Catching the Entomology Bug

Sophia Spencer and Morgan Jackson co-wrote a scientific paper on Twitter, entomology and women in science, after a tweet about Sophia’s love for bugs went viral

It’s good to find an inspiring story highlighting a child’s interest in scientific exploration and the support of parents and the entomological community to foster that passion. Thanks to NPR for bringing it to our attention.

Once Teased For Her Love Of Bugs, 8-Year-Old Co-Authors Scientific Paper

Sophia Spencer, 8, loves bugs — especially grasshoppers. She’s an expert on insects, and likes to give her littlest friends an occasional ride on her shoulder.

That used to earn her mockery from her peers. But now it’s earned her a massive outpouring of support — and a byline in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America.

Everything changed after Sophia’s mom, Nicole Spencer, reached out to scientists for support last year.

She wrote to the Entomological Society of Canada and explained the dilemma. Her daughter wanted to know if she could learn more about bugs as a job, but her mom wasn’t sure how to encourage her. And she wanted to reassure her that her entomological enthusiasm wasn’t weird.

Mission accomplished. Continue reading

Bison Awareness In Europe

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European bison near the town of Bad Berleburg, Germany, in 2013. Credit Marius Becker/Picture Alliance, via Associated Press

Bison in Europe have not been on our agenda for a while, though rewilding in Europe remains a topic we monitor and share here with regularity. Progress seemed more the rule than the exception; so this recent story from Germany takes us by complete surprise:

Last week, a rare wild bison was spotted wandering alone near the town of Lebus in eastern Germany. A local official, alarmed that the animal could be dangerous, ordered hunters to shoot it and one of them did, using a rifle to kill an animal that had not freely roamed Germany for several hundred years, conservationists say.

The killing of the mature male European bison on Sept. 14, which was first reported by local news outlets, set off an outcry among conservationists, who have worked to protect the species and increase its population. The World Wide Fund for Nature in Germany has begun a lawsuit against the local official who gave the order, Heiko Friedemann, setting off a state investigation before it goes to court. Continue reading

Climate Change Primer

Illustrations by JON HAN

Once again we thank NYTimes Science writer Justin Gillis for this primer on a complex and politically weighty issue.

Climate Change Is Complex. We’ve
Got Answers to Your Questions.

We know. Global warming is daunting. So here’s a place to start: 17 often-asked questions with some straightforward answers.

1.Climate change? Global warming? What do we call it?

Both are accurate, but they mean different things.

You can think of global warming as one type of climate change. The broader term covers changes beyond warmer temperatures, such as shifting rainfall patterns.

President Trump has claimed that scientists stopped referring to global warming and started calling it climate change because “the weather has been so cold” in winter. But the claim is false. Scientists have used both terms for decades.

2.How much is the Earth heating up?

Two degrees is more significant than it sounds.

As of early 2017, the Earth had warmed by roughly 2 degrees Fahrenheit (more than 1 degree Celsius) since 1880, when records began at a global scale. The number may sound low, but as an average over the surface of an entire planet, it is actually high, which explains why much of the world’s land ice is starting to melt and the oceans are rising at an accelerating pace. If greenhouse gas emissions continue unchecked, scientists say, the global warming could ultimately exceed 8 degrees Fahrenheit, which would undermine the planet’s capacity to support a large human population.

3.What is the greenhouse effect, and
how does it cause global warming?

We’ve known about it for more than a century. Really.

In the 19th century, scientists discovered that certain gases in the air trap and slow down heat that would otherwise escape to space. Carbon dioxide is a major player; without any of it in the air, the Earth would be a frozen wasteland. The first prediction that the planet would warm as humans released more of the gas was made in 1896. The gas has increased 43 percent above the pre-industrial level so far, and the Earth has warmed by roughly the amount that scientists predicted it would.

Continue reading

Coral Larvae To The Rescue, Thanks To Marine Biologists

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A researcher used a pipette to release coral larvae into trays to encourage settlement and growth. Credit David Maurice Smith for The New York Times

This feature story suggests that even as we stress nature on a global scale, there are creative scientists working on fixes for particular challenges:

Building a Better Coral Reef

As reefs die off, researchers want to breed the world’s hardiest corals in labs and return them to the sea to multiply. The effort raises scientific and ethical questions. Continue reading

If You Happen To Be In Cambridge

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Thanks to Jonathon Shaw and Harvard Magazine for bringing our attention to this book:

Life Beyond Sight

The microbial earth, brought into view

world.drop_.sig_IN ROCKS AND SOIL, air, ponds and oceans, life is dominated by creatures that humans cannot see. Microbes thrive everywhere, from gardens and kitchens to the harshest environments on the planet: under polar ice, in hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the sea, in hot springs that spew acid. A single gram of soil teems with billions of them, and their genetic diversity is equally impressive, dwarfing that of all the plants and animals round.microbe.2 (1)on Earth. Life at the Edge of Sight: A Photographic Exploration of the Microbial World (forthcoming from The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press), brings the planet-shaping diversity of these single-celled, microscopic organisms into view through stunning images. Co-authors Roberto Kolter, professor of microbiology and immunology, and Scott Chimileski, a research fellow in microbiology and immunology at Harvard Medical School, share their passion for the subject in part by magnifying what cannot be seen unaided, in part by revealing large-scale microbial impacts on the landscape. Kolter has long been a leader in microbial science at Harvard, while Chimileski brings to his scholarship a talent for landscape, macro, and technical photography…

Read the whole article here, and if you happen to be in Cambridge (MA, USA) this exhibition might be of interest:

World in a Drop: Photographic Explorations of Microbial Life

logofinalThe minuscule ecosystem within a single drop of water is home to an astonishing diversity of organisms busily living out their lives and interconnected by myriad complex relationships. The photographic exhibit World in a Drop is an aesthetic journey into this microbial world, as revealed through cutting-edge imaging microbe.gallery.1technologies. With expertly executed photography, videography, and poetic narration, Scott Chimileski and Roberto Kolter capture the intrinsic beauty of a mysterious world that is seldom recognized.

Feathers’ Fine Flourish

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Charles-Donatien paints and lacquers goose feathers in his studio. Photograph by Pari Dukovic for The New Yorker

The Style issue of the New Yorker is the least interesting of the year, from the perspective of these pages; and yet on occasion even in this one they deliver something we can mull over:

The Eternal, Seductive Beauty of Feathers

We’ve been dressing up as birds since the Stone Age. Eric Charles-Donatien has brought the craft of featherwork into the twenty-first century.

Not surprisingly Burkhard Bilger is the journalist who pulls this off. Our Bird Of The Day (365 times for seven years running) feature exposes us to feathers of such variety that we could not resist giving Mr. Bilger the benefit of the doubt on this one:

170925_r30592There is such a thing as too much beauty. So the stuffed bird on the counter seemed to be saying. It was a Himalayan monal, Lophophorus impejanus, Liberace of land fowl. Its head was emerald, its neck amber and gold, its back a phosphorescent violet that flared to a sunburst at the tail. A pouf of feathers jutted from its head like a tiny bouquet. Named for Lady Mary Impey, the wife of the Chief Justice of Bengal in the late seventeen-hundreds, it had a stout, ungainly body swaddled in bright plumes as if for an audience with the maharaja. It was a turkey that wanted to be a hummingbird. Continue reading

The Conservation Model Of Martha’s Vineyard

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Whether or not you have been to Martha’s Vineyard, if you have been through our pages at all you will understand how this excerpt from the above book captures our attention and why we are interesting in tracking it down for a closer look:

The Vineyard landscape is distinct in many ways — most notably in land values, pace of development toward full build-out, the assemblages of plants and animals, and past success in land protection — but it typifies many qualities of Massachusetts and the greater New England region, including their conservation challenges. They share the history of agricultural and woodlot land use, the ongoing growth of their forests, the tension among farmed, open, and wooded lands, the relentless sprawl of development, the fragmentation of the land by many small, private landownerships, and the looming threats from climate change, sea level rise, insect outbreaks, and other stresses. Nevertheless, the Vineyard has put itself into a particularly strong position to address the looming challenges due to its expansive breadth of conserved lands, its forward-looking and Island-wide planning efforts and knowledge base about the landscape, and the capacity for ongoing land protection and stewardship. Continue reading

Conservation Tourism and Species Survival

A recent study found that the value of jaguars to tourism (US$6,827,392) was far in excess of the cost to ranchers from depredation of their cattle (US$121,500)

The intersection between jaguar territory and tourism has been part of our work for decades, in both the Paraguayan Pantanal, Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula and more recently in northwestern Belize.

We’ve seen the efficacy of species protection via conservation tourism when the economic value of species survival is quantified. This is good news for one of our favorite animals.

Curiosity saves the cat: Tourism helps reinvent the jaguar

From villain to hero, the jaguar (Panthera onca) stands at the cusp of a radical overhaul in its public image. As the largest cat in the Americas, the species commands a dominant role in the food chain of its native Pantanal – a vast swathe of tropical wetland that encompasses parts of Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia. Once hunted for its fur, the jaguar’s appetite for the abundant prey in the Pantanal has led it into deadly conflict with ranchers in recent decades, casting it as the stalking menace of livestock and livelihood in a region where much of the land is reserved for cattle rearing. However, in a hopeful development for conservationists, researchers have revealed in a new study published in Global Ecology and Conservation that jaguars are worth 60 times more to tourism than the cost the big cats inflict on ranchers.

“The study represents a regional reality in the Pantanal,” said Fernando Tortato, research fellow at Panthera, the global wild cat conservation group that helped lead the study. “Where the jaguar brings in far more revenue than the potential damage it can cause.”

Jaguars once abounded from the southwestern U.S. to Argentina, but their numbers have fallen due to hunting and habitat loss. In the Amazon rainforest, deforestation is an ongoing threat, even while the dense foliage often precludes human encounters with jaguars. In the absence of benign tourism opportunities there is demand for jaguar teeth, paws and claws as souvenirs.

But jaguar’s predilection for lush and low-lying forest makes the Pantanal a stronghold for the species. The wetland’s web-like tributaries also open the wild cat’s home to human exploration, allowing tourists to share in their company.

In the Pantanal, the biggest threat to their survival is conflict with ranchers. Continue reading

Fish Provenance Matters

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Lummi Nation fishermen work to capture Atlantic salmon that escaped an aquaculture pen near Cypress Island, in Washington State. Photograph by Brandon Sawaya / SOULCRAFT ALLSTARS

With big weather news recently holding our attention, it is easy to miss smaller scale natural disasters, so thanks to E. Tammy Kim for ensuring this story made it to our pages:

Washington State’s Great Salmon Spill and the Environmental Perils of Fish Farming

Just after the thrill of the total solar eclipse, a troubling nature story emerged from northwestern Washington State. On August 22nd, Cooke Aquaculture, a multibillion-dollar seafood company, reported that, three days earlier, extreme tides coinciding with the eclipse had torn apart its enormous salmon farm off Cypress Island, a teal idyll near the college town of Bellingham. Continue reading

Collaboration in Lake Tana

People come up with different strategies to remove as many weeds as they can. One of those is to stand in line and push segments of weeds together. Maheder Haileselassie Tadese/Mongabay

This isn’t the first time the subject of water hyacinth has shown up on this site – it would be impossible to spend seven years in Kerala without coming into contact with the invasive weed.

Innovative solutions abound to harvest the fast growing plant for the labor intensive creation of consumer goods, or creative farming techniques, but in cases such as Ethiopia’s Lake Tana, communities unite to attempt manual eradication.

Community pulls water-thirsty invasive weeds from Ethiopia’s Lake Tana

Last week thousands of people in northwest Ethiopia marched to Abay River and Lake Tana as part of the “Save Lake Tana” movement to remove invasive water hyacinth by hand. The free-floating, water-thirsty perennial can grow up to three feet tall and is swallowing the northeast shores of Lake Tana, impacting both aquatic habitat health and local fishermen.

Lake Tana is the source of the Blue Nile and the largest lake in Ethiopia. The lake is frequently used for transport, tourism, hydroelectric power generation, ecological conservation and fishery operations. It is home to 28 fish species, out of which 16 are endemic.

A team of university researchers discovered in 2012 that 20,000 hectares of the lake’s body was covered by invasive water hyacinth (Eichhornia Crassipes). Since then, it’s gone to a peak infestation of 40,000 hectares. At first, the hyacinth was mainly found in an area with three tributaries to Lake Tana. Continue reading