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.

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

Popkin’s Arboreal Editorial

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Credit Zoe Keller

Economic value from trees is as old as mankind. Timber for homes and ships and all variety of implements. Nutritional value also: olives and their oil; figs; nuts. In the last year while in the forests of northwest Belize we were on the lookout for something new, something we had not yet known, something that would reveal new value within the forest; we had no clue what it might be. We were looking for the intersection between economic, nutritional and ecological value.

And finally a few months ago we came upon a nut that was new to us, and the trees it grows upon are particularly valuable from an ecosystem perspective. And an ethnobotanical perspective. So we are on the lookout for tree stories, especially those that overlap with themes we tend to in these pages–ecological, cultural and edible. We have linked to articles by Gabriel Popkin a couple of times previously, so we are not surprised by this editorial fitting our schema so well:

For several years, I’ve led tree walks in Washington, D.C. I start by asking participants who they are and why they want to spend precious hours looking at trees. My students are nearly all highly educated, successful people who work impressive jobs, speak multiple languages and effortlessly command sophisticated computers and phones. Yet most know barely the first thing about the trees around them. They want to change that. Continue reading

Forest Pathways For Species Survival

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The golden lion tamarin has been observed passing through some of these corridors, an encouraging early sign for researchers. Credit Kike Calvo, via Associated Press

Thanks to Brad Plumer and the commitment of the New York Times to continue covering the complex topic of climate change in interesting, and sometimes hopeful ways:

Stitching Together Forests Can Help Save Species, Study Finds

In the 1980s, an ecologist named Thomas Lovejoy conducted an unusual experiment in Brazil’s Amazon rain forest. As loggers moved in with chain saws to clear trees for cattle pasture north of Manaus, he asked them to leave untouched several small “islands” of forest to see how the animals within them fared.

The results were unsettling. Continue reading

Zero At The Bone, In The Everglades

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Photograph by Balarama Heller

Thanks to José Ginarte, a digital photo editor at The New Yorker, for this unusual reminder of the python invasion in the Everglades:

Chasing Pythons in the Everglades, and Finding an Eerie Dreamscape

Two and a half years ago, the photographer Balarama Heller began venturing into the Florida Everglades at night, shining his flashlight and pushing through underbrush, in the hope of photographing an invasive predator that has disrupted the local ecology: the Burmese python. Continue reading

Entomological Wonders Will Never Cease

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Galápagos finches, which helped inspire the theory of evolution, are under urgent threat. Will a controversial scientific technique be their deliverance? Photograph by Mint Images Limited / Alamy

Thanks to Brent Crane writing in the Elements section of the New Yorker’s website:

A Tiny Parasite Could Save Darwin’s Finches from Extinction

Five years ago, George Heimpel, an entomologist at the University of Minnesota, travelled to Trinidad in search of insect larvae. He was after several kinds in particular—Philornis downsi, a fly whose parasitic young feed on the hatchlings of tropical birds, and various minuscule wasp species whose own offspring feed on those of the fly. Continue reading

Cactus Celebration

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Trichocereus poco. Argentina, 2002. Photograph by Woody Minnich

There are no real favorites when it comes to biodiversity, but it is worth pointing out that there is something unusual about the beauty of spiny things. Thanks to Carolyn Kormann, writing on the New Yorker’s website, for the words she surrounds these photographs with:

The Strange Wonders of the Cactus, the Plant of Our Times

Cactuses are spiky and rough; foreboding and strange; gnarled, Seussian, and sometimes toxic. They remind us of nature’s irreverent brutality, and of its occasional inexplicability. Continue reading

Some Climate Solutions Are Simple

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A male chimpanzee hooting in the wild forests of western Uganda. Deforestation in the country is occurring at some of the fastest rates on Earth, shrinking the habitat of this endangered species. Credit Suzi Eszterhas/Minden Pictures

Thanks to the New York Times for this refresher on the basics of climate change and what is needed that we can most easily do to counter its effects:

A Cheap Fix for Climate Change? Pay People Not to Chop Down Trees

By Brad Plumer

The tropical forests in western Uganda, home to a dwindling population of endangered chimpanzees, are disappearing at some of the fastest rates on Earth as local people chop down trees for charcoal and to clear space for subsistence farming.

Now, a team of researchers has shown that there is a surprisingly cheap and easy way to slow the pace of deforestation in Uganda: Just pay landowners small sums not to cut down their trees. Their study, published in the journal Science on Thursday, demonstrated this by conducting something all too rare in environmental policy — a controlled experiment. Continue reading

Resolving a Politically Fraught Problem By Natural Means

Texas officials release reed-eating Arundo wasps into a thicket of the invasive weed Arundo donaxa, also called carrizo cane, in an effort to weaken or eradicate the plant.Photograph by Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty

With all the talk about building a wall along the US/Mexico border, it’s rather refreshing to read about this joint program between the U.S.D.A. and Customs and Border Protection to attempt to tear one down.

The problem is a fast growing invasive grass that sucks up water resources, crowds out native plants, and can grow as tall as a 2-story building, . The elegant solution of using stingless wasps whose larvae happily munch on the vigorous plant is elegant compared to options such as bulldozing or aerial spraying of herbicides.

Someone wandering along the banks of the Rio Grande, on the American side, in the summer of 2009 might have been startled by a small cardboard box plummeting to the ground. Neatly sealed with blue packing tape, its paper wrapping crisp and clean, the box would have felt light, even empty. But then, on further inspection, an observer would have noticed the platoon of tiny black insects exiting a slit on one end. Slightly larger than a gnat, the insects would have buzzed off, one by one, into the South Texas heat. Continue reading

Wildlife Protection And Consequences

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A wolf from a den within Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve in Alaska. A study found that limiting the population of wolves outside the preserve affected those within its boundaries. Credit Drew Rush/National Park Service

Mention Alaska, and we are in. Wolves, ditto. An academic publication called Wildlife Monographs? You had us at Alaska and wolves:

Protected Wolves in Alaska Face Peril From Beyond Their Preserve

Within the 2.5 million acres of the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve in central Alaska, wolves and other majestic animals are protected. But animals like wolves do not respect lines drawn on a map. And a recent study suggests that efforts to limit populations of these predators outside those borders is having negative effects on wolves living within the preserve. Continue reading

Come Back To Belize, Meg Lowman!

We have mentioned Meg more than once since we met her a few years ago, because our interests are aligned. Thanks to this public radio station for reminding me that Meg is due for a visit to Belize (I say wishfully) for a 20-years later discovery trip, and we will be happy to see her at Chan Chich Lodge when the time comes:

megmalaysiaFor over 30 years, Dr. Meg Lowman –Canopy Meg, has designed hot-air balloons and walkways for treetop exploration to solve mysteries in the world’s forests, especially insect pests and ecosystem health. Meg is affectionately called the mother Continue reading

Swamp Is Not A Bad Word

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The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina and Virginia has been dramatically altered over the past few centuries by human development. Rebecca Wynn/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Thanks to Sarah McCammon at National Public Radio (USA) for this story:

“Drain the swamp” may be a popular political slogan, but it doesn’t always work so well in nature. Continue reading

Mangrove Mathematics

Mangroves play an essential role in maintaining healthy life on earth, and we’ve been privileged to work in many locations where we’ve seen their impact on biodiversity levels first-hand, including India.

Frequently these ecosystems are under threat of habitat loss, whether for agricultural or land development. Thanks again to Anthropocene for adding up the facts in such clear terms.

Intact mangroves worth twice as much as rice paddies

Conservationists frequently say that ecosystems are worth more when they’re left untouched. But to whom? Local communities who could potentially farm the land might wonder, what’s the real benefit of leaving wild areas intact?

In the Bhitarkanika mangrove in Odisha, India, a group of Indian researchers grappling with this question have arrived at a surprising answer. By leaving the mangrove intact, they say, Bhitarkanika’s surrounding communities can in fact reap almost double the economic benefits they’d get from simply converting the mangrove to crops. Continue reading

Investing In Cultural Heritage

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The Cultural Heritage Center is an $8 million investment in the community. Elissa Nadworny/NPR

It is not a question I have had to ponder (the opening line of the story below) for myself, but I get it. Losing the land, through battle, through treaties that are not honored, or otherwise, is an obvious existential threat for any community, and has been since the dawn of civilization. Invisible assets such as language, like any cultural heritage, also called intangible patrimony, are less obviously existentially important. But anyone who ponders it realizes that the loss of a language or another intangible component of cultural heritage matters to all of us, not only those who are at immediate and direct risk of its extinction. In the same way biodiversity matters, so does this.

And it is an underlying logic and motivator of our initiative with Ramon tree and its role in Mayan foodways. In earlier posts on the subject that I emphasized the environmental wonder of Ramon, but it is really a cultural heritage story, still to be told at Chan Chich Lodge. Meanwhile thanks to Melissa Block at National Public Radio (USA) for this story about one communities efforts along a related path:

A Native Village In Alaska Where The Past Is Key To The Future

What does it mean to lose your land, your language, and your heritage?

For Alaska Natives, these are existential threats.

On a trip to Southeast Alaska, I traveled to one village that is finding new ways to survive: Klukwan, ancestral home of the Tlingit tribe. Continue reading

The Wonders Of Trees Never Cease

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Goats climb an argan tree in Morocco to dine on its fruit. Jeremy Horner/Getty Images

At Chan Chich Lodge we are just embarking on a tree-related culinary journey, so any counterintuitive story about trees is likely to catch my attention these days.

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Thanks to Marc Silver at National Public Radio for the story about the picture above, Do Tree-Climbing Goats Help Plant New Trees? It is a short read and worth every second of your attention if you are interested in arboreal foodstuff.

This image to the left, while not as amusing as the one above, shows a deer doing the same thing with less panache. That deer will spread the seeds of that wild fig far and wide in the forest, increasing food supply. Continue reading

Cactus Tales

On Seth’s invitation, I am honored to have a chance to contribute to the group. I have a biology background, but am now retired and have an interest in photographing birds. I use point and shoot cameras, starting two years ago with a Canon SX60HS, graduating to a Sony RX10iii this year. I teach classes in bird photography with these cameras. My interests are in telling a story of birds in a small ecotype such as a pond, or in this case one plant species, a cactus, the cardon of the deserts of Northwest Mexico. These photos were taken over two trips to the Baja California Sur Cape Region, and the majority were on one cardon that was outside the bungalow I was staying at in Cabo Pulmo, Mexico while having my morning coffee.

Pachycereus pringlei, also known as Mexican giant cardon or elephant cactus, is a close relative of the Saguaro of the desert southwest. It is the tallest cactus in the world, lives for several hundred years, and has a fungal-bacteria symbiotic relationship that allows it to grow on bare rock. For birds, it is the perch of choice for everything from hawks to wrens, a source of abundant food,  a prolific producer of fruit and used by all woodpeckers for their nesting holes. On larger cardons it is not uncommon to see several bird species on a cactus at once and most birds whose territory includes a cardon will touch it several times a day for a song, a snack, and good luck.

 

 

Strengthening Our Birding With Citizen Science

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Team Belize finished with 242 species. From left: Roni Martinez, Andrew Farnsworth, Steve Kelling, Brian Sullivan.

Seth, since his time working for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and even after his time in Ithaca, has helped me to see how important the Lab’s work is to what our company has been doing since he was an infant. Citizen science is an essential component, and at Chan Chich Lodge guests have responded to the passion the guides have for eBird, which is why we put so much attention into this year’s Global Big Day. And it is why we are already planning the next collaboration with the Lab, a collaboration Seth will lead on our side. For now, a final roundup of stories from last weekend, starting with our favorite team:

…After pooling their lists, the teams ended the day with a whopping 327 species combined—reflecting not just great birding but the region’s importance to an immense diversity of birds. Team Belize topped the friendly group competition with 242 species (including 40 species the other teams didn’t find); Team Mexico found 224 species (with 43 unique to their list); and Team Guatemala tallied 213 (with 23 unique)…

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Flame Robin by John Cantwell/Macaulay Library, taken on Global Big Day

Also, the final numbers are in and news published late yesterday confirmed what I suspected as day was breaking in Belize, titled Global Big Day 2017: birding’s biggest day ever:

…On 13 May 2017, almost 20,000 birders from 150 countries around the world joined together as a global team, contributing more than 50,000 checklists containing 6,564 species—more than 60% of the world’s birds. This is a new record for the number of bird species reported in a single day, Continue reading

Technology, Wilderness & Balance

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An illegally flown drone gives scale to next to a lava tube in Hawaii Volcanoes national park. Photograph: Andrew Studer

Some in the hospitality business will likely embrace technologies that I cannot picture using in our hospitality operations, ever, but that is fine. Good for them, I say. Recent events at Chan Chich Lodge have reinforced my wonder at, and love for, technology as a tool to support conservation. There is no doubt that guest photos of big (or small) cats and monkeys, shared via social media, help our conservation mission. There is no doubt that tech tools such as eBird and Merlin (Belize edition recently released, just in time for Global Big Day for those of us who need it) also move our conservation mission forward.

That said, I still have a preference for digital detox among our guests, as much as possible. Artificial noises, visuals, aromas and structures are best minimized in order to maximize the many benefits of nature. Distractions, which may be normal things and habits quite common at home, are the spoilers of visits to great places. The problem first came to my attention nearly two decades ago while visiting Mont Saint Michel, where helicopter tours were just becoming a thing, which clearly annoyed every individual who was making the wondrous visit on foot.

I hope, but doubt, that such tours have been limited in the time since then. The evidence seems to point to more distractions in monumental places, whether natural or cultural, that had previously been visually and sonically protected (thanks to Sam Levin at the Guardian for this):

‘Turn it off’: how technology is killing the joy of national parks

As drones, smartphones other gadgets invade America’s most tranquil trails, many lament the loss of peace and quiet Continue reading