Millenia-Old Amazonian Practices Worthy Of Marvel

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New research suggests people were sustainably managing the Amazon rain forest much earlier than was previously thought. Credit Jenny Watling

Anything with the word Amazon in it, when it refers to the rainforest ecosystem in South America, is worthy of marvel. Joanna Klein offers this story, in the Trilobites feature at the New York Times, that is one of the more surprising finds we have seen in a long time:

Deep in the Amazon, the rain forest once covered ancient secrets. Spread across hundreds of thousands of acres are massive, geometric earthworks. The carvings stretch out in circles and squares that can be as big as a city block, with trenches up to 12 yards wide and 13 feet deep. They appear to have been built up to 2,000 years ago.

Were the broken ceramics found near the entrances used for ritual sacrifices? Why were they here? The answer remains a mystery. Continue reading

Lost & Found, Continental Edition

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Mauritius sits on part of an ancient continent. Keystone USA-ZUMA/REX/Shutterstock

Long-lost continent found submerged deep under Indian Ocean

An ancient continent that was once sandwiched between India and Madagascar now lies scattered on the bottom of the Indian Ocean.

The first clues to the continent’s existence came when some parts of the Indian Ocean were found to have stronger gravitational fields than others, indicating thicker crusts. One theory was that chunks of land had sunk and become attached to the ocean crust below.  Continue reading

Protect This Coral Reef

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GREENPEACE

Thanks to the old school model mad outfit, Greenpeace, for bringing this to our attention in a fresh press release today, that adds urgency to earlier announcements starting last year on this rare and unexpected find:

Greenpeace captures first underwater images of Amazon Coral Reef

Recifes da foz do rio Amazonas.Crédito obrigatório: Divulgação/Greenpeace

GREENPEACE

Amapá state, Brazil, 28 January 2017 – Greenpeace Brazil has captured the first underwater images of the Amazon Reef, a 9500 km2 system of corals, sponges and rhodoliths located where the Amazon River meets the Atlantic Ocean – an area that the Brazilian government has opened for oil exploration.

Recifes da foz do rio Amazonas.Crédito obrigatório: Divulgação/Greenpeace

GREENPEACE

A team of experts, including several oceanographers who announced the discovery of the reef last year, have joined the Greenpeace ship Esperanza on an expedition to document this new biome, which runs from French Guyana to the Brazilian state of Maranhão, an area larger than the cities of São Paulo or London.[1] Oil companies Total and BP could start drilling in this area if they obtain authorization from the Brazilian government. Continue reading

Spanish Speleological Speculation

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Raul Perez Lopez peers into the darkness of CJ-3, a cave that’s mysteriously losing its oxygen. (Credit: Antonio Marcos Nuez)

Discover Magazine’s blog has a post by Anna Bitong, who offers a few clues to help us understand what is happening in the deep recesses of a cave in Spain:

…A sign at the entrance warns visitors not to enter. Continue reading

Mayan City, Deep Jungle Discovery

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Mr. Preston shares an experience that is not familiar to many people, and perhaps only considered enviable by a select few. The team at Chan Chich Lodge meets visitors every day of the year who are looking for a distant cousin of this experience described below, and those guests come away invariably awed by the opportunity to have a safe, comfortable adventure deep in nature, exploring well protected remains of a Mayan civilization buried by time and jungle. For them, this is worth a read:

AN ANCIENT CITY EMERGES IN A REMOTE RAIN FOREST

…The revelation of an ancient city in a valley in the Mosquitia mountains, of Honduras, one of the last scientifically unexplored regions on Earth, was a different story. This was the first time a large archaeological site had been discovered in a purely speculative search using a technology called lidar, or “light detection and ranging,” which can map terrain through the thickest jungle foliage, an event I chronicled in a story for the magazine in 2013. As a result, this discovery revealed something vanishingly rare: a city in an absolutely intact, undisturbed, pristine state, buried in a rain forest so remote and untouched that the animals there appeared never to have seen people before. Continue reading

Fabulous Food Chain Phenomenon

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A chemosynthetic clam living in sea grass. Researchers are not sure how lobsters dig them up. Credit Nicholas Higgs

Thanks to the Science section of the New York Times for this article, The Freaky Food Chain Behind Your Lobster Dinner, by Steph Yin:

If you’ve ever ordered a lobster tail from Red Lobster, there’s a good chance some of your meal can be traced back to swamp gas.

Let me explain.

Red Lobster is a major purchaser of Caribbean spiny lobster, a species that lives in coral reefs in the western Atlantic Ocean. In the 1980s, lobster fishers started constructing artificial reefs in sea grass beds throughout the Caribbean to attract these lobsters. Continue reading

Be The Bee

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SAM DROEGE/UNITED STATES GEOLOGICAL SURVEY

Science, as a section of the daily newspaper of old, was geek-out territory. In the modernizing news organization, it has every bit of that old intensity, magnified by the wonders of technology. This little item demonstrates the point:

You’re a Bee. This Is What It Feels Like.

We’re taking you on a journey to help you understand how bees, while hunting for pollen, use all of their senses — taste, touch, smell and more — to decide what to pick up and bring home.

By JOANNA KLEIN

Set your meetings, phone calls and emails aside, at least for the next several minutes. That’s because today you’re a bee.

Anthropocene Urban Wonder

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Central Park, New York City. Credit: Anthony Quintano via Flickr.

Thanks to Anthropocene:

Looking for the next miracle drug? Try searching city soils

Sarah DeWeerdt

Many drugs are based on molecules produced by bacteria. Previously, the search for such drugs has mostly focused on “pristine” environments in far-flung locales. But a new study shows that many useful molecules could already be, quite literally, at our feet. Continue reading

Photosynthetic Solutions

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Wilerson S. Andrade/Flickr.com

Thanks to Anthropocene:

Could more efficient photosynthesis help feed the world?

Agricultural Origin Story

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Various species of ants engage in some kind of agriculture. Here, a leaf-cutter ant gathers food for its fungus farm. Mark Bowler/Science Source

Thanks to National Public Radio (USA):

Who Invented Agriculture First? It Sure Wasn’t Humans

Ants in Fiji farm plants and fertilize them with their poop. And they’ve been doing this for 3 million years, much longer than humans, who began experimenting with farming about 12,000 years ago. Continue reading

Underwater Pollination

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Image: Brigitta van Tussenbroek

We try to learn something new each day, and when we do, we pass it along here. Thanks to Conservation magazine for this one:

THE NEW UNDERWATER WORLD OF POLLINATION

Even at this relatively late stage in Earth’s exploration, it’s still possible to discover phenomena that are widespread, ecologically important, and—frankly—beautiful. Continue reading

Antikythera, Belize & Wondrous Discoveries

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Divers and archaeologists excavating the 2,000 year old Antikythera shipwreck. Credit Brett Seymour/EUA-WHOI, via Argo

This story, about remains recently found under water in a region of the Greek islands where several of us at La Paz Group have very fond memories of, gives me pause. At the time the ship in this story wrecked, the Mayans in Belize were flourishing. The archeologists working at Chan Chich Lodge are still dating the structures there, but the sailor from the ship lost in Antikytheran waters would likely have found the Mayans quite advanced relative to his own culture.

Greece’s classical period was long over by the time this sailor lost his life, and Rome’s empire was still expanding, impressively. Lots of progress, civilization-wise, philosophy-wise, math-wise, geometry-wise in that Mediterranean zone; but also in what is now called Belize, and the wider Mesoamerican corridor. Reading this article, I appreciate the work of archeologists who advance our understanding of those who came before us:

Human Remains Found at Ancient Roman-Era Shipwreck

By

Underwater archaeologists have found a 2,000-year-old skeleton belonging to a victim of the famed Antikythera shipwreck from ancient Roman times. Continue reading

Ghost Snake Discovered in Madagascar

Iconic limestone Tsingy rocks in Ankarana National Park in northern Madagascar where the ghost snake was discovered. Photo by Sarah Ruane, LSU

Last month it was Mexico, and this time it’s Madagascar – once again, a new snake species with a presumably localized distribution has been discovered in a little-explored area. The elusive and pale gray snake has likely evolved to camouflage against the rocks of the region, and was named Madagascarophis lolo (lolo meaning ghost in Malagasy) by researchers from the LSU Museum of Natural Science, the American Museum of Natural History and the Université de Mahajunga in Madagascar.

The ghost snake is part of a common group of snakes called Madagascarophis, or cat-eyed snakes, named for their vertical pupils, which is often found among snakes that are active in the evening or night. Many of the cat-eyed snakes are found in developed areas or degraded forests. However, the researchers found the ghost snake on the national park’s iconic pale grey limestone Tsingy rocks.

Continue reading

More CO2 Means Less Water for Plants

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Credit: © yommy / Fotolia

A new study on plant water retention from the University of California, Irvine and the University of Washington might rescind some of our assumptions of climate change impacts on agriculture, water resources, wildfire risk, and plant growth. Their findings reveal that water conserved by plants under high CO2 conditions compensates for much of the effect of warmer temperatures, which means more water is retained on land than predicted in commonly used drought assessments. ScienceDaily reports:

The study compares current drought indices with ones that take into account changes in plant water use. Reduced precipitation will increase droughts across southern North America, southern Europe and northeastern South America. But the results show that in Central Africa and temperate Asia — including China, the Middle East, East Asia and most of Russia — water conservation by plants will largely counteract the parching due to climate change.

Continue reading

Kiwis Were Diversified by Glaciers in NZ

Tasman Lake, which is fed by melt water from the retreating Tasman Glacier. Photo by Trevor Chinn

The kiwis referred to here are cute, small, fluffy, brown birds, not to be confused with small fuzzy brown fruit nor with the people who live in New Zealand. These flightless and nocturnal birds used to be divided in three to five species, but new DNA evidence from extensive blood sampling conducted over the last couple decades in their island home is indicating that there is in fact much more genetic diversity – which is often separated geographically – than previously thought, perhaps even enough to declare new species, or at the very least certainly new subspecies. And this might affect conservation strategies for these birds, which are all either endangered or vulnerable to endangerment. Ed Yong reports:

Several million years ago, a small bird flew to New Zealand. Arriving there, it found few threats and plenty of opportunities. In the absence of mammals, its descendants gradually lost the ability to fly, as island birds are wont to do. They also evolved to fill those niches that mammals typically occupy, rootling around the leaf litter in search of worms and grubs. They transformed into that icon of New Zealand—the adorable, bumbling kiwi.

Or rather, they transformed into the kiwis.

Continue reading

Addressing and Absorbing Oil Spills

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Water lettuce and aquatic fern are misnomers for the type of task these plants might be used for in the near future. German researchers recently discovered that Salvinia molesta, an aquatic fern, and Pistia stratiotes, a type of water lettuce, have a specialized leaf anatomy that not only repels water and traps air, but also traps a lot of oil. The leaves of these plants are covered with tiny, hairlike structures called trichomes that allow the plant to float on the water surface and when dried, absorb more oil than two commercial oil absorbents used for oil spill cleanup, Duerex Pure and Öl-Ex.

[The] existing methods of dealing with oil spills all have significant drawbacks. Chemical dispersants and burning can spread toxins around, while environmentally friendly materials like sawdust and wheat straw absorb water in addition to oil, making cleanup messy and inefficient.

Continue reading

The Bosnian Tree Elder

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Certain species of trees can grow to be very old, and a group of scientists from Stockholm University  discovered a Bosnian pine (Pinus heldreichii) that would certainly classify as ancient. The solitary Bosnian pine is growing in the highlands of northern Greece and has been dendrochronologically dated– that is, analyzed to see how old the tree is – to be more than 1075 years old, making it the oldest known living tree in Europe.

“It is quite remarkable that this large, complex and impressive organism has survived so long in such an inhospitable environment, in a land that has been civilized for over 3000 years” says Swedish dendrochronologist, Paul J. Krusic, leader of the expedition that found the tree. It is one of more than a dozen individuals of millennial age, living in a treeline forest high in the Pindos mountains.

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New Snake Species Discovered in Mexican Mountains

A specimen of the new species, Geophis loranca, in life. Photo © Miguel Ángel de la Torre Loranca

Last time we mentioned a new species being discovered, it was also long, thin and reddish, but in the form of a toxic cave worm. The freshly-found reptile, which when translated from its scientific name would be called “Loranca’s earth snake,” is a red and black burrowing animal that is only found in a very localized region of east central Mexico, as the collaborative team of Mexican university researchers wrote in their academic journal article published in ZooKeys:

These burrowing reptiles are seldom encountered and, consequently, have been poorly studied. Furthermore, several species have restricted distribution, making them particularly vulnerable to extinction.

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Pepper’s Historical Place

A painting of Muziris by the artist Ajit Kumar. In 2004, excavations in Kerala sparked new interest in this lost port. Illustration: KCHR

A painting of Muziris by the artist Ajit Kumar. In 2004, excavations in Kerala sparked new interest in this lost port. Illustration: KCHR

Our first exposure to the name Muziris was during the planing stages of the 1st edition of the eponymous Kochi-Muziris Biennale in 2012. The flurry of activity in Fort Kochi not only brought Kochi into the spotlight of the international Art World, but added focus to the archeological works at Kerala’s ancient port.

Lost cities #3 – Muziris: did black pepper cause the demise of India’s ancient port?

Around 2,000 years ago, Muziris was one of India’s most important trading ports. According to the Akananuru, a collection of Tamil poetry from the period, it was “the city where the beautiful vessels, the masterpieces of the Yavanas [Westerners], stir white foam on the Periyar, river of Kerala, arriving with gold and departing with pepper.”

Another poem speaks of Muziris (also known as Muciripattanam or Muciri) as “the city where liquor abounds”, which “bestows wealth to its visitors indiscriminately” with “gold deliveries, carried by the ocean-going ships and brought to the river bank by local boats”.

The Roman author Pliny, in his Natural History, called Muziris “the first emporium of India”. The city appears prominently on the Tabula Peutingeriana, a fifth-century map of the world as seen from Rome. But from thereon, the story of this great Indian port becomes hazy. As reports of its location grow more sporadic, it literally drops off the map.

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Must-see Aerial Insectivores in the Greater Antilles: Part 5/5

Northern Potoo perched on a fence post near the Windsor Research Station, Trelawny Parish, Jamaica. (photo by Justin Proctor)

This post is part of a series; visit Part 4 here.

Let’s move now from the diurnal species to a nocturnal favorite, the Northern Potoo (Nyctibius jamaicensis), which has been featured here before a couple times. These birds actively hunt for insects at night by sallying out from low-lying perches where they remain camouflaged and motionless until prey is spotted. If you’ve got a little bit of energy left in you after the sun goes down, and you also remembered to pack a decent headlamp or flashlight, I can’t encourage you enough to just go for a little walk down a quiet road nearby.

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