Bees & Citizen Science

A rusty patched bumblebee. Nature Picture Library/Alamy

If you are a regular here you have seen plenty about citizen science. And plenty about bees. We have posted only one time previously about the intersection of bees and citizen science. Today makes twice:

How You Can Help Count and Conserve Native Bees

Honeybees and their problems get the most attention, but scientists are using tactics learned from bird conservation to protect American bees. Continue reading

Parasitism’s Charisma Deficit

The medicinal leech, Hirudo medicinalis, is one of the few parasites formally protected. Photograph: Stephen Dalton/Alamy

By the time I was welcoming guests to a place where they would experience them in the wild, I had become accustomed to leeches. I did not enjoy feeling them in my hiking boot or elsewhere on my body, but after a few times I stopped being freaked out by it. As unlikely as it sounds, I eventually found them fascinating, if not charismatic. I could appreciate their place in the ecosystem we were working to protect, but I could not bring myself to celebrate them in public. A photograph like the one above would not win them new friends but illustrations like the one below might help. Phoebe Weston’s article about the challenges of protecting parasites rings true:

Overlooked and unloved: how a global project could unlock the world of parasites

The tiny freeloaders may be considered disgusting by many but new research shows they are crucial in shaping ecosystems

A coloured aquatint from the early 19th century shows three women gathering leeches in a stream. Photograph: Wellcome Collection

The leech craze of the 1800s put parasites on the map. Collectors (usually women and sometimes old horses) would stand in ponds waiting for medicinal leeches to come and suck their blood. They were then picked off and sold for bloodletting.

The parasites were so popular that by the early 1900s they were nearly extinct, and there was a coordinated effort to save them. Even so, the European medicinal leech, Hirudo medicinalishas been labelled as near threatened on the IUCN red list since 1996, and remains one of the few parasites with formal protections. Continue reading

Does Planting A Trillion Trees Sound Implausible?

A nursery manager plants a whitebark pine at Glacier National Park in Montana in September 2019, part of an effort to restore vegetation following a wildfire. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Here in Iota-drenched Costa Rica there is damage from this hurricane and from the one that just ended a week earlier, but it is minuscule compared to what Nicaragua and Honduras have sustained. If you are scientifically inclined, then two complementary ideas are easy to digest: 1) the people suffering most from the effects of climate change are among the least responsible for causing it; and 2) they live in places that may be best-suited for mitigating it.  For our part, planting trees when coffee is purchased is a drop in the ocean of need. A story we missed from a few months ago gives some hope that this particular idea has a future:

Two-Thirds of Americans Think Government Should Do More on Climate

Bipartisan backing for carbon capture tax credits, extensive tree-planting efforts

A majority of Americans continue to say they see the effects of climate change in their own communities and believe that the federal government falls short in its efforts to reduce the impacts of climate change.

At a time when partisanship colors most views of policy, broad majorities of the public – including more than half of Republicans and overwhelming shares of Democrats – say they would favor a range of initiatives to reduce the impacts of climate change, including large-scale tree planting efforts, tax credits for businesses that capture carbon emissions and tougher fuel efficiency standards for vehicles, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. Continue reading

Protecting Peat Bog Is Big

Andrew Coupar, a NatureScot peatlands expert, at the Forsinard visitor centre. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

If you go to the home improvement center, or any gardening shop, you will see this stuff in plastic bags, ranging in size from small pillow to half-bale. If you purchase it you are buying into a destructive practice that goes beyond the destruction of amazingly beautiful landscape. If heritage status helps end that, we are all for it:

World heritage status for Scottish peat bogs could help UK hit net zero goals

Hopes rise that the Flow Country, the world’s largest carbon store, could become first peatland to win the status

Ecologists estimate that while peatlands cover only 3% of the Earth’s land surface, they hold 30% of the carbon stored on land. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

Andrew Coupar has crouched down by a small pool, its surface peppered with the small stalks of bogbean. In autumn its dark green oval leaves echo the muted browns, greens and ochres of the surrounding peatland.

In spring, however, the bogbean’s pink-fringed white flowers put on a remarkable display, carpeting the cluster of pools that mirror the blue skies and light clouds above and, along the horizon to west, the mountains of Sutherland. Continue reading

Intimate Ecological Ethos

A view of the Cherry Esplanade from the top of the Robert W. Wilson Overlook at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. George Etheredge for The New York Times

Beyond books and other published material, New Yorkers have plenty of places to see natural spectacles, places where nature can be better understood in an otherwise concrete jungle. Ecological ethos describes the new feel of the intimate 52 acres in one of those places:

Brooklyn Botanic Garden Turns Over a New Leaf

A wild meadow and woodland ‘ruin’ are now on exuberant display. The new, ecologically minded garden boasts shaggy clouds of vegetation.

Lavender asters burst through ground-hugging meadow species at the overlook. George Etheredge for The New York Times

Only a skeleton staff at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden witnessed the blizzard of cherry blossoms scattered by spring breezes during the pandemic shutdown. Delicate blooms of wisteria tumbled over pergolas and plump roses unfurled with no appreciative fans to say “Oooh.”

The garden reopened in August for a limited daily number of socially distanced visitors. Now, as fall’s vibrant, showy display begins, meadow and woodland gardens completed at last winter’s onset are finally coming into their own. They are the culmination of a yearslong evolution, as the garden turns over a new leaf with the selection in September of Adrian Benepe, a former commissioner of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, as the new president and chief executive. Continue reading

Hidden Camera, Tiger Tree Hug, Award

Sergey Gorshkov’s image of an Amur tiger, which won him the 2020 wildlife photographer of the year award.

Thanks to Mark Brown, Arts correspondent at the Guardian, for this:

Image of tiger hugging tree wins 2020 wildlife photographer award

Sergey Gorshkov left a hidden camera in a Russian forest for 11 months to capture the big cat

An image of a clearly ecstatic tigress hugging an ancient Manchurian fir tree in a remote Siberian forest has won one of the world’s most prestigious photography prizes.

It took Russian photographer Sergey Gorshkov 11 months to capture the moment using hidden cameras. His patience led to him being named 2020 wildlife photographer of the year by the Duchess of Cambridge at a ceremony at London’s Natural History Museum.

The image was selected from more than 49,000, with Roz Kidman Cox, the chair of the judging panel, calling the photograph “a unique glimpse of an intimate moment deep in a magical forest”. Continue reading

Know GEF Through Its New Leader

Mongabay‘s Rhett A. Butler offers an engaging conversation with the new leader of GEF, who we have confidence will lead this institution to the planet’s benefit. His realization at a young age about seasonal differences in bird abundance is a good example of why programs like Celebrate Urban Birds in places where migratory birds come and go are so important. It has been too long since we last sourced from Mongabay, but today we correct that with this recorded interview (click above) and the printed version (click below):

The post-COVID opportunity for the environment: An interview with the GEF’s Carlos Manuel Rodriguez

Tropical forests in places like Costa Rica (pictured) can be an important source of livelihoods by attracting nature-oriented tourists. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

Rhett A. Butler for Mongabay: Congratulations on the new role at the Global Environment Facility.

Rodriguez: Well, I’m very pleased and honored. I’ve been working half my professional life in government and half within the civil society in Costa Rica. I have worked very close to the GEF, including in the early days of the GEF. I was a negotiator for CBD for the Rio convention and also had the fortune to work with the government of Costa Rica in the first implementation of GEF funding in Costa Rica. Those were very interesting times, the mid-1990s.

I’m really delighted that 25 plus years after that, I’m leading this very prestigious organization. I never thought I would have that opportunity, particularly for coming from a developing country, a recipient country. Continue reading

Forests & Human Intervention

The Tuppers Lake area in western Montana.

The Tuppers Lake area in western Montana. STEVEN GNAM

Even as we may feel overdosed on news about forest fires, understanding what to do next is important. Thanks to Fred Pearce and Yale e360 for sharing relevant science:

Natural Debate: Do Forests Grow Better With Our Help or Without?

Nations around the world are pledging to plant billions of trees to grow new forests. But a new study shows that the potential for natural forest regrowth to absorb carbon from the atmosphere and fight climate change is far greater than has previously been estimated.

When Susan Cook-Patton was doing a post-doc in forest restoration at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Maryland seven years ago, she says she helped plant 20,000 trees along Chesapeake Bay. It was a salutary lesson. “The ones that grew best were mostly ones we didn’t plant,” she remembers. “They just grew naturally on the ground we had set aside for planting. Lots popped up all around. It was a good reminder that nature knows what it is doing.” Continue reading

Traditions Keeping Foodways Alive On Canada’s West Coast

A British Columbia clam garden. Photograph: Ian Reid

Indigenous peoples’ innovations are always a welcome topic here especially when it comes to conservation of foodways. Thank you, Adrienne Matei, for one more case study:

‘Bringing beaches back to life’: the First Nations restoring ancient clam gardens

In the Pacific north-west, local people work the shoreline, creating conditions for useful species to thrive

‘My elders articulated to me that if we want to bring our beaches back to life again, we need to bring people back on to them to care for them.’ Photograph: Iain Robert Reid

On winter nights for the past six years, a group of 20 people have rustled through dark, coniferous woods to emerge on a Canadian beach at the lowest possible tide, illuminated by a correspondingly full moon.

An elder offers a greeting to the place and a prayer, then the team of researchers, volunteers, and First Nations “knowledge holders” lights a warming fire and begins its work. At sites outlined by stones placed hundreds or even thousands of years ago, some begin raking, or “fluffing”, the top three inches of the beach, loosening rocks and mud – and a remarkable number of old clam shells. Continue reading

Rewilding: Restoring Ecosystem & Community

The jaguar Isis in her pre-release pen; she is part of a rewilding project in Iberá National Park in Argentina.

Rewilding, once a novelty idea, has been scaling and we are gratified to see Argentina’s progress:

‘Fixing the Damage We’ve Done’: Rewilding Jaguars in Argentina

Bringing back the top predator to Argentina’s wetlands could restore the health of an entire ecosystem. But inducing five felines with troubled pasts to hunt, and mate, is not easy.

IBERÁ NATIONAL PARK, Argentina — They had a big job to do, drafted as the first few jaguars to be reintroduced to Argentina’s wetlands after more than seven decades of absence.

Capybaras, a giant rodent, at the park.

But they were a troubled bunch.

Tobuna came from an Argentine zoo and was fat and lethargic, in the twilight of her reproductive life. Her daughter, Tania, had been hidden from view in the same zoo because a tiger had mauled one of her legs as a cub. Continue reading

Puzzling Palm Positivity

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I saw this photo while skimming the headlines in the Environmental News section of the Guardian’s website. I have been skimming that section most mornings since July, 2011. Out of 3,000+ times skimming and always finding at least one news story to click through to read, today was the first time I ever clicked on an image that I could see was part of a paid advertisement. I landed on a screen filled with this:

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I have replicated as best I can what I saw, including the links to the messages embedded behind each of the images. The images of palm plantations are so pretty. The messages are so positive.

I am puzzled.

Palm?

Positive?

Rewilding & The Wilder Blean Project

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Credit: Evan Bowen-Jones

Rewilding started featuring in our pages with a bison story in 2013, and one year later a book review made the concept clearer. Since then dozens of related stories have fueled our imaginations, and understanding of how this makes sense.

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Blean woods, near Canterbury. The Wilder Blean project aims to restore the ecosystem of the area’s ancient woodlands. Photograph: Ray Lewis/Kent Wildlife Trust

Thanks to the Guardian’s Environment editor, Damian Carrington, for bringing this new initiative to our attention:

Wild bison to return to UK for first time in 6,000 years

Release of a small herd of endangered animals in Kent is planned for spring 2022

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A herd of wild bison is seen in the Białowieża forest, Poland. Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

Wild bison are to return to the UK for the first time in 6,000 years, with the release of a small herd in Kent planned for spring 2022.

The £1m project to reintroduce the animals will help secure the future of an endangered species. But they will also naturally regenerate a former pine wood plantation by killing off trees. This creates a healthy mix of woodland, scrub and glades, boosting insect, bird and plant life.

During the initial release, one male and three females will be set free. Natural breeding will increase the size of the herd, with one calf per year the norm for each female. The bison will come from the Netherlands or Poland, where releases have been successful and safe. Continue reading

Singing the Praises of Wild Foods

A Wild Box from Allora, available for delivery in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx, might include, clockwise from top: squash blossoms grown on the farm; a bouquet of common vetch (also known as wild peas), linden flowers, dame’s rocket, and bedstraw; a hunk of a chicken-of-the-woods mushroom.Photograph by Courtney Sofiah Yates for The New Yorker

We’ve long been fans of foraged foods on this site, whether that be the seasonal delights of wild mushrooms, or the community gleaning of urban trees and gardens. These Wild Boxes are definitely an inspiration to get outside with an expert, and find a meal.

Foraged Foods Shorten the Supply Chain

Chicken-of-the-woods mushrooms that fry up like their namesake, snappy sea beans that need no extra salt, sassafras syrup, and other edible offerings from the wilds outside the city limits.

“Alot of the talk about quarantine cooking, in the beginning, was, like, ‘Here’s twenty ways to use a can of tuna,’ ” James O’Donnell recounted the other day. “It was very much survivalist.” O’Donnell and his partner, Amanda Kingsley, own Allora Farm & Flowers, in Pine Plains, New York, where they grow what they need for their floral-design studio, plus vegetables. It struck him that “a lot of people at home could probably use feeling connected to the natural world right now, a little bit of excitement and wonder.” Before the pandemic, a substantial part of O’Donnell and Kingsley’s business was supplying restaurants with ingredients that they foraged sustainably from the acres that they lease, as well as from friends’ properties and from public lands in the Hudson Valley and on Long Island. With the restaurant market shrinking, they decided to experiment with a direct-to-consumer weekly-ish Wild Box, available for delivery in the Bronx, Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens.

To forage safely requires a good amount of training. Perfectly edible plants can look nearly identical to perfectly poisonous ones. In some cases, a berry that grows on a tree may be as palatable as its flower is lethal. Still, eating my way through a Wild Box gave me hope for my chances of surviving should even the canned tuna run out. Learn the rules—many inherited from indigenous peoples—and unlock access to treasures hiding in plain sight in thickets, on riverbanks, and by the shore. A hefty wedge of chicken-of-the-woods mushroom pried from a tree trunk performed exactly as its name would suggest, its edges pan-frying to a crisp golden brown that rivalled a buttermilk crust, its creamy interior shredding almost like meat.

A vial of sassafras syrup, made by steeping bark and small roots removed responsibly from a sassafras tree, was transformed into an aromatically fizzy glass of root beer when mixed with soda water. The detailed ingredient key that came in the box suggested treating tender, sweet, snappy sea beans—a succulent, also known as samphire, that grows on beaches and in coastal marshes—like salad greens, but to leave the salt out of your vinaigrette until you had tasted the dressed beans. Sure enough, they were so infused with a natural brine that they didn’t need a single grain. Continue reading

Removing Constraints On Natural Aquatic Migrations

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Osprey looking for alewives along the Sebasticook River in Maine. The removal of two dams has allowed migratory fish to return. Murray Carpenter

Migration, an ageless natural phenomenon, can be all the more spectacular when we remove its constraints:

‘One Of The Best Nature Shows’: A River Transformed After Dams Come Down

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Sea lamprey making a spawning nest in the Sebasticook. Murray Carpenter

Along central Maine’s Sebasticook River, the first thing you’ll notice are the birds. Eagles are everywhere, wading on gravel bars and chattering from the trees.

“A whole bunch of birds, they’re bald eagles, those are all bald eagles!” says conservationist Steve Brooke.

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A recent count found nearly 200 bald eagles along the Sebasticook. This one has caught an alewife. Murray Carpenter

It’s a dramatic sight, as the bald eagles swoop to catch fish from the river. And it’s a sight that Brooke predicted for this region, more than 20 years ago. That’s when he began advocating for the removal of a large hydroelectric dam downstream, on the Kennebec River. The Edwards Dam came down in 1999 after the federal government ordered its removal, saying the ecological costs outweighed the benefit of the power it provided. Continue reading

Akira Miyawaki, More On Small Forests

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A Miyawaki forest being planted on the outskirts of Paris, France. Photograph: Courtesy of Boomforest

We knew from a recent post about the importance of small tracts of tree cover, based on reporting in the USA. Here is more from Europe, and about the botanist inspiring an acceleration of planting:

Fast-growing mini-forests spring up in Europe to aid climate

Miyawaki forests are denser and said to be more biodiverse than other kinds of woods

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A three-year-old forest in Ormeignies, Belgium. Photograph: Urban Forests

Tiny, dense forests are springing up around Europe as part of a movement aimed at restoring biodiversity and fighting the climate crisis.

Often sited in schoolyards or alongside roads, the forests can be as small as a tennis court. They are based on the work of the Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki, who has planted more than 1,000 such forests in Japan, Malaysia and elsewhere. Continue reading

What To Do With Expired Trees

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Dead trees in a California forest in August 2016. U.S. FOREST SERVICE

It sounds like the inverse of rewilding’s restorative approach, when there is a large patch of expired trees; decisions must be made. Thanks to Jane Braxton Little for laying out the questions:

In California, A Push Grows to Turn Dead Trees into Biomass Energy

As forests in California and the Western U.S. are hit by rising numbers of fires and disease outbreaks related to climate change, some experts argue that using dead and diseased trees to produce biomass energy will help to restore forests and reduce CO2 emissions.

Jonathan Kusel owns three pickups and a 45-foot truck for hauling woodchip bins. He operates a woodchip yard and a 35-kilowatt biomass plant that burns dead trees, and he runs a crew marking trees for loggers working in national forests. Those are a lot of blue-collar credentials for a University of California, Berkeley PhD sociologist known for his documentation of how the decline of the timber industry affects rural communities. Continue reading

Fungus Among Us

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A seemingly brainless organism, the fungus is a model of coöperative resilience. Illustration by Anders Nilsen

It is reassuring to wake up on a Monday morning and read an essay like the one below. Books are still being published. Check. Fungi are still worthy of book-length attention. Check. Book reviews continue. Check. Kind of like yesterday it was a pleasure to know that bioluminescence continues its mysterious ways, and people are still finding ways to be amused by that. The number of articles we have posted here since 2011 about fungi is many times more than about bioluminescence, and our readers demonstrate a greater interest in this subject as well. A book as valuable as this one sounds like from the review should not suffer from an untimely publication date.

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One of the minor accompanying pleasures following the reading of this essay is a quick investigation that shows there is a bookshop in the Five Points neighborhood of Atlanta, GA and its counterpart in Athens, GA where you can order the book. Our view is that when you can support an independent bookshop you should, for so many reasons. Thanks to Avid for being there, and to Hua Hsu for this:

The Secret Lives of Fungi

They shape the world—and offer lessons for how to live in it.

248534In 1957, a man from New York named R. Gordon Wasson published an article in Life about two trips he had taken, three decades apart. The first was to the Catskills, in New York, where his wife, Valentina, took a rambling walk in the woods and became enamored of some wild mushrooms. “She caressed the toadstools,” Wasson recalled, “savored their earthy perfume.” She brought them home to cook, and soon he, too, was enchanted. They spent the next thirty years studying and cataloguing various species, searching out literary and artistic works about mushrooms.

According to Wasson, the world is divided into mycophiles and mycophobes. Reverence might take a variety of forms—think of Eastern Europe or Russia, where foraging is a pastime. There’s a famous scene in “Anna Karenina,” in which a budding romance withers during a mushroom hunt. Wasson was particularly interested in societies that venerated the fungus for spiritual reasons. In Mexico, wild mushrooms were thought to possess “a supernatural aura.” Continue reading

Earth Day @ 50

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( wikipedia/commons/4/48 )

CarsonDreamSeaThis week’s podcast rebroadcasts an episode we first heard a couple years ago, but Rachel Carson Dreams of the Sea is as good a tribute to Earth Day’s 50th anniversary as you will find:

Before she published “Silent Spring,” one of the most influential books of the last century, Rachel Carson was a young aspiring poet and then a graduate student in marine biology. Although she couldn’t swim and disliked boats, Carson fell in love with the ocean. Her early books—including “The Sea Around Us,” “The Edge of the Sea” and “Under the Sea Wind”—were like no other nature writing of their time, Jill Lepore says: Carson made you feel you were right there with her, gazing into the depths of a tide pool or lying in a cave lined with sea sponges. Lepore notes that Carson was wondering about a warming trend in the ocean as early as the 1940s, and was planning to explore it after the publication of “Silent Spring.” If she had not died early, of cancer, could Carson have brought climate change to national attention well before it was too late?

Excerpts from Carson’s work were read by Charlayne Woodard, and used with permission of Carson’s estate.

Small But Important Triumphs Can Make Your Day

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STW__Artboard-5In 2006, our family moved to a small island in the Adriatic, one of the Elafiti islands near Dubrovnik. We were there working on one of my favorite of all our projects. There was a young man who did sea kayaking guiding for our guests; he was from the USA for one year doing this work and learning Croatian because of family heritage. Years later we reconnected and I learned that he had become the leader of this amazing conservation organization, so I follow their work. And today I was rewarded with some news that made me smile (video from an earlier Save The Waves post from 1+ year ago is worth another watch):

International campaign succeeds against Trump International Golf Links

(March 18th, 2020) After more than four years of campaigning and fighting to save beloved Doughmore Beach in Ireland, the #NatureTrumpsWalls campaign and coalition has succeeded in stopping the construction of major seawalls that would have led to catastrophic impacts to the coast.

Trump International Golf Links (TIGL) had submitted a plan to place hard armoring on the natural coastal dunes of Doonbeg that provide sediment for the surf ecosystem and breaking waves, as well as natural coastal protection from climate change. 

On March 12th, Ireland’s national planning appeal board, An Bord Pleanála, formally rejected the plan, citing the concerns submitted by the coalition about the adverse impacts to the dune ecosystem. Continue reading

Rewilding Considered, And Reconsidered

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The Scots pines near Glenfeshie. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

Rewilding continues to intrigue me, as it has since my first introduction to the concept and the practice. Thanks to Christopher de Bellaigue for this long-read addition to the intrigue:

The end of farming?

For decades, the way we farm has been degrading land and destroying wildlife. Now there’s a revolution coming – but is it going to create more problems than it solves?

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John Cherry of Weston Park Farms inspects and smells the soil in one of his fields. Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

In the last years of the 20th century, Glenfeshie, a 17,000-hectare estate in the Scottish Highlands, was in steep decline. Decades of overgrazing by deer had reduced its hillsides to clipped lifelessness. Denied the protection afforded by tree roots, the banks of the River Feshie were losing soil each time it flooded, the water depositing silt downstream. Those few Scots pines that had survived the browsing of the deer were nearing the end of their lives; soon there would be no seed source for the next generation. Continue reading