Smog, Ozone & Biodiversity

The view from Beetle Rock in Sequoia National Park, California. Smog, containing high levels of ozone, blows in from the San Joaquin Valley. TRACIE CONE / AP PHOTO

Thanks to Jim Robbins for updating our understanding of ozone’s ongoing threat (we had thought it was lessening):

Ozone Pollution: An Insidious and Growing Threat to Biodiversity

Ground-level ozone has long been known to pose a threat to human health. Now, scientists are increasingly understanding how this pollutant damages plants and trees, setting off a cascade of impacts that harms everything from soil microbes, to insects, to wildlife.

Giant sequoias in Sequoia National Park, California. MARJI LANG/LIGHTROCKET VIA GETTY IMAGES

Sequoia National Park’s famous groves of stout, 300-foot-tall trees sit high on the western side of the Sierra Nevada, above California’s San Joaquin Valley. They are threatened as never before: Wildfires have burned much of the forest, and now, for the first time, insects are killing sequoias. Continue reading

Sugarcane Rising

These are early signs of sugar cane that can grow very high. When we planted it a few months ago it had only a first covering of vetiver. What now looks like a mess of various grasses on the berm–at least four different species are growing through the vetiver, another grass that is there for both ground cover and soil replenishment–shows how much more vertically oriented the sugarcane is than other grasses. All the tall grass leaves in this image are sugarcane. One or two of the other grasses are also aggressive, but horizontally. They stay close to the ground and can wander as far at ground level as sugarcane grows vertically.

Bewilderment & Richard Powers In Conversation

When I first linked to the work of Richard Powers it was when his previous book was being reviewed. Now he has a new book out, and from the conversation that follows it sounds like this one is a very good bookend to that one:

Richard Powers on What We Can Learn from Trees

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author asks whether we can reimagine our relationship with the natural world before it’s too late.

There are certain conversations I fear trying to fit into a description.

Continue reading

The Nature Conservancy’s 2021 Global Photo Contest Winners

MALUI Western lowland gorilla female ‘Malui’ walking through a cloud of butterflies she has disturbed in a bai. Bai Hokou, Dzanga Sangha Special Dense Forest Reserve, Central African Republic. December 2011. © Anup Shah/TNC Photo Contest 2021

There are several annual photo contests that we have been following over the years. Thanks to The Nature Conservancy for convening this one:

FIREFLIES Just before Monsoon, these fireflies congregate in certain regions of India and on a few special trees like this one, they are in crazy quantity which can range in millions. © Prathamesh Ghadekar/TNC Photo Contest 2021

Richard Prum In Conversation With Tyler Cowen

We linked to one of Richard Prum’s books more than four years ago, then he was mentioned in a couple posts, each with small quotes based on his expertise. Here he is in conversation with someone who clearly appreciates his work and who knows how to ask good questions:

Richard Prum really cares about birds. Growing up in rural Vermont, he didn’t know anyone else interested in birding his own age. The experience taught him to rely on his own sense of curiosity and importance when deciding what questions and interests are worth studying. As a result, he has pursued many different paths of research in avian biology — such as behavioral evolution, where feathers come from, sexual selection and mate choice — many of which have led to deep implications in the field. In 2017, Tyler agreed with several prominent outlets that Prum’s book The Evolution of Beauty was one of the best books of the year, writing that it “offers an excellent and clearly written treatment of the particulars of avian evolution, signaling theory, and aesthetics, bringing together some disparate areas very effectively.” Continue reading

Jane Goodall & The Book Of Hope

Click above to go to the publisher’s blurb about the book, and click below for the article Anna Russell, a wonderful writer in her own right, offers about the book and its subject:

Jane Goodall’s Survival Guide

The eighty-seven-year-old naturalist knocks around her home on the south coast of England and explains why, despite the floods and fires and melting ice caps, she’s still optimistic about planet Earth.

Jane Goodall Illustration by João Fazenda

Before the pandemic, Jane Goodall travelled three hundred days a year to speak to audiences about the climate crisis. “I used to do, like, three days in the Netherlands, three days in Belgium, three days in France,” Goodall, who is eighty-seven, recalled recently. In China or Australia, “it would be, like, two weeks, where they’d spread me through their country.” Everywhere she went, she met young people who were “angry, depressed, or just apathetic, because, they’ve told me, we have compromised their future and they feel there is nothing they can do about it,” she writes in her twenty-first and most recent work, “The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times.” Amid flooding and wildfires, impassivity and eco-grief, the question she was asked most often was “Do you honestly believe there is hope for our world?” Continue reading

Perfume & Museum

General view of the International Perfume Museum’s gardens in Grasse. “The same rose or the same jasmine grown in Egypt or Morocco, it will be different from the rose grown in Grasse,” head gardener Christophe Meze says. “It’s like wine, you can have the same type of grape, but you won’t have the same wine because of the sun, because of the soil, because of the terroir.” Bénédicte Desrus for NPR

Perfume appeared early in our pages mostly due to their botanical intrigue–but has only been an occasional topic since then. This story of how the perfume trade developed (if the topic is of greater interest see Chandler Burr’s The Emperor of Scent) in Grasse is a fine fit with our interest in unusual museums and the intersection of farming and innovation:

In France’s Perfume Capital Of The World, There’s A World Of Beautiful Fragrance

Perfume flower grower Pierre Chiarla picks jasmine flowers in his field in Grasse, France. Bénédicte Desrus for NPR

GRASSE, France — The town of Grasse sits in the hills above the more famous French Riviera city of Cannes, and it doesn’t have the Mediterranean Sea at its doorstep. What it does have is fields of flowers — jasmine, May rose, tuberose, lavender. It is known as the perfume capital of the world.

It wasn’t always this way. Back in the 18th and 19th centuries, the industry took off in Grasse in part because this was an absolutely putrid-smelling town. Continue reading

Save The Waves @ Arroyo San Miguel

The young man who we met 15 years ago is going strong. Save The Waves Coalition has pulled off another small miracle:

SAN MIGUEL SURF BREAK PROTECTED WITH LANDMARK CREATION OF BAJA CALIFORNIA’S FIRST STATE PARK

Save The Waves Coalition and Pronatura Noroeste achieve approval for Arroyo San Miguel

In a historic moment for environmental and surf conservation, the first state park in Baja California, Mexico was officially approved, providing long-lasting protection for the iconic San Miguel wave alongside 67 hectares of green space.

The local initiative spearheaded by Pronatura Noroeste AC, and joined by international nonprofit Save The Waves Coalition (STW), has been in the works for years. Today, the campaign to legally protect San Miguel becomes a reality. Continue reading

How To Define Species

During the most recent ice age, glaciers divided an ancestral population of crows; one group became all-black carrion crows, the other hooded crows with gray breasts and bodies. Illustrations by François-Nicolas Martinet / Alamy

Protecting species from extinction has been a running theme in our pages over the years. Underlying these many stories was an assumption, at least on our part, that defining boundaries between species is settled science. We will no longer take that for granted:

Where Do Species Come From?

By studying crows, a German biologist has helped to solve a centuries-old mystery.

The evolutionary biologist Jochen Wolf was working from home when we first spoke, in April, 2020. Germany was under lockdown, and his lab, at Ludwig Maximilian University, in Munich, had been closed for weeks. Still, a reminder of his research had followed him from the office. “I have a crow nest right in front of me,” Wolf said, from his rooftop terrace. The nest was well hidden at the top of a tall spruce tree. Through the branches, Wolf could see a female crow sitting on her eggs. Continue reading

Verdant, Drenched & Down At Ground Level

During the last six weeks or so of rainy season in Costa Rica, the word verdant is the perfect word for describing coffee plantations, especially those with long-lived canopies. The photo above, which I took while visiting a coffee farm in the Turrialba region, shows a mature canopy and coffee that is thriving under it, as are the lichens and moss on the gigantic rock in the foreground. Greenest this time of year, the coffee will have red cherries ready for picking within the next two months as the rains subside.

At home, potted flowers that have been providing color on a rock wall near our terrace are getting that drenched look.

Drenched does not have the same beautiful implication of verdant, but it will have to do. I cannot find a prettier alternative to describe the look of flowers that have absorbed as much water as possible and now just let the morning mist roll off.

I was surprised to find this nest while tending to some overgrown grass yesterday. It was right by a post of the fence that protects the land we are replanting. The surprise was a nest at ground level. According to Seth these are most likely eggs from this bird. Good luck, eggs. Good luck, birds.

Keep Peat In Place

Peat bogs on the Isle of Skye, Scotland. ALAN NOVELLI / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

Peat made two appearances in our pages in 2014, both underscoring the importance of this type of landscape for storing carbon. More such stories in 2017 and again last year made it clear how the case has been building over the years:

Why Saving World’s Peatlands Can Help Stabilize the Climate

Peatlands make up 3 percent of the earth’s landscape, yet absorb large amounts of carbon and harbor surprising biodiversity. Although peat bogs and fens are under increasing environmental threat, efforts to protect and restore these ecosystems are gathering momentum.

Peatlands in northern Canada’s Mackenzie Valley, seen here in autumn. ED STRUZIK

The Aweme borer is a yellowish-brown moth with an inch-and-a half wingspan. In the often-colorful world of lepidopterology — the study of moths and butterflies — it’s not particularly flashy, but it is exceedingly rare. For decades, entomologists thought the moth lived in the sand dunes and oak savannahs in southern Manitoba and the Great Lakes region. Continue reading

Gerald Durrell, The Stationary Ark, And A 2021 Maverick

Gerald Durrell, somehow, has escaped mention in 11,281 previous posts over the last decade+ on this platform. Today is the day to begin correcting that oversight. His novelist brother Lawrence is worthy of his own post here another day. And the family name was recently popularized on television. While Gerald’s own legacy is not easy to categorize, a good starting point is to look at Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and his related conservation work. Books are a big part of the legacy and the one to the right has had a tangible influence:

An Ark for Vanished Wildlife

Derek Gow’s maverick efforts to breed and reintroduce rare animals to Britain’s countryside.

Derek Gow wants his farm to be a breeding colony, a seedbed for a denuded island. Photograph by Jonny Weeks / eyevine / Redux

Derek Gow decided to abandon conventional farming about ten years ago, not long after the curlews left. At the time, Gow, who is thickset and white of beard, had a flock of fifteen hundred breeding ewes and a hundred and twenty cows, which he kept on a three-hundred-acre farm of heavy clay close to the border between Devon and Cornwall, in southwest England. He was renting an extra field from a neighbor, and a pair of curlews had come to forage for a few days. A farm worker spotted the distinctive brown birds; they have long beaks that slope downward, like violin bows. “He didn’t even recognize what they were,” Gow told me.

Curlews are Europe’s largest wading bird. Continue reading

Barred Owls & Other Bird Cam Wonders

If you enjoy this few minutes of video above, click the link below to see all the variety of bird cams that the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has on tap:

2021 Barred Owl Season Highlights | Cornell Lab | Wild Birds Unlimited

184K subscribers
As winter fades each year, cam viewers anticipate the return of the Barred Owls to their springtime residence in Zionsville, Indiana. Activity at the nest box in late February signaled the owls’ preparations for the new breeding season. It wasn’t long before the female laid two pearly white eggs in the nest box in early March. Continue reading

A Bit Of Merlin’s Backstory

Heather Wolf. Illustration by João Fazenda

Five years ago David Owen wrote a short article that fit well with the recycling and upcycling themes we frequently cover so we linked to it. Since then his writing caught my eye again on a related theme, and then earlier this year wrote one of my favorite profiles of recent years. This week I am drawn to his work again. Seth first introduced us to Merlin, after his three years working at the Lab of Ornithology. Merlin has been improving, and we have given it a few more looks since then. But today I am happy to learn more about the app’s backstory:

Meet Merlin, the Bird-Identifying App

How Heather Wolf, a part-time juggling impresario, turned her birding habit into an app that pegs species—even on the Brooklyn Bridge—using both images and birdsong.

Heather Wolf earned a degree in sociology at U.C.L.A., then spent six years playing electric bass in a travelling band. She earned a master’s degree in information science, moved to Brooklyn, and worked as a software developer for a company based in Manhattan. Continue reading

Restor & Correcting The Trillion Tree Mess

Crowther says Restor is his ‘life’s vision’, mapping the latest data and thousands of conservation projects. Photograph: Courtesy of Restor

I have been on a tree-planting spree in the last couple years. So I am constantly on the lookout for resources that help me see this work in a larger context. Here is a great one I have just learned about. Restor’s macro-level organizing of conservation through geographic information systems requires skills and ambitions that few have in such capacity as the scientist featured in the following story. Maps like the one shown above are less inspirational, but more powerful in other ways, than scenes of effective restoration like the one below.

The former A3 London to Portsmouth road at Hindhead, after being restored back to heathland. Photograph: Tony Watson/Alamy

T. W. Crowther has featured in our pages for years, starting with our link to his work on how many trees are on our planet and what this implies with regard to climate. We lunged forward to share the idea that planting a trillion trees was the key implication, and also lurched back a bit when it seemed worthy of more consideration. This article does much to clear up “the mess” that Mr. Crowther acknowledges resulted from the trillion tree findings, and which I was captivated by:

‘I’ve never said we should plant a trillion trees’: what ecopreneur Thomas Crowther did next

Thomas Crowther understands more than most the danger of simple, optimistic messages about combating the climate crisis. Continue reading

Romania’s Carpathian Mountains, Forever

Rock of the King, NP Piatra Craiului, Transylvania, Southern Carpathian, Romania

The word Carpathian appears, to my surprise, only once in a post before today. Likewise Romania is underrepresented except in passing, and was the focus of just one post, five years ago in our pages. Today I will correct the oversight.

FOUNDATION CONSERVATION CARPATHIA
Bears in the Southern Carpathian Mountains, Romania.

It is surprising because after I was exposed to the idea of rewilding, I started receiving The European Nature Trust’s newsletter. Frequently the newsletter highlights one of the projects they support, in Romania’s Carpathian Mountains. I have been admiring the photographs for years now, and silently supporting TENT’s joint mission with the FCC. Silent no more. Let’s all actively support the Carpathian Mountains of Romania being there forever, intact:

DANIEL ROSENGREN
A frosty morning in the Piatra Craiului National Park, Romania.

TENT is committed to the protecting and restoration of Romania’s natural resources through supporting Foundation Conservation Carpathia.

Romania has 250,000 hectares of virgin forest, mostly in the Southern Carpathians, which constitutes the largest unfragmented forest area in Europe. They contain an extraordinarily high number of indigenous species, one third of all European plant species and are home to the largest European populations of large carnivores. Continue reading

Books About Below The Deepest Most Of Us Will Ever Go

Chloe Niclas

Thanks to Robert Moor for these reviews:

The Wonders That Live at the Very Bottom of the Sea

Two new books, Edith Widder’s “Below the Edge of Darkness” and Helen Scales’s “The Brilliant Abyss,” explore the darkest reaches and all that glows there.

In the deep sea, it is always night and it is always snowing. A shower of so-called marine snow — made up of pale flecks of dead flesh, plants, sand, soot, dust and excreta — sifts down from the world above. When it strikes the seafloor, or when it is disturbed, it will sometimes light up, a phenomenon known, wonderfully, as “snow shine.” Vampire squids, umbrella-shaped beings with skin the color of persimmons, float around collecting this luminous substance into tiny snowballs, which they calmly eat. They are not alone in this habit. Most deep-sea creatures eat snow, or they eat the snow eaters.

Until fairly recently, it was widely believed that the deep seas were mostly devoid of life. For centuries, fishermen hauled in deep-sea trawling nets filled with slime, not knowing that these were carcasses. Some animals, adapted to the pressure of the deep, are so delicate that in lighter waters a mere wave of your hand could reduce them to shreds. The myth of the dead deep sea, known as the Abyssus Theory, was disproved by a series of dredging and trawling expeditions in the 19th century, including a German scientific expedition in 1898 that pulled up the first known vampire squid. But the misconception nevertheless lingered. In 1977, a geologist piloting a submersible near the mouth of a hydrothermal vent, and finding it swarming with creatures, asked the research crew up above, “Isn’t the deep ocean supposed to be like a desert?” Continue reading

Costa Rica’s Insects In The Limelight

Green Orchid Bee, Euglossa dilemma. Pablo Piedra

Some of our favorite topics–Costa Rica & insects & photography–are covered in this interview:

A Longtime Military Photographer Has A New Passion Project: Bugs

Digger Wasp, Sphecidae
Pablo Piedra

Field Cricket, Gryllus assimilis
Pablo Piedra

Pablo Piedra is a military photographer turned insect fanatic. After retiring in 2019 from 22 years with the military, he moved to Costa Rica with his family. Here he started doing macro photography of the country’s native bugs as a way of staying creative during COVID-19. His wife Daniela helps him look for insects and his son Jaden loves the final results.

How did you transition from being a military photographer to an insect photographer?

After my retirement in 2018, I began working as the Multimedia Director for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) in Arlington, VA. In 2019, my family moved to Costa Rica and I became a freelance multimedia content creator. Continue reading

Bioluminescent Distractions

A deep-sea shrimp spews bioluminescent chemicals at its predator, a viperfish. EDITH WIDDER

Nothing like bioluminescence to take your mind off of other things for a while. Thanks to Yale e360 for this:

A Scientist Reveals the Bioluminescent Magic of the Deep-Sea World

In an interview with Yale Environment 360, marine biologist Edith Widder talks about her pioneering research into the world of bioluminescent organisms in the deep oceans and warns of the dangers, from trawling to oil drilling, that imperil this hidden realm.

Atolla vanhoeffeni, a bioluminescent deep-sea jellyfish. EDITH WIDDER

Until recently, the depths of the world’s oceans remained almost entirely unexplored. But advances in submersible technology are increasingly giving scientists a window into this little-known universe. One of the leaders in this exploration is marine biologist Edith Widder, who has extensively studied bioluminescent, or light-producing, organisms that use this trait to communicate, defend themselves, and hunt in darkness. Among other things, Widder has worked with engineers to develop highly sensitive deep-sea light meters and special cameras, like the remotely operated Eye-in-the-Sea, which allow for real-time monitoring of the seafloor. Continue reading

Beauty Of The Wild

Library of American Landscape History has published this book, which came to our attention thanks to this excellent article (again) by Margaret Roach:

Three large islands at Storm King Art Center are planted with a mix of prairie grasses, including little bluestem, big bluestem, Indiangrass and switchgrass. Jerry L. Thompson

Your Garden May Be Pretty, but Is It Ecologically Sound?

Darrel Morrison, the elder statesman of the ecological landscaping movement, offers some advice for gardening in a changing world.

Mr. Morrison’s mesic prairie design for the University of Wisconsin Arboretum Native Plant Garden, with the larger Curtis Prairie restoration in the distance. Robert Jaeger

Some gardeners react to any mention of ecological landscaping — the merging of environmental science and art — as if it were a compromise or concession meant to limit their creativity. Darrel Morrison, a landscape architect who has been practicing and teaching this philosophy for some five decades, begs to differ.

“There is the implication that you are suggesting a vegan diet,” said Mr. Morrison, the creator of influential designs at Storm King Art Center, in Orange County, N.Y., the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas. “A lot of people, when they hear a phrase like ‘ecologically sound landscaping,’ they think they are giving up something. But they are not — it only enhances the experience.” Continue reading