Legume’s Lost Legacy, Found

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Rancho Gordo’s heirloom beans look like gems in a jewelry case. The company sells half a million pounds of them a year.Illustration by Cari Vander Yacht

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“My favorite bean is always the last one I ate,” Steve Sando says.Illustration by Cari Vander Yacht

If you only had read the first sentence in this story, you might move right on to something more promising.

Look at the author and look at the title, both familiar to those visiting this platform over the years, and it is certain not to disappoint. It is about this man to the right, and his culinary/cultural mission:

The Hunt for Mexico’s Heirloom Beans

Rare varieties discovered by Rancho Gordo’s Steve Sando have turned the humble legume into a gourmet food.

By Burkhard Bilger

The best meal of my life, or at least the most memorable, came from a can. I was thirteen at the time and living in France, so that may have had something to do with it. But I credit the beans. My older sisters and I were at a hippie camp in the Alps that summer, not far from the Italian border. My parents had stashed us there while they went home to Oklahoma to check on our house, which they’d rented to some graduate students while my father was on sabbatical. The camp was the cheapest one they could find, and they seemed to have done next to no research before signing us up. My mother just loved the name: Jeunesse du Soleil Levant, Youth of the Rising Sun. Continue reading

Mary River Turtle, Hang On!

 

Thanks to the Guardian for bringing this to our attention:

Green-haired turtle that breathes through its genitals added to endangered list

With its punky green mohican the striking Mary river turtle joins a new ZSL list of the world’s most vulnerable reptiles

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The Mary River turtle, found in Queensland, Australia, features on a new list of the most vulnerable reptile species on the planet. Photograph: Chris Van Wyk/ZSL/PA

It sports a green mohican, fleshy finger-like growths under its chin and can breathe through its genitals.

The Mary river turtle is one of the most striking creatures on the planet, and it is also one of the most endangered.

The 40cm long turtle, which is only found on the Mary river in Queensland, features in a new list of the most vulnerable reptile species compiled by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). Continue reading

Us & Them Instead Of Us Versus Them

Thanks to Emily Buder at the Atlantic for this five minute recommended viewing. In the video above, by Nani Walker and Alan Toth, the question is:

Can Humans and Lions Get Along?

“Lions are really causing us havoc,” laments an African pastoralist in Nani Walker and Alan Toth’s short documentary, Living with Lions.  Continue reading

Sweet Potato Origin Story

 

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A chromolithograph of Christopher Columbus arriving at the Caribbean. Credit Louis Prang and Company/Getty Images

Thanks to Carl Zimmer for this 1493-ish story:

All by Itself, the Humble Sweet Potato Colonized the World

Many botanists argued that humans must have carried the valuable staple to the Pacific from South America, a hidden chapter in human history. Not so, according to a new study.

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The distribution of the sweet potato plant has baffled scientists. How could the plant arise from a wild ancestor in the Americas and wind up on islands across the Pacific? Credit Karsten Moran for The New York Times

Of all the plants that humanity has turned into crops, none is more puzzling than the sweet potato. Indigenous people of Central and South America grew it on farms for generations, and Europeans discovered it when Christopher Columbus arrived in the Caribbean.

In the 18th century, however, Captain Cook stumbled across sweet potatoes again — over 4,000 miles away, on remote Polynesian islands. European explorers later found them elsewhere in the Pacific, from Hawaii to New Guinea.

The distribution of the plant baffled scientists. How could sweet potatoes arise from a wild ancestor and then wind up scattered across such a wide range? Was it possible that unknown explorers carried it from South America to countless Pacific islands? Continue reading

Conservation Aided By Lowliest Of Creatures

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A leech, Haemadipsa zeylanica, in Thailand. Scientists have found they can survey the biodiversity of a forest with DNA analysis of leeches’ last blood meals. Credit Thailand Wildlife/Alamy

From Re-Wilding To Un-Wilding

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Illustrations by R. Kikuo Johnson

Yesterday our attention was riveted by heroic efforts in the Highlands to re-wild, and today it is back to the sadder topic of un-wilding. Thanks to Rachel Nuwer for this article on a topic long of interest in these pages:

That Python in the Pet Store? It May Have Been Snatched From the Wild

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R. Kikuo Johnson

JAKARTA — In the market for a new pet? Maybe something a bit exotic? For many consumers, reptiles and amphibians are just the thing: geckos, monitors, pythons, tree frogs, boas, turtles and many more species are available in seemingly endless varieties, many brilliantly colored, some exceedingly rare.

Exotic reptiles and amphibians began surging in popularity in the early 1990s, not only in the United States but also in Europe and Japan. From 2004 to 2014, the European Union imported nearly 21 million of these animals; an estimated 4.7 million households in the United States owned at least one reptile in 2016.

But popularity has spawned an enormous illegal trade, conservationists say. Many reptiles sold as pets are said to have been bred in captivity, and sales of those animals are legal. In fact, many — perhaps most, depending on the species — were illegally captured in the wild. Continue reading

Alladale & Apex Wildlife

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Eurasian grey wolves at the Highland Wildlife Park, Kingussie, Scotland.
Photograph: Alamy

Thanks to Kevin McKenna and the Guardian for this profile of an entrepreneurial conservation project that is quite in the spirit of our work over the last two decades. We salute Paul Lister and his team for this wonder:

One man’s plan to let wolves roam free in the Highlands

The ‘custodian’ of the Alladale estate wants to turn it into a fenced-off wildlife reserve

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The Alladale estate. Photograph: Alamy

The echoes of Scotland’s predator prince faded into silence three centuries ago. The wolf was once lord of these Sutherland slopes and the forest floors beneath and now a voice in the wilderness is calling him home.

Paul Lister acquired the Alladale estate, 50 miles north of Inverness, in 2003 and immediately set about creating a wilderness reserve according to his perception of what these wild and beautiful places ought to look like. He can’t imagine them without the packs of wolves that once roamed free here.

But his views are considered eccentric by ramblers and conservationists, who view them as a rich man’s caprice, centring their objections on his plans to fence off the vast reserve. Continue reading

Coffee, Journeys & Yemen

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CreditPatricia Wall/The New York Times

This review, thanks to Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, has my attention on The Coffee-Flavored American Dream of a young man with about as improbable a mission as I can imagine.  Returning to the coffee fields of Costa Rica’s Tarrazu region in a few days, I also plan to cross the Central Valley to see the latest mission accomplished of another coffee dreamer, the choice of Dave Eggers for his latest book topic is much appreciated.

A few years ago I traveled with a group of friends from the southern Yemeni port city of Aden to the capital of Sanaa in the north, taking the long coastal road that twists and curves around the bulge of Yemen’s southernmost tip. After passing the Bab el Mandeb strait, the road stretches along the seashore. Under a clear bright sky, the waters of the Red Sea shimmered and the sand glowed a warm ocher, the monotony interrupted only by an occasional fisherman’s shack, a small nomadic settlement or a bleached one-room mosque. Flat-topped trees looming in the distance suggested an African landscape.

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CreditLorenzo Gritti

Ahead of us lay the port of Mokha, or Al-Mukha in Arabic, where from the 15th century onward ships set sail with precious Yemeni coffee bound for Istanbul, London, Amsterdam and eventually New York — so much coffee that the word “mocha” became synonymous with it. Continue reading

MA’O’s Marvelous Mission

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If we had come upon the website with no introduction maybe it would have looked like just another pretty organic farm in a tropical paradise.

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But there are people involved, and it is a pleasant surprise to learn from Dakota Kim’s story Youth Farm In Hawaii Is Growing Food And Leaders how those people bring that place further to life. There is a mission worth reading about:

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Cheryse Sana, farm co-manager, cuts a banana blossom off a tree at MA’O Organic Farms. Dakota Kim

A tight circle of teenagers is deep in conversation — not about movies or apps, but about … vegetables.

It’s 7 a.m. at MA’O Organic Farms, part of 24 acres nestled in an emerald mountain-ringed valley just two miles from Oahu’s west shore. Under a hot sun that bathes this idyllic breadbasket, college-aged farmers harvest tons of mangoes, bananas, mizuna (mustard greens) and taro every month for the island of Oahu.

The farm’s atmosphere bubbles with enthusiastic lightheartedness, its college interns quipping across the rows that they can beat their neighbors’ harvesting speed. But a calm falls over the group as they move from joking around to talking more seriously. A circle forms under an open pavilion, and a young woman speaks. Continue reading

Why Did The Robot Swim Like A Fish?

Thanks to for this story about how a Robotic Fish Moves Like The Real Thing — So It Can Observe The Real Thing:

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SoFi, the robotic fish, swims in for its close-up. MIT computer scientists hope SoFi will help marine biologists get a closer (and less obtrusive) look at their subjects than ever before. MIT CSAIL

Scientific advancement: It’s all in the wiggle.

OK, it’s a lot more complicated than that. But when a team of researchers at MIT unveiled their robotic fish Wednesday, one of the keys they emphasized was the graceful undulation of the prototype’s tail — which, besides being rather eye-catching, serves a crucial role in the robot’s ultimate mission: giving scientists the ability to unobtrusively observe marine wildlife remotely.

robot-fish.gif“Because the fish moves through undulating movement rather than thrusters, the impact it has on how the water moves around it is much more like what is expected of physical fish,” Daniela Rus, director of the school’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, tells NPR. Continue reading

For Ocean Conservation, Focus On Scientifically-Driven Decisions

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Nathaniel Russell

Our favorite stories on conservation challenges–whether marine or terrestrial–are those that highlight entrepreneurial approaches. Those stories, though, have multiple counterparts related to government approaches to conservation. In our many celebrations of various forms of ocean conservation, we have probably tended to favor quantity and scale more than emphasizing the value of science. Guilty as charged, but ready to remedy:

Bigger Is Not Better for Ocean Conservation

SAN FRANCISCO — I have spent my entire life pushing for new protected areas in the world’s oceans. But a disturbing trend has convinced me that we’re protecting very little of real importance with our current approach.

From Hawaii to Brazil to Britain, the establishment of large marine protected areas, thousands of square miles in size, is on the rise. These areas are set aside by governments to protect fisheries and ecosystems; human activities within them generally are managed or restricted. While these vast expanses of open ocean are important, their protection should not come before coastal waters are secured. But in some cases, that’s what is happening.

Continue reading

Pomology, Diet & Trade

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More than half of the fresh fruit and almost a third of the fresh vegetables Americans buy now come from other countries. Credit Jens Mortensen for The New York Times; Styled by Mariana Vera

David Karp, no not that David Karp, is in our distant memory recalled as The Fruit Detective, and we had lost track of him until today. Thankfully, he is still pomologizing:

Most of America’s Fruit Is Now Imported. Is That a Bad Thing?

It’s obvious to anyone who visits an American supermarket in winter — past displays brimming with Chilean grapes, Mexican berries and Vietnamese dragon fruit — that foreign farms supply much of our produce.

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Although local, seasonal and farm-to-table are watchwords for many consumers, globalization has triumphed in the produce aisle. Credit Jens Mortensen for The New York Times

Imports have increased steadily for decades, but the extent of the change may be surprising: More than half of the fresh fruit and almost a third of the fresh vegetables Americans buy now come from other countries.

Although local, seasonal and farm-to-table are watchwords for many consumers, globalization has triumphed in the produce aisle. And despite the protectionist “America First” message coming from the Trump administration, the growth in imports appears likely to continue.

So this is an apt moment to examine how the shift happened, and what it portends — good or ill — for American consumers and farmers.

“I had no idea that more than half our fruit is imported, and it shocks me that this has happened so quickly,” said Michael Pollan, a professor of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, whose best-selling books have analyzed the tensions between local and global food systems. Continue reading

Spying on Birds

“So, like, what do you do every day?”

I get asked this often and I’m not always sure how to explain it to people without pictures at hand or infinite patience for follow-up questions. So, in this blog post, with the benefit of time to pick the right words and theoretically infinite space to write them out, I figured I would try to provide an adequate answer.

View from the field, a week or so ago

Why fieldwork?

This, I feel, is the question at the crux of the what-do-you-do-every-day question. Why do you have to go to Kenya to do your work? Right, the bird you study is only found there, but why do you have to be out on the savanna everyday – can’t you just bring the birds back to the lab or study them in a zoo?

Of course, you can (nowadays, only with the right permits) and that is precisely what early zoologists did, collecting specimens – alive or dead – from around the world and bringing them back to examine them under microscopes or in aviaries in a rainy British country garden. While this may be convenient, it inevitably renders your conclusions about a bird’s diet or the adaptive nature of its plumage coloration suspect, because they are arrived at out of context. Without the bird having been examined in the environment it’s found in, with different factors that might affect its behavior and morphology in play, it is impossible to understand why it acts the way it does and why it is the way it is. Hence, fieldwork: observing and sampling critters in the wild. Continue reading

Evolution Never Fails To Surprise

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Kauai, Hawaii. Suzanne Cummings / Getty Images

We never think of evolution as particularly predictable. Surprising, yes. Awesome, yes. Predictable? Well, we love science for that reason, but still do not associate evolution with predictability. Thanks to Ed Yong, who enjoys making provocative statements that draw his reader in, for making evolution surprising in a new way:

Hawaii: Where Evolution Can Be Surprisingly Predictable

On each Hawaiian island, stick spiders have evolved into the same basic forms—gold, white, and dark. It’s a stunning example of how predictable evolution can be.

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Examples of white, dark, and gold species of stick spiders on various Hawaiian island. The top-left species is the most ancestral of them all. (Rosemary Gillespie et al.)

Most people go to Hawaii for the golden beaches, the turquoise seas, or the stunning weather. Rosemary Gillespie went for the spiders.

Situated around 2,400 miles from the nearest continent, the Hawaiian Islands are about as remote as it’s possible for islands to be. In the last 5 million years, they’ve been repeatedly colonized by far-traveling animals, which then diversified into dozens of new species. Honeycreeper birds, fruit flies, carnivorous caterpillars … all of these creatures reached Hawaii, and evolved into wondrous arrays of unique forms. Continue reading

The Wisdom Of Wolves

WisdomofWolvesCover.600x900.jpgWe first heard of the book here, so thanks to Public Radio station WNYC. However, in the blurb for the podcast interview with the authors, the link to the book went directly to Amazon. Must it forever more be so? Hope not.

So, click the image to the left to go to the actual source of the book, which seems a more worthy place to consider purchasing it, even though here too they give you the option to buy on Amazon. But there is a slight favoring of the publisher, National Geographic, in the purchase options. Here’s what they say:

CURIOSITY. COMPASSION. FAMILY FIRST.

After living among the wolves of The Sawtooth Pack for years, Jim and Jamie Dutcher present a new book, The Wisdom of Wolves: Lessons from the Sawtooth Packproviding groundbreaking observations of their unique experience.

As strong, and just as immediately recognizable as the ties that unite a human family, the emotional bonds shared among wolves are far more complex than ever realized, and now are detailed in this exceptional book. Continue reading

Rewilding In New Jersey

It has been some time since we featured a story on rewilding, which occasionally involves iconic urban areas. New Jersey may not sound iconic, but it is the home to one of the masters of long form so we are happy to share this late great masterpiece of his:

Direct Eye Contact

The most sophisticated, most urban, most reproductively fruitful of bears.

Improbably, I developed a yearning, almost from the get-go, to see a bear someday in the meadow. While I flossed in the morning, looking north through an upstairs bathroom window, I hoped to see a bear come out of the trees. If this seems quixotic, it was. This was four miles from the campus of Princeton University, around which on all sides was what New Yorkers were calling a bedroom community. Deer were present in large familial groups, as they still are in even larger families. They don’t give a damn about much of anything, and when I walk down the driveway in the morning to pick up the newspaper I all but have to push them out of the way. Beforehand, of course, I have been upstairs flossing, looking down the meadow. No bears. Continue reading

When Edward O. Wilson Has Something To Say In Writing, Reading It Is A Top Priority

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Credit Jillian Tamaki

Edward O. Wilson invariably focuses our attention on the planet in new and interesting, not to mention critically important, ways. Here he goes again, and the supporting graphics, highly informative maps, alone are worth the read:

The 8 Million Species We Don’t Know

The history of conservation is a story of many victories in a losing war. Having served on the boards of global conservation organizations for more than 30 years, I know very well the sweat, tears and even blood shed by those who dedicate their lives to saving species. Their efforts have led to major achievements, but they have been only partly successful.

The extinction of species by human activity continues to accelerate, fast enough to eliminate more than half of all species by the end of this century. Unless humanity is suicidal (which, granted, is a possibility), we will solve the problem of climate change. Yes, the problem is enormous, but we have both the knowledge and the resources to do this and require only the will. Continue reading

Finn The Wonder Dog, And Other Introduced Species

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Finn the Wonder Dog on Macquarie Island with king penguins. Photo © Karen Andrew/New Zealand Department of Conservation

Thanks to Ted Williams at Cool Green Science for this article about the eviction of an invasive species in a remote location with charismatic species both native and introduced:

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Choros Field Work. Photo © Island Conservation

Early in the 20th century settlers on the islands of Chañaral and Choros off northern Chile had a brainstorm: They’d create a ready supply of fresh meat by unleashing European rabbits.

It worked out as well as rabbit introduction in Australia. Continue reading

A Pro-Environment Form Of Apartheid

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Jonathan Watts, over at the Guardian, has this news:

Britain and Europe must ban palm oil in biofuel to save forests, EU parliament told

Forest peoples affected by plantations urge EU to enact ban despite diplomatic opposition

If Britain and other European nations are to fulfil forest protection goals, they must ban the use of palm oil for biofuel and tighten oversight of supply chains, a delegation of forest peoples told parliamentarians this week.

The call for urgent, concrete action comes amid an increasingly heated diplomatic row over the issue between the EU and the governments of major palm-producing nations such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Costa Rica.

The European parliament voted last April to prohibit sales of biofuels made from vegetable oils by 2020 in order to meet its climate goals. This was followed by a related vote last month. Whether and how this might be implemented is now being considered by the European Commission and member states.

Continue reading

Bats Are More Important Than You May Realize

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Since white-nose syndrome was first identified, just twelve years ago, it has spread to thirty-one states. The consequences—for bats, humans, and the U.S. economy—could be disastrous. Photograph by Michael Durham / Minden Pictures / Getty

Once you see the photo to the left, more than likely you will bypass this post. We have found this over dozens of occasions when we have posted about this animal. But think twice; read this first (thanks to J. R. Sullivan, an editor for Men’s Journal writing on the New Yorker website):

Late last summer, the biologist Mark Gumbert began flying over the farmlands of Iowa, looking for bats. As the animals foraged and moved through the night, he followed from above, circling the rivers and fields in his single-engine Cessna 172, trying his best not to lose the signals from their transmitters. Over the past decade or so, Gumbert has pioneered the study of bat migrations using radio telemetry, a method of wildlife tracking typically reserved for caribou, moose, and other big game, which tend to travel at moderate speeds. “A wolf running across the ground can move pretty quick, but they’re not going to run all night,” Gumbert told me recently. A bat, on the other hand, can be nearly impossible to trail on foot or by truck. Gumbert and his team at Copperhead Environmental Consulting were the first to observe an entire migration from the air, and they have since conducted surveys in New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, West Virginia, and elsewhere. But the project that brought Gumbert to Iowa was unlike any he had undertaken before—tracking the northern long-eared batMyotis septentrionalis, a species that is among those most threatened by a dangerous fungal disease called white-nose syndrome. Continue reading