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Plants and animals race for survival as climate change creeps across the globe

Global warming creeps across the world at a speed of a quarter of a mile each year, according to a new study that highlights the problems that rising temperatures pose to plants and animals. Species that can tolerate only a narrow range of temperatures will need to move as quickly if they are to survive. Wildlife in lowland tropics, mangroves and desert areas are at greater risk than species in mountainous areas, the study suggests.

Image: Mangroves are some of the areas most vulnerable to climate change, as a new study by the Carnegie Instuttion in California reveals the rapid movement of global warming across the world. Photograph: Corbis

Colorado cats test positive for Swine Flu (H1N1)

The number of feline 2009 H1N1 infections in the US continues to grow.  Since early November, cats from Iowa, Oregon, and Utah have tested positive for H1N1.  Oregon bears the burden of having animal deaths secondary to H1N1 infection, as the cat and a ferret did not survive.  Colorado is the latest state to join that list with two confirmed cases of H1N1 in cats.  The cats are from different households and were tested for H1N1 after displaying clinical signs of respiratory tract illness for several weeks.  
The H1N1 diagnosis was confirmed at the Colorado State University’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in Fort Collins, CO.  Both cats have not yet recovered from their illness.  At this time, there are some factors about the two Colorado cats that are still unknown, including the cat’s age, previous history of illness, indoor versus outdoor environment, and single versus multiple cat household status.  These factors could play a role in the cat’s susceptibility to infectious agents.
As with the previous feline and ferret cases in the US (see H1N1 kills Oregon cat), and the two dogs infected in China (see Swine flu (H1N1) infects dogs in China), humans are the suspected source of H1N1 infection for the Colorado cats.
Pet owners play a crucial role in reducing the zoonotic spread of H1N1 and other organisms between people and pets.  Your vigilance in exercising appropriate hygienic habits may prevent your cat or dog from being infected with viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites.
Practice good sanitary habits by washing your hands frequently and covering your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough.  If you are sick, avoid close contact with others, including your animal companions.  Closely monitor your pet for signs of illness, especially upper respiratory tract signs.  Sneezing, coughing, nasal discharge, increased respiratory effort, lethargy, and decreased appetite can indicate upper respiratory tract infection.  Should your pet show clinical signs of illness, please schedule an examination with your veterinarian.

Blue whales singing in deeper voices every year

All around the world, blue whales aren’t singing like they used to, and scientists have no idea why.

The largest animals on Earth are singing in ever-deeper voices every year. Among the suggested explanations are ocean noise pollution, changing population dynamics and new mating strategies. But none of them is entirely convincing.

“We don’t have the answer. We just have a lot of recordings,” said Mark McDonald, president of Whale Acoustics, a company that specializes in the sonic monitoring of cetaceans.

McDonald and his collaborators first noticed the change eight years ago, when they kept needing to recalibrate the automated song detectors used to track blue whales off the California coast. The detectors are triggered by songs that match a particular waveform, and every year, McDonald had to set them lower.

Since then, he and Scripps Institution of Oceanography researchers Sarah Melnick and John Hildebrand have gathered thousands of blue whale recordings made since the 1960s, spanning populations from the North Atlantic to the South Pacific to the East Indian Ocean. Their analysis, published in October in Endangered Species Research, shows that the songs’ tonal frequency is falling every year by a few fractions of a hertz.

“It’s a fascinating finding,” said John Calombokidis, a blue whale expert at the Cascadia Research Collective. “It’s even more remarkable, given that the songs themselves differ in different oceans. There seem to be these distinct populations, yet they’re all showing this common shift.”

According to McDonald, the first explanation to come to mind involved noise pollution caused by increased shipping traffic. Ambient ocean noise has increased by more than 12 decibels since the mid-20th century. But if whales were trying to be heard above the din, they’d sing at higher rather than lower pitches, said McDonald.

It’s also possible the whales are responding to changing dynamics in how sound travels through water that’s become warmer as Earth heats up, absorbing more carbon dioxide and growing more acidic than before. “But those factors are so small, and this is such a huge shift in frequency,” said McDonald.

Another explanation involves the recovery of blue whale populations, which were nearly hunted to extinction during the first half of the last century. It’s only since hunting ceased that they’ve been recorded. Maybe songs were higher-pitched when recording started, because the whales had to sing extra-loud in order to reach their scattered brethren. Now that there are more, they can lower their voices and their pitch.

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