Roots Of Biodiversity

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Alexandre Antonelli references the International Plant Names Index to identify specimens.
Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer

Our practice was born in Costa Rica, so we sometimes may appear partisan when it comes to celebrating the sciences related to biodiversity. Costa Rica has impressive credentials in that realm, especially relative to its size as a country. But we are very clear on the fact that it would take dozens of Costa Rica-sized biodiversity hotspots to match the scale of the Amazon region, and it is no surprise that studies like those of these scholars are carried out with Amazonian data:

The Amazon as engine of diverse life

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“Most evolutionary research focuses on how new species form. But we want to understand how whole ecosystems evolve,” said Alexandre Antonelli.
 Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer

A recent study says that many of the plants and animals that call Latin America home may have had their roots in the Amazon region.

The study, co-authored by Harvard Visiting Scholar Alexandre Antonelli and an international team of researchers, says that a dynamic process of colonization and speciation led to the formation of the American tropics, which is the most species-rich region on the planet. The study is described in a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“We were astonished to detect so much movement across such different environments and over such large distances,” said Antonelli, the study’s lead author. “Up until now, these natural dispersal events were assumed to be quite rare. Our results show how crucial these events have been in the formation of tropical America’s unique and outstandingly rich biodiversity.” Continue reading

Crop Type & Pesticides

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Image: Pixabay

Thanks to Emma Bryce for A more nuanced approach to reducing insecticides on our food, shared via Anthropocene:

Buffalo, Back Big

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Bison and their calves in Yellowstone National Park. A fossil found in Canada provides the oldest evidence of bison ever discovered in North America. Credit Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times

We love watching the return of this beast, so this story in today’s Science section is our kind of story:

When did North America become a home where the ancestors of buffalo roamed? Between 195,000 and 135,000 years ago, according to a study published Monday that reports on the oldest fossil and genomic evidence of bison on the continent. Continue reading

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

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

Urban Shape & Ecoefficiency

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Thanks to Anthropocene for this summary of a counterintuitive finding:

To save energy on heating and cooling, look at the shape of cities, not just their buildings

Shellfish, Climate Change & Future Shock

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Dungeness crabs for sale at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. California’s Dungeness crab season was shut down in 2015, when record high ocean temperatures and lingering toxic algae blooms raised the domoic acid in shellfish to unsafe levels. A new study links dangerously high levels of the neurotoxin to warmer ocean temperatures, suggesting such closures could become more common in the future. Eric Risberg/AP

Thanks to the salt folks over at National Public Radio (USA) for one more bit of bad news related to our food preferences and the future as affected by climate change:

Warming Oceans Could Boost Dangerous Toxin In Your Shellfish Dinner

CLARE LESCHIN-HOAR

West Coast crab fishermen just ended an 11-day strike over a price dispute. But a more ominous and long-term threat to their livelihood may be on the horizon. A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found a link between warming ocean conditions and a dangerous neurotoxin that builds up in sea life: domoic acid. Continue reading

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