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.
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
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.
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:
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.
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
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.
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 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:
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 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
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:
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
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.
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:
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.
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, 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:
Derek Gow’s maverick efforts to breed and reintroduce rare animals to Britain’s countryside.
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
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 Unlimited184K subscribersAs 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
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:
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
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.
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:
Thomas Crowther understands more than most the danger of simple, optimistic messages about combating the climate crisis. Continue reading
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.
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:
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
Thanks to Robert Moor for these reviews:
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
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
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.
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
Library of American Landscape History has published this book, which came to our attention thanks to this excellent article (again) by Margaret Roach:
Darrel Morrison, the elder statesman of the ecological landscaping movement, offers some advice for gardening in a changing world.
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