to capacity are at greater risk of overflowing when it rains, and since they may also increase the frequency of rain, the researchers point out that keeping reservoirs at lower levels may help solve the problem. (Source: Wired)
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Photo (flock of birds in Brighton, England): Lina Lindfors/Citizen Image
Photo (suburban farmland): Brianforbes37/Flickr
Photo (bonfire in front of coal-fired power plant in New Delhi, India): Manish Swarup/AP
Photo (Sen. Arlen Specter): Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Photo (search for Asian carp on Dec. 3): M. Spencer Green/AP
Photo (Hoover Dam): U.S. Department of the Interior
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