Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Canada's Diminishing Glaciers

"I've actually been able to see with my own eyes, to the point where there were some areas I couldn't recognize between years."
"One year you're Ski-Dooing over the ridges of these ice shelves, and then you go back the year after and [it's] like a city of icebergs."
"What I saw when I was measuring was 100 percent of glaciers retreating. They all retreated. Nothing is growing."
"I don't see snow surviving throughout the summer. You need that year-long snow to be able to accumulate and create more ice and I just don't see that."
"Over 50 percent of the glaciers are completely in the ablation zone, [where] 100 percent of the glacier area is undergoing melt. No part of that glacier is creating more ice."
"It is a big change."
Adrienne White, glaciologist, University of Ottawa
An iceberg floating in the Baffin Bay above the Arctic Circle dwarfs the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis S. St-Laurent on July 10, 2008. (Jonathan Hayward/CP)

Until the mid-1990s average temperature in the Arctic climbed about 0.12 degrees for each decade that passed, so what researcher-glaciologist Adrienne White discovered throughout her seven years of intensive study of the shrinking of glaciers in the Canadian High Arctic is not a recent phenomenon, although the rate of shrinkage has accelerated. From 1995 to 2016 glacier shrinkage had sped up to an increase of 0.78 degrees per decade.

Ms. White's work is similar to the kind of research undertaken in an earlier era discovering that Ellesmere Island's glaciers were in shrink mode; her work builds on that of the studies of decades before she began her own observations. According to the results she has observed the rate of warming is on the increase, but it had not yet been known whether the retreat of the ice has also been speeding up. Her work has taken place along the northern reaches of Ellesmere Island.

She has been busy through seven field seasons in cataloguing and studying over 1,700 glaciers on the High Arctic island to take note of their condition, assembling data derived both from her on-the-ground observations and from satellite imagery, each supporting the other in her final conclusions.
Of the 1,773 glaciers under her observation, 1,353 gave notice of significant shrinkage between 2000 and 2016; all were seen to have been diminished in size.
Ms. White examined the condition of glaciers on land, and as they flowed into the ocean, at ice shelves floating atop the sea and their shrinking presence validates her conclusions. This has been happening throughout the Arctic region, as well as at the South Pole, with Antarctica's immense ice cap and glaciers also losing significant mass. The Canadian Arctic is known to be experiencing some of the swiftest climate warming occurring anywhere on the planet. Ellesmere Island's annual average temperature has seen an increase of 3.6 degrees.

Through Ms. White's research, glaciers were found to have lost over 1,700 square kilometres, a loss of close to six percent over a sixteen year time frame, and what is being lost is likely to be a permanent loss; most glaciers, the experts feel, will never recover their former size. Moreover, according to data acquired from other areas in the Arctic, rising temperatures indicate that elevation required for snow to remain through the summer has also risen by 300 metres.

Most of Elesmere's glaciers are no longer in a sufficiently high range to enable them to accumulate snow, and without that accumulation due to higher temperatures prevailing, their capacity to grow has been critically hampered.
Ice floats in Slidre Fjord outside the Eureka weather station on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, on July 24, 2006. New research finds that hundreds of glaciers in Canada's High Arctic are shrinking and that many are likely fated to disappear. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)

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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Gender Gap

"Women often have atypical heart disease presentation and often present later in the disease spectrum. Medical treatments also have different effects on women and men."
"[This new study should] highlight the need for further research to understand these differences and to improve care and outcomes in women."
Dr. Louise Sun, anesthesiologist, researcher, University of Ottawa Heart Institute

"Unfortunately, we have seen almost no advance in the strategy used to treat the heart failure that affects women predominately."
Dr. Lisa Mielniczuk, co-principal study researcher, Ottawa Heart Institute

When women present with difficulties in their health condition exhibiting symptoms unfamiliar to medical specialists whose education and practise traditionally reinforces male-presented symptoms linked to heart disease, women frequently are labelled with respiratory problems rather than heart problems in seeking treatment. Women tend to be older when their symptoms appear and because they are older often have other chronic illnesses at diagnosis, thus rendering diagnosis even more fraught.

Women, to begin with, tend to suffer from a variant form of heart failure, different than what afflicts men, and so their symptoms become more difficult to diagnose. To complicate matters further, once they are diagnosed, and treatment proffered, that treatment tends to be less effective for women than it is for men. Though treatments for the type of heart failure common to men is making great strides, the same cannot be said for protocols involving female treatment.

All this to explain why it is that women are likelier than their male counterparts to be hospitalized and die as a result of heart failure. Two investigators at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute recently completed a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal; the latest such study to recognize the existence of a gender gap in heart disease presentation, diagnosis and treatment failing the needs of women.

These simple facts appear to explain why it is that women die more often than men with misinterpreted symptoms of heart failure, a chronic progressive condition where the heart muscle is no loner capable of pumping sufficient blood to meet the needs of the body. Outcomes for women are worse despite the fact that survival rates have long been known to be troubling for women since women display different symptoms than do men, yet they receive immediate and appropriate treatment less often.

As a major cause of illness and death, heart failure accounts for 35 percent of female cardiovascular mortality. Hospitalization rates for men with heart failure has decreased, as death rates due to heart failure continue to decline. On the other hand, hospitalization rates for women increased between 2009 and 2014, the period studied by the researchers. In their research, data linked to over 90,000 patients diagnosed with heart failure in Ontario during that time frame was studied.

All of the patients were not hospitalized at the time of diagnosis, and the women identified in the study, representing 47 percent of the patients, tended to be older and frailer, with lower incomes and with multiple chronic illnesses besides their heart symptoms. In the one-year window after diagnosis, 16.8 percent of the women in the study died, while 14.9 percent of men did so. Hospitalization rates for women were higher among women than for men, with 98 women per 1,000 hospitalized in 2013 compared to 91 per 1,000 men.

The goal of the study itself was, according to the researchers, to raise awareness in general that heart failure is quite common within the general population -- as well as to emphasize the phenomenon of gender discrepancies, in the hope of motivating other researchers to engage themselves in similar research which may result in solving some of these gender-specific problems in health symptoms, diagnoses and treatment.

Heart disease and stroke is the number one killer of women around the world, accounting for more deaths every year than all cancers combined
Surprised? There’s more.
  • Heart disease and stroke are a leading cause of death among women in Canada, claiming 33,000 lives each year.
  • Women are 16 per cent more likely than men to die after a heart attack.
  • That number rises to 50 per cent if you just look at the first year following a heart attack.
  • In Canada, stroke kills 36 per cent more women than men.
  • Nine in 10 Canadian women have at least one significant risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
  • Many women are unaware of these risks and how to manage them.
  • Many women ignore their symptoms until it’s too late.
  • Women can reduce their risk of heart disease and stroke by as much as 80 per cent by managing risk factors, which include eating a healthy diet, being physically active, being smoke-free, limiting alcohol, maintaining a healthy weight, and reducing stress.
Why does this heart health gender gap persist? And how can we do a better job of preventing, diagnosing and treating heart disease in women?

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Monday, July 16, 2018

Conceptualizing Urgency

"For the highest sea-level rise scenario, taking an average cliff  height of more than 25 metres, the total cliff volume loss would be more than 300 million metres by 2100."
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) study

"It's a huge volume of material."
"We place this in a context of dump truck loads. It would be 30 million dump trucks full of material that will be eroded from the cliffs."
Patrick Barnard, USGS research geologist
A worrying new study has found that coastal cliffs stretching roughly 300 miles from Santa Barbara to San Diego are at risk of eroding at more than twice the historical rate by the year 2100. File photo of a landslide in California is shown
A worrying new study has found that coastal cliffs stretching roughly 300 miles from Santa Barbara to San Diego are at risk of eroding at more than twice the historical rate by the year 2100. File photo of a landslide in California is shown

A new study, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research predicts that erosion in Southern California will double from the rates observed between 1930 and 2010 by the end of this century, with waves pounding cliffs more frequently, and dependent on how high the seas will end up rising.
That having been stated the researchers who were responsible for this conclusion may wish to repeat their study from variant angles since they feel fairly confident of their prediction, yet temper that confidence by acknowledging the research to have been limited in its predictability options.
Erosion undermines coastal homes in Pacifica, Calif., in 2016. (Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)

Still, it's a fairly convincing argument, that the general expectation is that sea levels are slowly rising and will doubtless continue to rise, with the melting of the polar ice caps and other atmospheric disturbances taken into account. And with each level of rise, resulting deterioration of the base of cliffs continues to occur on the coast of Southern California with erosion of land that could conceivably destroy the integrity of some bluffs entirely, and as they collapse taking thousands of homes built upon them to destruction.

The study posits a scenario of indecision and choices to be made with rising sea levels, where authorities from Santa Barbara to San Diego will come face to face with the need to act; to decide whether public beaches used by millions of Californians and which represent a hefty tourist draw be saved, or that they be closed by the placing of boulders and the building of concrete walls to defend the shoreline by stopping waves and the ongoing erosion from the point of view of saving peoples' homes.

Coastal land loss on an unimaginable scale up to 40 metres beyond the current shoreline is predicted by the study.
Photo of shoreline with very little sandy beach. Heavy equipment is  piling up large boulders (rip rap) along the eroded shore
Exposed bedrock on the beach, below the University of California, Santa Barbara. (Credit: Daniel Hoover, U.S. Geological Survey. Public domain.)

The study was undertaken to begin with for the purpose of giving a head's up to public planners and policy makers in California focusing on the potential of climate change effects. Studies in the future will plan to examine possible effects on the central and northern coasts as well, to complement this initial study affecting Southern California. In an effort to emphasis just how huge a problem this can be, Dr. Barnard emphasized that the comparison made to dump truck loads is magnified by the fact that a line of trucks filled with the detritus of the destroyed bluffs would stretch multiple times around the globe.

The aura of imminent collapse has led the city of San Francisco to begin moving the Great Highway -- to divert it away from Ocean Beach in acknowledgement that erosion even now is destabilizing the earth beneath the area, resulting in houses and apartments in Pacifica, south of the city being declared uninhabitable, the result of supporting cliffs having responded to the force of erosion. Some parts of the coast have seen homes already being removed in view of the reality of eroded and flooded cliffs.

A simple diagram shows the factors that can affect coastal cliff erosionUSGS: Science for a Changing World

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Sunday, July 15, 2018

Handle With Care Or Not At All

Accidents caused by the use of green arsenic, 1859. © Wellcome Collection, CC BY-SA
"One of the most dangerous books ever created was meant to warn against exactly this danger [arsenic used for commercial purposes]."
"In the 1870s, an American doctor tried to raise awareness of the hazards of arsenic-laced wallpaper by creating a book of potentially poisonous samples and sending it around the libraries. The intent was to help people identify dangerous wallpaper in their homes, not to poison librarians."
"Today, only four copies of that book still exist, and they're treated very carefully."
Atlas Obscura

"It is well documented that European bookbinders in the 16th and 17th centuries used to recycle older parchments."
Josh Povi Holck and Kanre Lund Rasmussan, Conversation
Paris Green was a popular emerald pigment for Victorian paints and dyes. It was also chock-full of toxic arsenic.     Credit: Chris Goulet at English/ CC BY-SA 3.0

Arsenic is a metal which if ingested in sufficient proportions can kill. It is present in the Earth's crust. Volcanic action helps to spew it into the atmosphere where it falls to the ground; it is, quite literally, everywhere, including water. And at one time it was used commercially in paint, in clothing and even once was used as a dye for stamps which of course would be 'licked' by those using them to adhere to an envelope. Even once it became known that arsenic was a poisonous element  and a morbid threat to human life, it was still being used throughout the 19th century.

By early the 20th century scientists acknowledged that when inhaled arsenic could have dangerous consequences when it off-gasses its poisonous attributes. At the University of Southern Denmark, books dating from the 16th and 17th centuries featuring various subjects were recently X-rayed as professors were searching to determine whether any old Latin texts held in the university's library had been used in the books' bindings, a kind of 'recycling' of materials that was not uncommon for earlier eras.

The Arsenic Waltz’. © Wellcome Collection, CC BY-SA

What they discovered was that three texts's bindings were painted with green containing arsenic. A common device through to the 19th century; the use of green paint tinted with arsenic. After this surprise discovery, the books were isolated, each stored in a separate box well marked with safety warning labels to be placed in a well-ventilated cabinet. The intention now is for specialists to digitize the contents of each book so that henceforth physical handling will not be required to access their contents.

An obvious 21st century solution to a problem stemming from a far earlier era.
Books That Kill: 3 Poisonous Renaissance Manuscripts Discovered in School Library
A researcher (carefully) holds one of the arsenic-poisoned books. The tome dates to the Renaissance, but was likely coated in arsenic paint by misguided Victorians.  Credit: University of Southern Denmark/ The Conversation
"Arsenic is a naturally occurring element that’s found in soil and water. It has also been used by farmers as a pesticide and a fertilizer. It is also used to preserve pressure-treated wood.
Like lead, mercury, and other heavy metals, arsenic can persist in soil for years after it is applied to crops."
"Much of the rice grown in the Southern U.S., for example, grows in paddies that were once cotton fields. Cotton farmers are known to have used arsenic-based pesticides to control bugs called boll weevils."
"Other studies have shown that arsenic content in soil is higher around rivers and may be related to soil texture. Clay soils have more naturally occurring arsenic."
"Because of its chemical structure, plants mistake arsenic for necessary nutrients and readily absorb it from the soil."

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Saturday, July 14, 2018

Searching For Functionally Disturbed Sleep Solutions

"Sleep Apnea is an increasingly common disorder that results in restricted airflow during sleep cycles. There are two variations of it, known as Obstructive Sleep Apnea [which is caused by a blockage of the airway] and Central Sleep Apnea [caused by the brain failing to signal the muscles to breathe efficiently]. The direct result of either variation of the disorder is an inability to receive sufficient oxygen, often resulting in a stoppage of breathing multiple times each night."
"It's the bane of my existence as a sleep doctor."
"A lot of what sleep doctors do in the first few months after diagnosis is help people be able to use their CPAP."
Dr. James Rowley, pulmonologist, Wayne State University, Detroit
Joelle Dobrow demonstrates how she puts on her sleep apnea breathing device at her home in Los Angeles. It took her seven years to find one she liked. “I went through 26 different mask styles. I kept a spreadsheet so I wouldn’t duplicate it.” (Reed Saxon/Associated Press)
The medical condition known as sleep apnea has been recognized as a condition leading to serious health issues and the condition has been known to the medical community for the last twenty years and more. Breathing that stops while someone is sleeping, and then starts again after a pause of as long as a minute has been associated with poor health outcomes of a truly serious manner, but treatment of the condition remains uncertain. There are no drugs available that help manage the condition, though there are protocols in the use of mechanical assists of questionable value.

For people suffering from the condition, throat and tongue muscles tend to relax and when they do they block the breathing airway during sleep hours. Sleep apnea tends to afflict people who are overweight and sedentary, those with compromised facial structure or simply through the process of aging. Hundreds of times nightly these people briefly stop breathing, and after a pause resume breathing, usually with a physical start and an auditory gasp, followed by stentorious snoring.

Quite apart from these interruptions in a normal sleeping pattern preventing sufferers from enjoying a deep sleep required to restore the body's and brain's physical resources, sleep apnea of any duration has the potential to cause strokes, heart attacks and problems related to normal heart rhythm. Such people are likelier than their counterparts who don't suffer from this malady, to succumb to premature death.

Needless to say, each of the conditions leading to sleep apnea -- obesity, lack of exercise or an underlying chronic health condition can themselves lead to early death. One drug has held out a modicum of hope, a THC (active ingredient in marijuana) pill, known as dronabinol, and often used to ease chemotherapy side effects. A small experiment with 73 people in the study did suggest it can help moderately, without being entirely successful.
beautiful sleeping woman
The search continues, however for some tried-and-true measure of relief for sleep apnea sufferers. The first choice for specialists in the field is a remedy that has received a good deal of study, called continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), a motorized device designed to pump air through a mask; a device designed to open a sleeper's airway. An estimated five million Americans have given CPAP a try, but up to a third have discarded it, citing discomfort and inconvenience.

Mouthpieces which dentists fix into place have worked well for some but often result in jaw pain. Surgery is yet another option, but one that is frequently unsuccessful. The obvious recommendation that patients lose weight, take care with their diet and exercise to embark on a new, healthier lifestyle to prevent and/or lift the symptoms of sleep apnea seems to represent too much of a challenge for those struggling with the issue of poor sleep and its associated incrimination in other health issues.

No proof has yet arisen through experimentation that CPAP helps apnea sufferers to live longer -- yet evidence has demonstrated that its use can have the effect of reducing blood pressure, reduce snoring, improve daytime sleepiness and reduce the frequency of night-time breathing stoppages. In so doing, it improves quality of life for those using it successfully in an effort to soften the deleterious effects of sleep apnea.

  oral applience therapy

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Friday, July 13, 2018

The Beautiful Big Cat

"[The undertaking of breeding Iberian lynxes in captivity is costly and complex, somewhat like] having a nursery for rich kids, in which you have one teacher for each kid."
"We like to say beauty isn't everything, but it does count and -- let's be frank -- the lynx sells extremely well [as an endangered species requiring public funds toward reversing threats of extinction]."
Angelo Salso, Italian official, Brussels, manager, European Commission's Life environmental program
Iberian lynx
An Iberian lynx at a nature reserve in Spain. Photograph: Victor Fraile/Reuters/Corbis

"This lynx clearly evolved to be a rabbit hunter on the Iberian Peninsula -- and the price for being such a precious and specialized hunter is a higher [degree of] vulnerability."
Urs Breitennmoser, feline specialist, International Union for Conservation of Nature

"If the lynx disappears, we will of course continue to live on this planet, but I don't think with the same quality of life."
Javier Madrid, environmental official, Andalusian regional government

"We've seen the species recover, but it's still in danger. I'd love to see it, but I can't imagine a time when we won't need programs like this. We've got a lot of work ahead of us."
"We have a 70% survival rate. That's good, very good. Anything over 50% is a success."
"We get through around 600 rabbits a month." 
"We have to avoid them getting used to human presence. Also there's always a risk of people bringing some cat or dog disease in with them, that could be fatal."
"We are not just saving them, we're studying them. These are the most closely observed animals in the universe."
"It's like the Big Brother house in here [at the breeding center]. You need dedication for this work, it's not easy and it's not well-paid. It has to be a passion."
Rodrigo Serra, director, Iberian Lynx Breeding Center, Silves, Portugal 
Oryctolagus cuniculus (Linnaeus, 1758), European Rabbit
Donald Hobern (dhobern on flickr) / Licensed under Creative Commons

At the Silves breeding center space is at a premium, and workers on the breed-and-release program use a network of over 80 cameras to monitor the lynxes in their care, taking cautious measures to ensure that the 17 staff and volunteers strictly limit their physical contact with the animals, a requirement to ensure that no human-lynx patterning and dependency takes place, to keep the animals in a 'wild' condition, so that when they are eventually released they will be capable of fending for themselves as nature intended.

The existential problem that arose with these Iberian lynx is simple enough; they feed exclusively on what they prefer to hunt; diet-specific rabbits. When their food source dried up several decades ago when a catastrophic disease affecting rabbits wiped out their food source, the lynx went into starvation mode and came close to extinction. Since then, a breeding relocation program has turned the tide as Europe has succeeded in extracting the beasts from extinction -- in so doing preserving vital regional biodiversity.
Iberian Lynx mother carries cub born in the Program Ex-situ Conservation in 2005
By [CC BY 3.0 es (], via Wikimedia Commons

Veterinarians and additional staff members in four breeding centers adhere to very necessary rules to ensure young lynx are raised protected from pathogens that would affect their health, while at the same time maintaining as much of a physical distance as possible to make certain that the animals in their charge remain wary of human contact, planning ahead for their eventual release into the wild. The animals are kept from their kitten stage to their juvenile stage -- about a year in total, in captivity.

Once set free to seek out their territorial living space the rest is up to nature. The young cats are released in variant areas in hopes of avoiding inbreeding -- with each release a matter of celebration, witnessed by locals as the animal dashes out of its enclosure to vanish among the trees and bushes of its chosen area. To the present, the breeding program has come at a cost of approximately 34 million euros, some two-thirds of which is funded from the European Union.

Smaller than other lynx species in northern Europe, the Iberian lynx has similar pointed, tufted ears, large paws and glowing eyes. The rabbits are seen as expendable, readily replaced because they breed easily and frequently, while their predators are seen as valuable mainstays of the regional animal presence. Rabbits are viewed as pests; while local farmers welcome the lynx as they would not the return of brown bears and wolves, which threaten the security of livestock.
A file picture taken Dec. 14, 2009, shows a lynx being released during the first experimental reintroduction of two Iberian lynxes in Villafranca de Cordoba, southern Spain.    (Photo: Cristina Quicler, AFP/Getty Images)

Over the past five years alone 50,000 rabbits have been released into areas newly populated by lynx in the Spanish program of rehabilitation. The program is considered a resounding success; no longer is the Iberian lynx the world's most endangered feline, a huge leap in confidence and sustainability since a 2002 census indicating fewer than one hundred remained in their wilderness habitat. The lynx population has rebounded since those sober figures were released a dozen years ago, with about 550 lynx now living and prospering in nine areas of southern Spain and Portugal.

Still, there are skeptics like Urs Breitenmoser who emphasizes the difficulty of safeguarding an animal susceptible to starvation because it lacks the capacity to adjust to the disappearance of its major food source by accepting alternate food sources, should a virus once again infect the rabbits it hunts.
Iberian Lynx adult from the Program Ex-situ Conservation
By [CC BY 3.0 es (], via Wikimedia Commons

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Thursday, July 12, 2018

The Ultimate Survival Resilience: Adaptation

"I don't think anyone's betting against the coyote getting to South America eventually. They have to be one of the most adaptable animals on the planet."
"Is this something we should view as a natural expansion that's a good thing, or that we should view as an invasive species that's a bad thing?"
"In some ways that's a philosophical question, because in the end, there's nothing we can do about it."
Roland Kays, ecologist, North Carolina State University
There are some species that are so specialized in what they will eat that when their food source disappears so will they. Take giant pandas, as an example; the absolute mainstay of their diet is bamboo. Monarch butterflies dine exclusively on milkweed, while koalas eat only eucalyptus, and a bird called a kite has been species-selected for dining out on snails. Should those specialized foods no longer be available those animals would soon become extinct.

Not so for other animals, which eat omnivorously, like goats as an example, and raccoons. Raccoons have adapted themselves to urban living because they long ago discovered that what people living in cities discard tastes pretty good to them and they thrive on what they can pick out of compost piles and other discarded foodstuffs in our wasteful society. And then there's the ultimate animal adapter, coyotes who have become ubiquitous on the margins and beyond, of human habitation.

They distinguish themselves as a species by breeding swiftly, eating just about whatever they find and adjust to living anywhere that they find haven for themselves, living in fields and forests, parks and even backyards (albeit somewhat discreetly) all around North America, surprising people by their sudden presence and their willingness to pick off very small family pets on occasion. They are bold and not given to bolting in a brief and sudden encounter with people.

Dr. Kays, associated with the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, along with a graduate student studied reams of museum specimens, fossil records, peer-reviewed reports and wildlife agency records tracing coyotes' pathways on their migratory journeys up to ten thousand years ago. They produced maps published recently in the journal ZooKeys demonstrating that the historical range of North America's adaptable canids were previously incorrect.

The study established that coyotes lived in grasslands, prairies and deserts those thousands of years ago, headed east to the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers and west as far as California in the United States until 1900 when coyote packs moved into forested habitat making their way in the early quarter of the 20th century into Alaska and many decades later, to the East Coast of the U.S. They expanded their range by mid 20th century at least twice that of any other North American carnivore since 1950.
Maybe we should leave them alone.   iStock
With the expansion of agricultural lands leading to forest fragmentation destroying the habitat of predators such as wolves, cougars and jaguars, the coyotes thrived and hybrids of coyotes and wolves or dogs (breeds like German Shepherds) were aided in adaptation by developing traits receptive to adapting to new environments. The rapidity of their expansion, however, remains a mystery; that they entered Alaska and the Northwest where intact forests host wolves and mountain lions, a conundrum.

Coyotes are now expected to keep expanding their presence. In 2010 they crossed the Panama Canal. Should they appear in South America it would rank as the first time predators have been exchanged between the continents in three million years.

Coyotes in densely populated areas
Coyotes in densely populated areas (a Los Angeles suburb) can be alarming. But wildlife experts say they fill a niche in the urban ecology. (Troy Boswell / Los Angeles Animal Services)

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