Alerce, A Mysterious Phenomenon Examined Scientifically

The Gran Abuelo tree in Alerce Costero national park, Chile. Buried alerce trunks can hold carbon for more than 4,000 years. Photograph: Salomón Henríquez

I do not recall whether we saw the tree pictured above, but we certainly breathed in the oxygen it expired. We spent the summer of 2009 in southern Chile, some of it working in the Chaihuin River Valley–a portion of the Reserva Costera Valdiviana co-owned at the time by WWF and The Nature Conservancy. The “Caleta” entrance to Chaihuin can be seen in the map below.

We have also seen the redwood trees in California, distant cousins of the alerce. Spectacular is an insufficient word to describe them, but hours-long visits to redwoods cannot compare to sleeping night after night under alerces. Chaihuin was for our family an immersion into the alerce ecosystem. Although I reserve the word miracle for other types of mysterious phenomena, I have no problem with a scientist using the word in this manner:

Alerce shingle was used as currency by local populations throughout the 1700s and 1800s. Photograph: Krystyna Szulecka Photography/Alamy

‘It’s a miracle’: Gran Abuelo in Chile could be world’s oldest living tree

100ft alerce has estimated age of 5,484, more than 600 years older than Methuselah in California

In a secluded valley in southern Chile, a lone alerce tree stands above the canopy of an ancient forest.

Green shoots sprout from the crevices in its thick, dark trunks, huddled like the pipes of a great cathedral organ, and water streams down its lichen-streaked bark on to the forest floor from bulbous knots in the wood. Continue reading

On Those 20 Quadrillion+ Ants, Again

Ants in Escazu

The earthworm in the photo above had been in a bag of soil where a coffee seedling started germinating earlier this year. I was moving the seedling from its small “starter” bag to a larger one, and the earthworm jumped out, wriggling under the nearby supplies I was working with. I did not see it again until it was too late. Since earthworms are good for soil, and we are in the early stages of a soil regeneration project, I was sorry to see the worm lose its life. This particular species of ant is currently everywhere on the property where we are re-planting coffee. I have not seen so many of this type of ant at any point in the last 22 years on this property, and their shocking abundance made me think of that new ant study. Normally we do not repeat sharing of news stories here, unless new information has come to light. It has only been a couple days, but I must share more on the study because my planting work is keeping the subject in front of me, and the photos in this article are that good.

Leaf cutter ants in Costa Rica. The researchers sampled 1,300 locations around the world, estimating ant abundance in different environments in areas such as forests and steppes. Bence Mate/Nature Picture Library, via Alamy

Rebecca Dzombak, who authored this article for the New York Times, will be on our radar from now on:

Weaver ants engaged in teamwork. Sunthorn Viriyapan/Alamy

Counting the World’s Ants Requires a Lot of Zeros

There are 20 quadrillion ants worldwide, according to a new census, or 2.5 million for every living human. There are probably even more than that.

Male leaf cutter ants on the move over the Sonoran Desert in search of females and to make more ants. Norma Jean Gargasz/Alamy

Right now, ants are scurrying around every continent except Antarctica, doing the hard work of engineering ecosystems. They spread seeds, churn up soil and speed up decomposition. They forage and hunt and get eaten. You may not know how much you rely on them. Continue reading

Ant Mass Calculation

In this photo provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, yellow crazy ants are seen in a bait testing efficacy trial at the Johnston Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in December, 2015. An invasive species known as the yellow crazy ant has been eradicated from the remote U.S. atoll in the Pacific. Robert Peck/AP

The mass of ants on earth is not a topic we have considered, but there is not too much surprise at reading this news:

The number of ants on Earth has a mass greater than all birds and mammals combined

For every human on Earth, there are estimated to be about 2.5 million ants — or 20 quadrillion in total.

A new study published by researchers at both the University of Hong Kong and University of Würzburg in Germany attempts to count the total number of ground-dwelling and tree-dwelling ants. Continue reading

The Treefest Walks

The Treefest walks are part of a £14.5m research quest investigating how to secure public benefits from forested landscapes. Photograph: Fabio De Paola/The Guardian

When is a walk in the woods more than just a walk? One answer might be biophilia, for starters. Our thanks to Miles Richardson for his work and to Patrick Barkham, as per his usual breadth of attention, for bringing another important story to our attention:

‘I’m glowing’: scientists are unlocking secrets of why forests make us happy

Research project aims to discover how age, size and shape of woodlands affect people’s happiness and wellbeing

Miles Richardson is gathering data from the Treefest research walks to examine how biodiverse spaces benefit wellbeing. Photograph: Fabio De Paola/The Guardian

How happy do you feel right now? The question is asked by an app on my phone, and I drag the slider to the space between “not much” and “somewhat”. I’m about to start a walk in the woods that is part of a nationwide research project to investigate how better to design the forests of the future.

Volunteers are being sought to record their feelings before and after eight walks on a free app, Go Jauntly, which could reveal what kind of treescapes most benefit our wellbeing and mental health. Continue reading

Sticks + Time = Hummingbirds

remaining branches of treacherous spine bush

14 months ago the pandemic still allowed, which is to say forced, creative use of abundant time and limited budget, so I took a day or so to rethink this pile of rocks. It curves around where we park our car and had been covered by a gigantic bush.

build back better

That bush produced spines abundantly and flowers sparingly. While spines may offer ecosystem services I have not yet learned about (other than self-protection for the plant itself), we are focused on regenerating bird habitat, so flowers count more in our calculus. In June, 2021 I cut the bush back to the short branches seen in these photos above.

Spearmint, which can be seen growing straight up on the lower right side of this photo, is for scent, and then for tea; the rest is for the winged folk.

The treachery removed, the slate was blank, and the opportunity to build back better was clear. Hummingbirds and butterflies focus on the bushy abundance covering most of the area.

The bushes producing these orange flowers are slower to fill in

I went through the exercise that Ari described yesterday, trimming back a couple of bushes that hummingbirds and butterflies favor. I cut the branches into one foot long stalks and stuck about 100 of them into the soil in between all those rocks. 14 months later, here is what we have. Difficult to see from the macro view, flowers are constantly available for the pollinators. Every day, dozens of hummingbirds and numerous species of butterflies can be seen in these flowers. With a camera phone I am not well equipped to capture good photos of those, but when someone else does so we will share here.

Sticks + Time = Hummingbirds

Ending Lawn Sprawl

Grow wild Ordinarily only academics can walk on the grass courts of Cambridge’s colleges. Peter Dench

Tom Banham’s article in 1843, a masterpiece of longform writing on the topic of lawns, is preaching to the converted (me, at least). I live in a location with abundant rain and grass is more of a pest than the mainstay of beautifully manicured sprawling lawns (for which I am a sucker as much as anyone is).

We just planted the first couple dozen of 1,000+ coffee saplings and the grass on the hills where they are being planted plays a role in soil retention but we want the soil’s nutrients focused on the coffee. But there are plenty of more important reasons to be concerned about grass sprawl elsewhere:

The going gets turf: do lawns have a future in the age of drought?

Our gardens are sterile deserts that guzzle water and chemicals. Perhaps it’s time to let them be

The harvesting in August 2021 of the wildflower meadow planted at King’s College, Cambridge. Peter Dench

The lawns at Tusmore House, a neo-Palladian mansion 15 miles north of Oxford, are so perfectly flat and exactingly shorn that they induce a kind of vertigo. Continue reading

Ned Beauman’s Venomous Lumpsucker

The reviews are  coming in, and especially this one by David Annand in TLS makes Ned Beauman’s new book look worthy of this moment in human history:

Whimsical and cruel

A tale of capitalism, penance and species extinction

In the 1980s the American literary critic Tom LeClair identified what he called the “systems novel”, a genre of fiction concerned with the characters, acts and situations of the conventional novel while simultaneously speculating on the complex social structures – Continue reading

When Is Organic The Worst Option?

Some 28% of the world’s land is used for grazing. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

We favor organic, for our coffee, for just about everything, almost always. And yet George Monbiot offers a fully obvious answer to the counterintuitive question in the title:

The most damaging farm products? Organic, pasture-fed beef and lamb

You may be amazed by that answer, but the area of land used for grazing is vast compared with the meat and milk produced Continue reading

Ominous Humongous Fungus

The mushrooms of Armillaria ostoyae (or Armillaria solidipes), the species of honey mushroom that makes up Humongous Fungus (Getty)

We have linked to one Katherine J. Wu article in the past, and that was to share good news; and we linked to stories about humongous fungus a couple of times–not so much news as fascinating; this time there is an ominous implication to the fungus:

The Bigger This Fungus Gets, the Worse We’re Doing

Human actions have turned a usually beneficial fungus into a bringer of death.

Deep in the loamy soil of forests around the world, there exists a fungus called the honey mushroom that makes its living on death. A parasite that preys on weak trees, it sucks its victims dry of nutrients, then feasts on their postmortem flesh. Continue reading

2022 Nature TTL Winning Photographs

I See You. Wild Portraits winner. When a huge lion looks you right in the eyes, you immediately forget that you are sitting safely in a car. Instinctively, you cower and slowly retreat deeper inside the car so as not to provoke a predator. Fortunately, he and his brothers were busy consuming a young buffalo that had been hunted several minutes earlier. # © Tomasz Szpila / Nature TTL

Alan Taylor and others offer relief through nature photography contests each year, and we thank them all for that; and to Atlantic this year for sharing these from the Nature TTL contest:

Sunset Ray. Underwater winner. A pink whipray splits a school of bannerfish, photographed against the setting sun on a late afternoon at the famous “Tuna Factory” dive site located close to Malé, the capital of the Maldives. # © Andy Schmid / Nature TTL

Winners of the Nature TTL Photographer of the Year 2022

This year’s photography competition attracted more than 8,000 entries in eight different categories celebrating the natural world: Animal Behavior, Camera Traps, Landscapes, Small World, The Night Sky, Underwater, Urban Wildlife, and Wild Portraits. Contest organizers at Nature TTL were kind enough to share some of the winners and runners-up below. The captions were written by the photographers and lightly edited for style.

Pretty in Pollen. Small World runner-up. A micro-moth (Micropterix calthella) is covered in golden balls of pollen from a creeping buttercup flower found in Mutter’s Moor near Sidmouth, Devon, United Kingdom. # © Tim Crabb / Nature TTL

See all of them here.

Wild Celery Grass & Cleaner Waterways

Camden Mayor Vic Carstarphen hands a flat of wild celery to an EPA diver for transplant. KATHERINE RAPIN

Thanks to Katherine Rapin and Yale e360:

River Cleanups Move to the Next Level Using Grasses and Oysters

In the Delaware River and other waterways and estuaries across the United States, scientists and conservationists are restoring aquatic vegetation and beds of mussels and oysters to fight pollution and create a strong foundation for healthy ecosystems.

On a recent summer morning near Camden, New Jersey, two divers from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hovered over a patch of sediment 10 feet below the surface of the Delaware River. Continue reading

Ocean, The Book

It has been a long time since our last links to a favorite coffee table book publisher. Next month, it could be yours. And inside we see a page with homage to Rudolf and Leopold Blaschka, old favorites:

Ocean, Exploring the Marine World: (Pre-order)Phaidon Editors, with an introduction by Anne-Marie Melster

Price£44.95

About the book

Pre-order now. This title will ship from September 8th, 2022.

Experience the force, mystery, and beauty of the ocean and seas through more than 300 images – featuring underwater photography, oceanographic maps and scientific illustrations, as well as paintings, sculptures and popular films.

Oceanography and art collide in this visual celebration of humans’ relationship with the marine world. Continue reading

Big Cat Fever

Ceci n’est pas un chat 1843’s cut-outs of big cats were shot at strategically placed locations across Gloucestershire. To find out how we took the photos go to @1843mag on Instagram

Jem Bartholomew, a freelance journalist in London, and Chris Dorley-Brown, a photographer in London, tell this story in a way that may make you want to visit and see for yourself. The fever is catchy.

Look who’s stalking: the black leopards of Gloucestershire

Frank Tunbridge has spent three decades trying to prove that big cats are prowling England’s green and pleasant land

In autumn 2014, John Bilney was cycling to work at around 6am along a tree-shaded footpath in Dursley, Gloucestershire, when a small cat leapt into his way. “Poor moggy,” he thought, “I’ve scared it.” Then he looked up – and froze. Continue reading

Alerce, Fungi & Futures

Roots rise from shallow soil. Tomás Munita

The Valdivian Coastal Reserve was mentioned once in our pages, only in passing.

Tomás Munita

Strange, because if I was asked to name my favorite protected area on the planet it would be at or near the top of my list. The abundant but threatened alerce trees were part of the reason. A family story would explain more of why, and that is part of a larger work story that needs more attention another time.

A mushroom rises from the forest floor. Tomás Munita

The story below, featuring an adjacent protected area, stirs an intense place memory, and at the same time reveals much about a topic that was not on our radar at the time. And it says much about potential futures for that place. So, thanks to the New York Times climate correspondent Somini Sengupta (again and again) as well as photographer Tomás Munita:

Unearthing the Secret Superpowers of Fungus

Tomás Munita

In the fight against warming, a formidable ally hides just beneath our feet.

 — Toby Kiers took long strides across the spongy forest floor, felt the adrenaline rush in her veins and stopped at the spot she had traveled so far to reach. Into the ground went a hollow metal cylinder. Out came a scoop of soil.

Tomás Munita

Dr. Kiers stuck her nose into the dirt, inhaled its scent, imagined what secrets it contained to help us live on a hotter planet. “What’s under here?” she asked. “What mysteries are we going to unveil?”

The soil was deposited into a clear plastic bag, then labeled with the coordinates of this exact location on Earth. Continue reading

New (To Us) Creatures Of The Deep

A gummy squirrel – Psychropotes longicauda – is a type of sea cucumber. This specimen is 60cm long with red palps, or lips, with which it feeds on sediment on the ocean floor, 5,100m deep

Discoveries still happen, even as the earth burns. Creatures not previously known are being identified 5,000 meters below the surface of the ocean. Some do not even yet have a name:

A spiny sea creature on the ocean floor

Scientists find 30 potential new species at bottom of ocean

Natural History Museum scientists seek to unlock mysteries of deep sea but some fear activity will disturb diversity of the depths

Scientists have found more than 30 potentially new species living at the bottom of the sea. Continue reading

The Surprise Finding With Whale Sharks

Scientists made the discovery while studying whale sharks off Western Australia’s Ningaloo reef. Photograph: Simon J Pierce/PA

We have linked to stories involving whale sharks plenty of times, always knowing their size is impressive. Now this:

Whale sharks are world’s biggest omnivores, study finds

‘Everything we thought we knew may not actually be true,’ says fish biologist in response to finding

Researchers have made a surprising discovery about the dining habits of whale sharks, handing the largest fish in the sea another world title. Continue reading

Tiger Conservation Progress

A Bengal tiger in India’s Kanha National Park. CHARLES JAMES SHARP VIA WIKIPEDIA

Tigers were an important part of our lives when this platform started, and for the following few years of our time in Kerala. We have retained an interest, so this news is welcome all these years later:

Wild Tiger Numbers 40 Percent Higher Than Previously Estimated

The number of endangered tigers around the world is 40 percent higher than previously thought, according to new data from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Continue reading

Monarch Butterflies’ Future

A Monarch butterfly, which is now placed in the endangered category of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, perches at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington, Ontario, Canada July 21, 2022. REUTERS/Carlos Osorio

Butterflies in general, and this species in particular, have graced our pages more than most other insects over the years. Thanks to Emma Farge and Gloria Dickie, from Reuters, for this:

Monarch butterflies rest on a tree at El Rosario sanctuary, in El Rosario, in Michoacan state, Mexico February 11, 2021. Picture taken February 11, 2021. REUTERS/Toya Sarno Jordan/File Photo

Kaleidoscopic migratory monarch butterfly joins global endangered species list

GENEVA, July 21 (Reuters) – The migratory monarch butterfly, which has for millennia turned North American woodlands into kaleidoscopes of colour in one of nature’s most spectacular mass migrations, is threatened with extinction, international conservationists said on Wednesday. Continue reading