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Humans killed nearly two-thirds of the world's wildlife over 50 years, report says

By the end of the decade, global wildlife populations could be just one-third of what they were 50 years ago because of humans, scientists warned in a World Wildlife Fund report released Thursday.

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According to the Living Planet Report 2016, populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles declined 58 percent between 1970 and 2012, the most recent year for which data is available. The report tracks more than 14,000 populations of more than 3,700 species.

"Wildlife is disappearing within our lifetimes at an unprecedented rate," said Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF International. "This is not just about the wonderful species we all love; biodiversity forms the foundation of healthy forests, rivers and oceans. Take away species, and these ecosystems will collapse along with the clean air, water, food and climate services that they provide us."

Wildlife populations have been hardest hit by the loss and degradation of their habitats due to unsustainable agriculture and logging and changes to freshwater systems, according to the WWF report. Currently, one-third of the planet's land area is covered in farmland and agriculture accounts for nearly 70 percent of our water use.

Other threats to wildlife include pollution, climate change, species overexploitation and the introduction of invasive species and disease.

Freshwater populations have been hardest hit, according to WWF, with populations falling a staggering 81 percent between 1970 and 2012, due mostly to habitat loss and degradation. The habitats are particularly difficult to protect, the nonprofit said, because they're affected by everything from pollution to dams and often cross administrative and political borders.

"Importantly however, these are declines, they are not yet extinctions – and this should be a wake-up call to marshal efforts to promote the recovery of these populations," said Ken Norris, director of science at the Zoological Society of London.

In its report, the WWF outlines a number of measures aimed at reforming the way humans interact with the planet in order to stymie wildlife losses. The nonprofit notes that global initiatives aimed at stopping global warming, such as the Paris climate deal, will help support wildlife growth.

"The world is reaching a consensus regarding the direction we must take," the report says. "Furthermore, we have never before had such an understanding of the scale of our impact on the planet, the way the key environmental systems interact or the way in which we can manage them."

Still, more work needs to be done to address environmental degradation, according to the report.

"We must create a new economic system that enhances and supports the natural capital upon which it relies," the report says. "These kinds of changes to societal values are likely to be achievable only over the long term and in ways that we have not yet imagined."

This is what football can do to a child's brain after just one season

The results of a new study may have some parents rethinking whether they allow their children to play football.

>> Watch the news report here

Three million children in the U.S. play in tackle football programs. While many doctors and scientists have taken a look at the impact of concussions, new research by Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center studied the impact of less-serious blows to the head that are common during games.

The study included 25 players between the ages of 8 and 13 and was centered on a youth program in Winston-Salem, N.C. Each boy was outfitted with a helmet that measured the severity and frequency of head blows.

“This is important, particularly for children, because their brains are undergoing such rapid change, particularly in the age category from maybe 9 to 18. And we just don’t know a lot of about it,” Dr. Chris Whitlow, a lead researcher, told NBC News.

Researchers say their findings indicated that even at this young age, the boys were receiving pretty hard hits.

The doctors then performed MRIs on the players and determined there were some changes in the brain’s white matter, the tissue that connects the gray matter of the brain.

“We have detected some changes in the white matter,” Whitlow said. “And the importance of those changes is that the more exposure you have to head impacts, the more change you have.”

Young players who did not have concussions were also found to have been impacted by repeated hits. Brain changes were found even after a single season of playing the sport.

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So far, doctors are not cautioning parents against letting their children play football since there are still some unclear areas following the study. Doctors don’t know if these changes will continue as the boys play football. They also don’t know what long-term impact the repeated blows to the head will have on the players.

Still, some parents say the sport is worth the risk — for now — because of the joy it brings to their children. Football also encourages their kids to stay on top of their grades.

Kindra Ritzie-Worthy has two sons who play football. She says they take their footballs everywhere they go. One even sleeps with his ball.

“Worth the risk?” she told NBC. “I say absolutely.”

The study is published in the journal Radiology.

Rare shark has even rarer two-headed offspring

A sawtail catshark in the Mediterranean is making headlines in the science world. 

Scientists from Spain say they've discovered the first case of a two-headed shark developing in an egg-laying shark species, National Geographic reported.

The creature was featured in an article in the Journal of Fish Biology.

The shark species lives only in one region: the western Mediterranean, and is considered "near threatened."

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Scientists were collecting embryos of nearly 800 sharks to study their cardiovascular systems. Only one embryo showed two heads.

The embryo has two heads, two mouths, two sets of eyes, two brains, two sets of gills, two stomachs and two livers, but only one, shared, intestine.

The condition, called dicephaly, is rare in the animal kingdom, but can be found in species from snakes to dolphins and even people.

Normally dicephaly has been found in sharks that bear live young or lay eggs that hatch inside the mother.

"There's a reason you don't see a lot of sharks with two heads swimming around: They stand out like a sore thumb, so they get eaten," George Burgess, director the Florida program for shark research at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

‘Scrotum frogs’ found dead in South America

More than 10,000 Titicaca water frogs have been found dead in South America, most likely victims of pollution.

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One of the largest aquatic frogs in the world, the endangered species goes by a unique nickname. It has “amazingly baggy skin, which gives it the common name scrotum frog,” says National Geographic explorer Jonathan Kolby, a PhD student who studies frogs in Latin America

The deaths occurred along a 30-mile stretch of the Coata River, according to members of the Committee Against the Pollution of the Coata River. The river is a tributary of Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. The lake straddles the border between Peru and Bolivia in the Andes Mountains. 

Authorities said raw sewage was found near the lake. 

Although the frogs were found dead on the Peruvian side of the lake, similar events also have occurred on the Bolivian side

The IUCN Red List declares this species as “critically endangered” and it’s believed the highly fragmented populations are all in decline. 

When Jacques Cousteau studied the Titicaca frogs in the 1970s it was common. He found individuals that stretched out to 20 inches long and weighed 2.2 pounds, National Geographic reported.

Super hunter's moon to delight skygazers

Get those telescopes ready, skygazers. The 2016 hunter’s moon also happens to be a supermoon, making it extra special.

An autumn phenomenon, the hunter’s moon is the full moon after the harvest moon. This year, the full moon is particularly close to the Earth’s orbit, according to EarthSky. During this time, the moon may look larger and be brighter, with a yellow, orange or red hue.

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For those who want to set their watches, the hunter’s moon will be best seen on Oct. 16 at 12:23 a.m. EDT. If you miss it, don’t fret, as National Geographic says the full moons in November and December will also be supermoons.

Government spends $700K on missing letter ‘A’

It’s one of the most famous quotes in human history: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

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The words that Neil Armstrong spoke while taking his first steps on the moon are ingrained in the minds of generations of Americans, but is the quote accurate? The astronaut contends that history misquoted him, claiming that he said: “That’s one small step for "a man, one giant leap for mankind.” The National Science Foundation used portions of two taxpayer-funded grants to try to settle the dispute once and for all. The grants, totaling more than $700,000, were distributed to improve and understand communications for people with conditions that may affect speech, like autism and Parkinson’s disease. One of the grants came through money provided by the 2009 American and Recovery Reinvestment Act. The NSF acknowledges that a portion of the money was used to try to find the missing “a," but it was also used to research how the brain understands speech. U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., calls the study an “egregious” waste of taxpayer dollars and profiled it in a monthly “Waste Report." The report provided no conclusions on whether Armstrong did include the “a” in his memorable quote, saying: "These results demonstrate that substantial ambiguity exists in the original quote from Armstrong."

Have we reached the limit of human life expectancy?

How old will you be when you die? Sorry to be so grim, but you probably won't outlive Jeanne Calment, who died at 122 back in 1997.

Fourscore and 42 is likely out of the question, and a new study says exceeding that age limit is, too.

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Albert Einstein College of Medicine professor Jan Vijg and colleagues examined at least two international databases on longevity and found the age of the oldest person to die every year had plateaued. Vijg says the ceiling is at 115 years.

Part of his reasoning is that if there weren't a ceiling, we'd see more Calments — but we haven't.

What about technology and better nutrition? Vijg says it's unlikely those developments will increase our average lifespan. Many others say that's where he's wrong.

There's nothing to account for what future medicine will do for us, and maximum age hasn't plateaued in every country. One of those countries is Japan, which has the world's highest life expectancy.

Ultimately, researchers will have to continue documenting when we drop off to see if this study holds up. Fortunately for us, we won't have to wait around to find out.

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Bees placed on endangered species list for first time in US

For the first time in U.S. history, bees will receive protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Seven yellow-faced bee species, Hawaii's only native bees, are now considered endangered after years of extensive research, according to The Associated Press.

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The yellow-faced bees pollinate plant species indigenous to the Hawaiian islands, some of which are also endangered. In addition, these bees favor heavy shrubs and trees, supporting the health of forest regions, which provides a habitat for other animals.

>>Millions of bees died from Zika pesticide

The bees face threats from "feral pigs, invasive ants, loss of native habitat due to invasive plants, fire, as well as development, especially in some for the coastal areas," Sarina Jepson, director of the Xerces Society, told The Associated Press.

The protection goes into effect Oct. 31, according to CNN.

'Just get it out of the food': Senator wants chemical banned

The controversial chemical Bisphenonal A, commonly called BPA, is in food and metal food containers like baby bottles and cans of soup.

Sen. Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, says the substance should be banned, even as scientists disagree on whether small amounts of BPA leaching into food and drink is a health concern.

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This week Markey introduced a bill called the "Ban Poisonous Additives Act," a prohibition on BPAs. 

"We just have to finally say there is no role for BPA in anything that is connected to any food product in the United States," Markey said. 

The National Institutes of Health says it has "some concern" about the impact of BPA on the brain and other organs of infants and children.

Twelve states have taken steps to ban or restrict the chemical.

But the FDA has said it is safe, especially given the relatively minor amount that might be exposed in food and drink.

"The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the European Food Safety Authority and other government agencies around the globe have found no public health risk associated with BPA in any food or beverage," reads a statement on the American Beverage Association's website.

Earth's carbon dioxide levels reach record highs

The Earth has reached a global warming milestone it may never recover from. Climate scientists say carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere surpassed 400 parts per million this month.

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That's 50 parts per million more than what most experts consider "safe." And there's little hope that we will ever get our planet's levels back to that number again.

The last time Earth consistently saw CO2 levels like these was millions of years ago, so humans have likely never experienced something like this before.

And that means scientists aren't entirely sure what's going to happen next.

But we do know CO2 emissions have been one of the main sources of climate change since the Industrial Revolution, and it has caused the Earth's temperature to rise 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit since then.

That's already led to record-breaking global temperatures, extreme weather and other effects.

Experts say we might see small dips in atmospheric CO2 levels in the near future, but it won't be enough to make a difference.

Still, scientists are urging people to take this news as a wake-up call to get serious about reducing carbon emissions and fighting climate change.

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