Tools, Tinkering, Science & Salvation

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Tim Boucher sets a camera trap near a bird of paradise lek. Photo © The Nature Conservancy (Justine E. Hausheer)

Camera traps are never going to lose our fascination, and have played a mitigating role in our non-Luddite but still determined effort to keep it simple, back to nature. The future depends on innovation, and we cannot hide behind trees pretending otherwise. If conservation efforts are going to compete effectively against the forces supporting environmental destruction, unconventional approaches are needed. We are entrepreneurially-inclined, and so are naturally comfortable with FishFace, among seven innovative pivots to a better future described by the wonderful team at Cool Green Science:

7 Science Innovations That Are Changing Conservation

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In our still relatively brief existence, humans have evolved our way to an era many are now calling the Anthropocene – a new geological epoch defined by human impact on Earth. But our unparalleled creativity is a double-edge sword. We are undeniably contributing to many of the global challenges now facing our species, and all species who share this planet. Continue reading

Footprint Improvements

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Believe it or not, there is some good news out there on the carbon footprint trail. Thanks to Mathis Wackernagel, whose work I have appreciated even without posting more since 2011, and to his whole team for sharing this:

Ecological Footprint Explorer Open Data Platform Launches April 5, 2017

The US per capita Ecological Footprint dropped nearly 20% during the last eight years of available data (2005 and 2013), a total reduction that matches the entire Footprint of Germany. Continue reading

Green Farming Productivity

Thanks to Anthropocene, for this article, which adds to today’s green food theme:

On many farms, reducing pesticides probably won’t hurt profit or yields

Rare Birds, Climate Change & Dialogue

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Jerry Taylor, founder of the Niskanen Center, a libertarian think tank.

We like birds. We like rare birds. Jerry Taylor sounds worthy of attention. Thanks to Marc Gunther and Yale 360 for Climate Converts: The Conservatives Who Are Switching Sides on Warming:

It’s hardly being noticed, given the current political atmosphere in Washington. But a small yet growing number of Republicans, conservatives, and libertarians are starting to push for action on climate.

As liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans pull farther apart in the long-running, increasingly polarized debate over climate change, Jerry Taylor is a rare bird — Continue reading

A Book For Our Times

thunder-lightning-cover.jpgThis book just came back to my attention, after reading a review–excerpt after the jump–many moons ago. I am reminded that it looks worth the read; the publisher’s description may prompt a yawn at first, but let it sink in (i.e. a blurb about a book about weather might make your eyes droop just as the thought of seeds in a vault might, until you let that sink in):

In Thunder & Lightning, Lauren Redniss reveals how weather shapes our world and daily lives. She takes readers on a journey from the Biblical flood to the defeat of the Spanish Armada, from the frozen archipelagos of the Arctic Ocean to the ‘absolute desert’ of Atacama, Chile, unearthing surprising stories of savagery, mystery, and wonder. Continue reading

Yuval Noah Harari Speaks His Mind; What A Mind It Is

cover.jpg.rendition.460.707.jpgWe linked recently to a review of this book, and that makes a compelling case. His publisher’s blurb says:

Yuval Noah Harari, author of the bestselling Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, envisions a not-too-distant world in which we face a new set of challenges. Where do we go from here? And how will we protect this fragile world from our own destructive powers? In Homo Deus, he examines our future with his trademark blend of science, history, philosophy and every discipline in between.

But if you have 90 minutes to let the author compel you through discussion, the intelligence squared recording below will not let you down

Get To Know Daniel Dennett’s Ideas, Take A Deep Breath Of Fresh Air

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Daniel Dennett’s naturalistic account of consciousness draws some people in and puts others off. “There ain’t no magic here,” he says. “Just stage magic.” PHOTOGRAPH BY IRINA ROZOVSKY FOR THE NEW YORKER

Joining colleagues for a conversation about how to make sense of the post-2016 world provided me strong motivation in recent weeks to return to philosophy, something I had not done since graduate school 2+ decades back. With all the hyperventilation, there is a clear need for calm reflection. I recently listened to this man on one of the best podcasts out there; and by virtue of his voice, his ideas, his science of the soul (thanks to Joshua Rothman and the New Yorker for illumination on this science), he offers the perfect antidote to the current crescendoing chaos:

Four billion years ago, Earth was a lifeless place. Nothing struggled, thought, or wanted. Slowly, that changed. Seawater leached chemicals from rocks; near thermal vents, those chemicals jostled and combined. Some hit upon the trick of making copies of themselves that, in turn, made more copies. The replicating chains were caught in oily bubbles, which protected them and made replication easier; eventually, they began to venture out into the open sea. A new level of order had been achieved on Earth. Life had begun. Continue reading

For Consideration, On Climate Change

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This post on the New Yorker website from some months ago caught our attention but we resisted linking it here for some reason now forgotten. But it should be read by anyone interested in conservation and climate change. The title is provocative, no doubt attractive to deniers but instead meant to raise attention on an issue we are sure most people of all walks of life, and all around the world have reason to be concerned about:

ARE CONSERVATIONISTS WORRYING TOO MUCH ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE?

By Michelle Nijhuis

In January of this year, James Watson, an Australian scientist who works for the Wildlife Conservation Society, noticed an image that had been tweeted by a friend of his, a physician in Sydney. With a chain of progressively larger circles, it illustrated the relative frequency of causes of death among Australians, from the vanishingly rare (war, pregnancy and birth, murder) to the extremely common (respiratory disorders, cancer, heart disease). It was a simple but striking depiction of comparative risk. “I thought, ‘Why hasn’t anyone done something like this for the rest of nature?’ ” Watson recalled.

The answer was that, until recently, nobody had the data. While many scientists have studied the vulnerability of individual species or groups of organisms (corals, say, or birds) to extinction, only in 2010 did ecologists, conservationists, taxonomists, and naturalists begin to more comprehensively assess the threats posed to species of all kinds—an effort to assemble what the biologist E. O. Wilson has called a “barometer of life.” Continue reading

Healthy Prairies & Space Cowboys

Thanks to Cool Green Science:

Space Cowboys: A New Generation of Prairie Keepers

Continue reading

Love Your Seagrass

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Seagrass meadow © Rich Carey / Shutterstock.com

Thanks to Cool Green Science:

New Science Shows Seagrass Meadows Suppress Pathogens

NatureNet Fellows Science Update

It was a rough bout of illness while she and her colleagues were studying corals in Indonesia that first focused Nature Conservancy NatureNet Science Fellow Joleah Lamb’s attention on the disease-mitigating possibilities of seagrass meadows. 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

Two Minutes On Advancing Coffee’s Future

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Thanks to Wired for this (click the image above to go to the video) informative brief on the next wave of scientifically improved coffee:

Get Ready for a Coffee Renaissance. Thanks, Genetics!

Scientists have sequenced the genome of the coffee plant and made the data public. That means we’re about to see a coffee renaissance.

Model Mad, Canada

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Canadian scientists were not allowed to talk to the media on certain topics during the premiership of Stephen Harper. Photograph: Alamy

Thanks to the Guardian for reporting on the decision by some Canadian scientists to model mad in that distinctly polite, mild-mannered and highly effective way they have of doing things up north:

Canadian scientists offer support to muzzled US counterparts

For nine years under Canada’s previous government, science suffered harsh restrictions. Now US scientists may be facing a similar fate

by Ashifa Kassam in Toronto

Canadian scientists – who were muzzled for nearly a decade by the country’s previous Conservative government – have been making contact with their counterparts in the US to offer their support and solidarity amid mounting fears that Donald Trump’s presidency will seek to suppress climate science.

For nine years, scientists with Canada’s federal government grappled with what many described as an all out assault on science. Continue reading

Nanowire & Swamp Surprises

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An artist’s rendition of Geobacter expressing electrically conductive nanowires. Credit: UMass Amherst

Thanks to Anthropocene for a great title to this summary of important recent research finding:

From the swamps of the Potomac, new hope for green electronics

Protein filaments just 3 nanometers wide that are produced by certain species of bacteria could be a key to environmentally friendly electronics manufacturing, according to microbiologists at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Scientists discovered the filaments, dubbed “nanowires,” about 5 years ago. Bacteria use them to make electrical connections with other bacterial cells or to generate reactions with metals in the environment. Continue reading

Protecting Species With DNA

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Biologist Shaun Clements counts down the seconds before emptying a vial of synthetic DNA into a stream near Alsea, Oregon. Jes Burns/Oregon Public Broadcasting/EarthFix

Thanks to the salt, at National Public Radio (USA):

Can New DNA Science Help Keep Our Fish Safe?

by Jes Burns

Biologist Shaun Clements stands in the winter mist in a coastal Oregon forest, holding a small vial of clear liquid. Continue reading

Prioritizing The Key Variable In Tomato Breeding

28tomato-blog427We always wondered why, with the selective breeding of tomatoes, experts favored appearance over flavor. We have an answer in “A Genetic Fix to Put the Taste Back in Tomatoes” by Kenneth Chang:

Over the decades, taste has drained out of supermarket tomatoes.

Harry J. Klee, a professor of horticultural sciences at the University of Florida, thinks he can put it back in within a couple of years. Continue reading

Scientist, Illustrator, Forgotten Metamorphosist

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In some of Merian’s drawings, butterflies and caterpillars didn’t match. CREDIT MARIA SIBYLLA MERIAN, METAMORPHOSIS INSECTORUM SURINAMENSIUM, AMSTERDAM 1705, THE HAGUE, NATIONAL LIBRARY OF THE NETHERLANDS

Any story with Metamorphosis in it is bound to get our attention, but a long-forgotten scientist getting her due is the intrigue that makes this story by JoAnna Klein–A Pioneering Woman of Science Re‑Emerges After 300 Years–coinciding with the republication of this book below, worthy of the read:metamorph

Maria Sibylla Merian, like many European women of the 17th century, stayed busy managing a household and rearing children. But on top of that, Merian, a German-born woman who lived in the Netherlands, also managed a successful career as an artist, botanist, naturalist and entomologist.:

“She was a scientist on the level with a lot of people we spend a lot of time talking about,” said Kay Etheridge, a biologist at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania who has been studying the scientific history of Merian’s work. “She didn’t do as much to change biology as Darwin, but she was significant.” 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

Where Were You, Natalie Angier?

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By using gene knockout techniques, the researchers made some raider ants display asocial behavior. Credit Béatrice de Géa for The New York Times

We had a long run of links since 2011 to her wondrous science reporting, and then we had not seen her since this past September; suddenly she has come back on our radar, unexpectedly but predictably awesome:

Whether personally or professionally, Daniel Kronauer of Rockefeller University is the sort of biologist who leaves no stone unturned. Passionate about ants and other insects since kindergarten, Dr. Kronauer says he still loves flipping over rocks “just to see what’s crawling around underneath.”. Continue reading

Patagonia, Geological Time & Food History

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Two fossils of a newly discovered species of tomatillo that are 52 million years old. CreditPeter Wilf

They had us at Tomatillo. But mention fossils, geological timeframe, discovery and Patagonia all in the same headline and there we go:

Tomatillo Fossils, 52 Million Years Old, Are Discovered in Patagonia

By Nicholas St. Fleur

The nightshades have an ominous reputation, but this large plant family is more than just its most poisonous members, like belladonna. It contains more than 2,400 different species, including some of the most widely consumed fruits and vegetables in the world, such as potatoes, tomatoes and peppers. Continue reading