Plant extinction ‘bad news for all species’ By Helen Briggs BBC News 11 June 2019 These are external links and will open in a new window Close share panel Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Deforestation in Sumatra Almost 600 plant species have been lost from the wild in the last 250 years, according to a comprehensive study.
The number is based on actual extinctions rather than estimates, and is twice that of all bird, mammal and amphibian extinctions combined.
Scientists say plant extinction is occurring up to 500 times faster than what would be expected naturally.
In May, a UN report estimated that one million animal and plant species were threatened with extinction. What does a biodiversity emergency mean for humans.
Researchers say their analysis of all documented plant extinctions in the world shows what lessons can be learned to stop future extinctions.
Most people can name a mammal or bird that has become extinct in recent centuries, but few could name an extinct plant, said Dr Aelys Humphreys of Stockholm University.
“This study is the first time we have an overview of what plants have already become extinct, where they have disappeared from and how quickly this is happening,” she added. Image copyright Rebecca Cairn Wicks Image caption St Helena Olive: The tree went extinct in 2003
The lost plants include the Chile sandalwood, which was exploited for essential oils, the banded trinity plant, which spent much of its life underground, and the pink-flowered St Helena olive tree.
The biggest losses are on islands and in the tropics, which are home to highly valued timber trees and tend to be particularly rich in plant diversity. What did the study find?
Scientists at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and Stockholm University found that 571 plant species had disappeared in the last two and a half centuries, a number that is more than twice the number of birds, mammals and amphibians recorded as extinct (a combined total of 217 species).
This data suggests plant extinction is happening as much as 500 times faster than what would be expected normally, if humans weren’t around.
The researchers believe even these numbers underestimate the true levels of ongoing plant extinction.
One positive, though, was evidence that some plants once thought extinct have been rediscovered, such as the Chilean crocus. Image copyright Richard Wilford Image caption The Chilean crocus: Rediscovered in 2001 after years of searching Why does plant extinction matter?
All life on Earth depends on plants, which provide the oxygen we breathe and the food we eat.
Plant extinctions can lead to a whole cascade of extinctions in other organisms that rely on them, for instance insects that use plants for food and for laying their eggs. Media playback is unsupported on your device Media caption “Species are going extinct at a faster rate than we’ve seen for millions of years” – Laura Foster reports
Plant extinction is bad news for all species, said Dr Eimear Nic Lughadha, co-researcher and conservation scientist at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Image copyright RBG Kew Image caption Herbaria preserve specimens of extinct plants
“Millions of other species depend on plants for their survival, humans included, so knowing which plants we are losing and from where, will feed back into conservation programmes targeting other organisms as well,” she explained. What lessons can we learn?
The researchers are calling for a number of measures to stop plant extinction: Record all the plants across the world Support herbaria, which preserve plant specimens for posterity Support botanists who carry out vital research Teach our children to see and recognise local plants.
Dr Rob Salguero-Gómez, of the University of Oxford, who was not part of the study, said understanding the how, where, and why of plant loss was of paramount importance, not only for ecologists but also for human societies.
“We depend on plants directly for food, shade and construction materials, and indirectly for ‘ecosystem services’ such as carbon fixation, oxygen creation, and even improvement in human mental health through enjoying green spaces,” he commented.
The research is published in the journal, Nature Ecology and Evolution.
Follow Helen on Twitter .
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Feisty Virginia primaries closely watched for national trend
By ALAN SUDERMAN | Tue, June 11, 2019 08:36 EDT
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Voting has begun in primary elections Tuesday in Virginia, where off-year contests for all 140 seats in the state legislature can serve as a political barometer for the coming presidential election year.
The state’s elections in 2017 were an early warning signal that a blue wave of opposition to President Donald Trump would wash over the 2018 U.S. midterms, and political analysts are looking for clues about trends in 2020.
Normally sleepy affairs, this year’s primary contests feature plenty of drama as moderates in both parties take fire from their outer flanks. All 140 legislative seats are up for grabs, and Virginia is the only state whose legislature has a reasonable chance of flipping partisan control. Republicans currently have narrow majorities in both the House and Senate.
On the GOP side, lingering resentment over last year’s vote to expand Medicaid in Virginia is fueling unusually divisive primary contests. Among Democrats, an unusually high number of incumbents are being challenged by liberal newcomers who aren’t shy about attacking their opponents as ethically compromised and out of step with the party’s base.
Democrats hope they can continue a three-year winning streak, powered in large part by suburban voters unhappy with Trump who are fleeing the GOP.
But the party lost a major advantage earlier this year when its top three statewide office holders became ensnared in scandal. A racist yearbook photo surfaced in February and almost forced Gov. Ralph Northam from office. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax was then accused by two women of sexual assault, which he denies. And Attorney General Mark Herring, after calling for Northam to resign, revealed that he too wore blackface once in college.
The incumbents in peril include two of the state’s most powerful senators. Democratic Senate Minority Leader Dick Saslaw and Republican Sen. Emmett Hanger, with more than seven decades of combined experience as lawmakers, both face spirited opponents.
Saslaw, a canny veteran of Capitol politics who is ardently pro-business and chummy with Republicans, hasn’t faced a primary challenger in 40 years. This year he has two. And one of them, 39-year-old human rights lawyer Yasmine Taeb, has painted Saslaw as too conservative and too cozy with special interests.
Hanger played a key role in the health care expansion that made 400,000 low-income Virginia adults eligible to enroll in Medicaid last year, even defeating his own party’s plan to derail the effort during one committee hearing. His opponent, Tina Freitas, said Hanger has betrayed his constituents by supporting Medicaid, and isn’t conservative enough on guns or abortion. The state’s hospitals have spent heavily to help Hanger hold on to the GOP nomination.
Similar themes are playing out around the state. Republican Del. Bob Thomas also voted for Medicaid expansion and is trying to hold on to this Fredericksburg-area seat.
And Del. Lee Carter, a self-proclaimed democratic socialist who was one of the biggest surprise winners in 2017, is trying to fend off a more moderate primary opponent.
Tuesday’s vote also features a comeback attempt by one of Virginia’s most colorful politicians. Joe Morrissey, a former state lawmaker who used to spend his days at the state Capitol and his nights in jail after being accused of having sex with his teenage secretary, is looking to unseat incumbent Sen. Roslyn Dance in a Richmond-area Democratic primary.
There’s also plenty of local action. In Fairfax County, multiple candidates are running for the Democratic nomination to lead the Board of Supervisors. And two prosecutors’ races in northern Virginia have been flooded with cash from a political action committee financed by liberal billionaire George Soros on behalf of two challengers who want to make the criminal justice system fairer to the accused.
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Facebook is building a massive solar project in Texas
By RUSSELL CONTRERAS | Tue, June 11, 2019 01:10 EDT
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Facebook is building a massive solar farm in West Texas that’s believed to be one of the largest solar projects in the nation and the social media giant’s first direct investment in renewable energy.
Boston-based renewable energy developer Longroad Energy recently announced it was partnering with Facebook on the $416 million project, just as Facebook is finishing construction of a data center near Albuquerque.
The Prospero Solar project just north of Odessa, Texas, will have a capacity of 379 megawatts, which is enough to power around 72,000 homes based on the national average, the Solar Energy Industries Association said.
The project goes beyond Facebook’s goal to use renewable energy to power its data centers, where the social media giant stores photos, videos and other information that people post on the platform.
Prospero Solar is expected to be completed next year and will take up around 7 square miles (18 square kilometers) — more than five times the size of Central Park in New York City.
Menlo Park, California-based Facebook will be the sole tax equity investor, Longroad said.
Ben Inskeep, a research analyst for EQ Research, a North Carolina-based renewable energy consulting firm, said it makes sense for Facebook to invest in solar power because renewable energy is becoming more affordable and its data centers have huge operating costs.
“West Texas has some of the best solar resources in the nation,” Inskeep said. “So it’s not about saying you support renewable energy. It makes good business sense.”
Shell Energy North America and Facebook will share the power generated by the solar farm.
“Facebook is excited to be one of the first companies to use a direct investment to meet our renewable energy goals,” company energy strategy manager Peter Freed said in a statement.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced in April that Facebook was building six new solar projects to support its data centers. They house tens of thousands of computer servers, which are linked to the outside world through fiber-optic cables.
“Our data centers are already some of the most energy efficient in the world, and last year we set a goal for all our data centers and offices to use 100% renewable energy by 2020,” Zuckerberg wrote on his personal Facebook page. “These new solar projects will help us reach that goal.”
It comes as Facebook battles New Mexico regulators over a new transmission line to its data center in the small town of Los Lunas.
State regulators last month declined to reconsider their decision for the largest utility to bill Facebook $39 million for the transmission line. They said ratepayers could not be charged for the project because the line wouldn’t benefit retail customers.
The Public Service Co. of New Mexico said it’s disappointed by the decision and is reviewing options for how to proceed.
The New Mexico data center is one of seven such sites for Facebook, and includes six buildings for data storage. It is situated on a patch of desert at the edge of Los Lunas, which lies just beyond the edge of New Mexico’s largest metropolitan area and along the Rio Grande.
Each of the data center’s buildings is roughly the size of four football fields and has several “data halls,” or darkened, vast rooms where Facebook plans to store dozens of rows of towering servers. Two of those halls are now in operation, while construction that began more than two years ago will continue until 2023, the company said.
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Ex-NFL player Kellen Winslow Jr. convicted of rape
By JULIE WATSON | Mon, June 10, 2019 08:57 EDT
SAN DIEGO (AP) — Former NFL player Kellen Winslow Jr. — the son of a Hall of Famer who himself earned more than $40 million during his career — has been convicted of raping a 58-year-old homeless woman last year in his picturesque beach community of Encinitas, north of San Diego.
A jury returned the verdict Monday in San Diego Superior Court in Vista but was expected to continue to deliberating on two more counts of rape involving a 54-year-old hitchhiker and an unconscious teenage girl in 2003.
The jury also found the 35-year-old former tight end guilty of indecent exposure and lewd conduct involving two other women, but jurors found him not guilty of one count of a lewd act.
Winslow, who played for Cleveland, Tampa Bay, New England and the New York Jets, faces up to life in prison if convicted of all counts.
All five women testified during the nine-day trial. Winslow did not take the stand.
Defense attorneys pointed out inconsistencies in the accusers’ testimonies and argued the women invented the allegations to prey on the wealth of Winslow.
Prosecutors say the son of Hall of Famer Kellen Winslow felt empowered by his fame to abuse the most vulnerable.
Prosecutor Dan Owens told the jury of eight men and four women that Winslow is a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
The homeless woman in Encinitas, who was 58 at the time, testified that he befriended her and attacked her next to his vehicle after inviting her for a coffee in May 2018.
A 54-year-old hitchhiker said he drove her to an Encinitas shopping center parking lot and raped her in his Hummer in March 2018.
A 57-year-old woman said he exposed himself to her while she tended to her garden in May of 2018. The jury found him guilty of that charge Monday.
After news of the attacks broke, a woman came forward and said Winslow had raped her when she was a 17-year-old high school student in 2003. He was 19 at the time and had come home from college for the summer. She said she passed out at a party in a San Diego suburb and woke up to find Winslow assaulting her.
A 77-year-old woman who went to the same gym as Winslow in the beach community of Carlsbad said he committed lewd acts in front of her, including touching himself, while Winslow was free on $2 million bail in February. The jury found him guilty on the charge of touching himself in front of the woman at the gym, but not guilty of committing a lewd act while in the facility’s hot tub in front of the same woman who said it happened on a different occasion.
After the jury sent a note saying it was deadlocked on the eight other charges, the judge sent them back to deliberate. Jurors went home less than an hour later and were ordered to resume deliberating Tuesday.
The panel on Friday sent a note to the judge indicating it was possibly struggling to find agreement.
“The jurors could benefit from an explanation as to what being under oath means,” the note said. “Additionally, how we should follow the law and not what we think the law means.”
The judge told jurors being under oath means telling the whole truth and that they should follow the law how it is written.
Defense attorney Marc Carlos questioned the credibility of the women’s claims, saying they had lied, misconstrued things or were unable to initially identify him correctly.
Defense lawyers also said the sex was consensual and that Winslow had cheated on his wife repeatedly with no-strings-attached sex.
Prosecutors said the crux of the women’s stories didn’t change and that evidence included traces of Winslow’s DNA on one of the accuser’s pants and GPS locations placing him where the women said the assaults occurred.
The five women testified that they didn’t know Winslow was famous when they met him.
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Central Americans pursue US dream despite Mexico crackdown
By SONIA PEREZ D. | Mon, June 10, 2019 04:29 EDT
SAN MARCOS, Guatemala (AP) — A near-death experience in the Arizona desert a year ago won’t deter Francisco Pérez from another attempt to migrate to the U.S., nor will an increased police presence in southern Mexico.
The 23-year-old Guatemalan teacher and auto mechanic hopes to set out again soon to repay the $7,000 he owes from his first trip, when he and two other young men got lost for a week in the desert before being rescued by the U.S. border patrol.
On the seventh day, facing severe dehydration, the group resorted to drinking their own urine.
“Each of us urinated in a bottle and then strained it with the corner of our pants,” said Pérez, rubbing his hands together as he recalled the day he thought would be his last.
Pérez spent two days in a U.S. hospital before being returned to Guatemala. During his short stay in Arizona, though, he caught a glimpse of houses with manicured lawns, orderly roads and fancy stores. Those images are like a siren’s song, calling him to what he believes would be a better life.
Before setting out for the U.S., he earned $100 a month as a teacher and had a girlfriend. Now she is with somebody else and he’s helping out in his father’s auto repair shop in his hometown of San Marcos, just a few miles from the border with Mexico.
“In the end I lost everything,” Pérez said.
Mexico has promised to deploy 6,000 National Guard troops to its southern border on Monday to deter Central Americans from trekking toward the American dream. About 1 percent of Guatemala’s population of some 16 million people have left the country this year, part of a wave of Central Americans fleeing poverty, violence and drought.
U.S. Border Patrol agents apprehended 132,887 migrants in May, the highest monthly figure in more than a decade. Many Central American migrants in recent months have been requesting asylum. The United States has returned more than 10,000 U.S. asylum seekers to Mexico since January under a program that requires migrants to wait in that country while their cases wind through U.S. courts. Thousands of Central Americans have also applied for asylum to start new lives in Mexico.
On Friday, Mexican officials vowed to step up migration enforcement to avoid U.S. tariffs on all Mexican imports. Increased enforcement could mean more inspections of buses, raids on hotels and arrests to disrupt people-smuggling networks. Last week, Mexico arrested two migration activists and froze the accounts of more than two dozen people alleged to have organized caravans.
“We are really in front of a humanitarian tragedy,” Mexico’s ambassador to the U.S., Martha Bárcena, told CBS News’ Face the Nation on Sunday.
Most Central American migrants come from rural areas, Bárcena noted, suggesting that Mexico and the U.S. should work together to address the root causes of migration rather than just enforcement.
Not far from San Marcos, in the mountain hamlet of La Union Los Mendoza, about one in three people has migrated, according to community leader Genaro Méndez. The rural town of 600 families has dirt roads that turn to mud during the rainy season. Most of its residents subsist on beans, corn and other food that they can grow. Most homes lack running water.
Méndez himself spent 18 years working in the U.S. as an electrician. He decided to remain in La Union Los Mendoza after he was deported for a second time, in 2016.
Now, young men from this indigenous Mam community come to the 43-year-old Méndez for advice on how to make it up north.
“The laws are a little hard” in the U.S., he tells them. “They don’t receive you well.”
And the journey itself is fraught with perils. “It’s not, ‘Grab your backpack and go,'” Méndez warns.
Two Honduran migrants told The Associated Press on Sunday that they were robbed by Mexican officials of the little cash they had while on a bridge between Guatemala and Mexico. The migrants jumped into the Suchiate River to flee from the officials, who they said confiscated their identification documents, beat them and asked them for bribes to pass into Mexico.
“There’s tremendous corruption here,” said one of the men, Jose Romero, fighting back tears. “It’s sad to see all the Central American countries, instead of being united and helping us, they take the little that we have.”
Romero said his hometown of San Pedro Sula has become too violent and that work there is scarce. He said he’d take asylum from Mexico or any other country willing to offer him refuge.
“We’re honest, clean people, determined to work,” Romero said.
Back in Pérez’s hometown of San Marcos, there are restaurants, schools, stores and a picturesque central plaza rimmed by misty mountains. But the money he can earn there, he said, would be barely enough to get by. Grinding poverty sends many in Guatemala in search of higher incomes in the U.S. Pérez’s own father lived in the U.S. for nine years before being deported.
“I’m not going to lie, when I left the desert I left with fear,” Pérez said. “I said, ‘I’m not coming back here.'”
But a year later, he’s trying to make financial arrangements to set out again.
Buses roll out of San Marcos every day from stations lined with backpacks for sale to those making the journey north. Since Pérez hopes to secure a job in the U.S. that allows him to send money back to his aging parents, he tunes out warnings of an increased police presence in Mexico.
“I wouldn’t rule out going back,” he said.
Associated Press photojournalist Marco Ugarte contributed to this report from Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico.