Evolution

kinyuHistoire naturelle des dorades de la Chine, Edme Billardon-Sauvigny (1736 – 1812), gravées par F.N. Martinet accompagnée d’observations et d’anecdotes relatives aux usages, aux moeurs et au gouvernement de cet empire par m. de Sauvigny

 

“Because fishes inhabit vast, obscure habitats, science has only begun to explore below the surface of their private lives. They are not instinct-driven or machinelike. Their minds respond flexibly to different situations. They are not just things; they are sentient beings.”

In his new book, What A Fish Knows: The Inner Lives Of Our Underwater Cousins, Jonathan Balcombe presents evidence that fish have a conscious awareness that allows them to experience pain, recognize individual humans and have memory.
“Thanks to the breakthroughs in ethology, sociobiology, neurobiology and ecology, we can now better understand what the world looks like to fish,” Balcombe says.

“They are the product of over 400 million years of evolution so the perceptions and sensory abilities of fish” . . . whether strange to us or very familiar, are wonderfully developed.
“One is a sense of water pressure or movement in the water that’s very acute. Some fishes, including sharks, can detect electrical signals from other organisms.
Some can create electric organ discharges, and they use those as communication signals. They will change their own frequency if they’re swimming by another fish with a similar frequency, so they don’t jam and confuse each other. They also show deference by shutting off their EODs when they’re passing the fish who holds that territory.

At low tide, frillfin gobies hide in rocky tide pools. If danger lurks — a hungry octopus, say — the goby will jump to a neighboring tide pool, with remarkable accuracy. How do they avoid ending up stranded on the rocks?
A series of captive experiments dating from the 1940s found something remarkable. They memorize the tide pool layout while swimming over it at high tide. They can do it in one try, and remember it 40 days later. So much for a fish’s mythic three-second memory.

On reefs, collaborative hunting has developed an astonishing degree of sophistication. A grouper has been observed inviting a moray eel to join in a foray, communicating by a head-shaking gesture or a full body shimmy. The two fishes probably know each other, for individual recognition is the norm in fish societies.
If the grouper chases a fish into a reef crevice, it uses its body to point to the hidden prey until the slender eel goes after it; if the hapless quarry escapes to open water, the grouper is waiting.

In a study of striated surgeon-fishes collected from the Great Barrier Reef, researchers stressed their subjects by placing them, one at a time, for 30 minutes in a bucket with just enough water to cover them.
When given the chance, the frazzled surgeon-fishes repeatedly sidled up to a realistic mechanical model of a cleaner-fish that was rigged to deliver gentle strokes. Their stress levels — measured as cortisol taken by blood sample — plummeted.
One study showed individual recognition of human faces by fishes–so they probably do recognize individual divers–and they come up to be stroked.

If temporary confinement to a small bucket traumatizes a fish, think what it feels like to be caught. Every year, an estimated half trillion fishes are hauled up from their habitat.
They die by suffocation and crushing in order to provide food for us, our pets and livestock, and even for the fishes we farm. That, or we toss them back, usually dead or dying, as unwanted by-catch.

Some of the methods to catch fish for acquariums are pretty awful: Cyanide poisoning, which often kills many of the fishes being targeted– or ones not being targeted– and explosive devices are sometimes used.
And then you have the vicissitudes of transport, where they’re shipped over continents and the mortality rates are high.
So we are campaigning actively to try to discourage people from buying these fishes, because when you purchase a product, you tell the manufacturer to do it again, and we don’t really want that happening

The simplest way to help is to reduce our consumption of fish and to source what we do eat from suppliers that adhere to animal welfare standards.
As innovative research reveals new facets of the private lives of fishes, I’m hopeful that perceptions will change and we’ll show them more mercy.”

 


N.Y. Times 5/15/2016

Fresh Air 6/20/2016

Surrendering Forests

tree david johnsonDavid Johnson (1827 – 1908)


by Jeff Tietz
Rolling Stone

From a tree’s perspective, excessive heat may be as deadly as lack of water.
To photosynthesize, a tree opens pores in its leaves called stomata and inhales CO2. Solar-charged chemical reactions then transform the CO2 into carbohydrates — the raw stuff of leaves and wood. During this process, a fraction of the tree’s internal water supply evaporates through its stomata, creating the negative pressure that pulls water from the soil into the tree’s roots, through its trunk and up to its canopy. But heat juices the rate at which trees lose moisture, and that rate escalates exponentially with temperature — so small temperature increases can cause a photosynthesizing tree to lose dangerous amounts of water.
“Forests notice even a one-degree increase in temperature,” says Park Williams at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

In the death scenario, the sky sucks water from the leaves faster than it can be replaced by water in the soil, and the resulting partial vacuum fatally fractures the tree’s water column. If a tree closes its stomata to avoid this, shutting down photosynthesis, it risks starvation.
Ultimately, the tree’s cellular chemistry will fail, but it will often die before that, as its defenses fall; the complexly toxic sap that repels predatory insects dries up.
Many insects can detect diminished sap levels within tree bark by scent — they smell drought stress and pheromonally broadcast news of deteriorating tree health. Other defenses – against microbes, for example — may also be compromised.
A hotter climate generally means more insects.
It also means more, and more intense, wildfires.

For decades, all over the planet, heat-aggravated drought has been killing trees: mountain acacia in Zimbabwe, Mediterranean pine in Greece, Atlas cedar in Morocco, eucalyptus and corymbia in Australia, fir in Turkey and South Korea.
In 2010 a group of ecologists published the first global overview of forest health. They described droughts whose severity was unequaled in the “last few centuries” and documented “climate-driven episodes of regional-scale forest die-off.”

Because global warming outpaces evolutionary adaptation, the question is: Can trees survive as they are?
The conifer forests of the Southwest United States, if climate projections are even minimally accurate, cannot, but what about the rest of the world’s forests?
That’s a critical question, because forests cover more than a quarter of the planet’s land, and they help stabilize the climate by pulling immense quantities of CO2 out of the air.
In August 2011, a team of scientists led by Dr. Yude Pan, a U.S. Forest Service researcher, reported that between 1990 and 2007, forests sequestered about 25 percent of all greenhouse-gas emissions — everything not in the air or seas.

Climatologists worry that if forests across the planet deteriorate, they could, on balance, begin releasing as much carbon as they absorb.
One of Pan’s collaborators, Dr. Richard Birdsey: “If the carbon sink in forests fails, a simple speculation is that global temperatures would increase proportionally to the increase of CO2 concentration, so about 25 percent above current climate projections.”
“The more forests die, the less carbon they take out of the air, the warmer it gets, the more forests die,”
says Dr. Nate McDowell at Los Alamos. “It’s a thermostat gone bad.”

The better we understand climate change, the more we seem to find that warming begets warming in unexpected and self-amplifying ways: Implacable heat engines materialize and run independently of all human effort.

There are an estimated 1 trillion metric tons of frozen carbon in the soils of the Arctic region — a century’s worth of global emissions, twice the amount stored in the global forest, another few Industrial Revolutions.
As the planet warms, permafrost thaws and decomposes, sending carbon into the air and further warming the planet. Higher temperatures also kindle increasingly intense and frequent wildfires in high-latitude forests, to quadruple effect.
And fire releases carbon directly; it burns off the insulating upper layer of vegetation, exposing more permafrost to warm air; it blackens the trees and land, which consequently absorb more solar radiation; and its soot can settle on and darken snow and ice sheets to the north, which then also absorb more solar radiation.

By the end of the century, the woodlands of the Southwest will likely be reduced to weeds and shrubs. And scientists worry that the rest of the planet may see similar effects.

 

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-fate-of-trees-how-climate-change-may-alter-forests-worldwide-20150312?page=3

 

Trees Cry Out
https://secretgardening.wordpress.com/2013/05/27/trees-cry-out/

The Longevity of Trees

https://secretgardening.wordpress.com/2013/06/14/popular-science-monthlyjuly-1873the-longevity-of-trees/
A Living Miracle
https://secretgardening.wordpress.com/2010/05/25/%E2%80%9Ctrees-are-a-living-miracle-leaves-can-take-in-carbon-dioxide-and-create-oxygen-and-all-creatures-must-have-oxygen-%E2%80%9D/
Du Bon Usage des Arbres
https://secretgardening.wordpress.com/2012/01/08/a-plea-to-the-attention/

The Canary

canary finch menzelAdolph Friedrich Erdmann von Menzel (1815 – 1905)

 

Did Your Shopping List Kill a Songbird?
New York Times March 30, 2008

A consumer may not be able to tell the difference but a red & blue Thomas the Tank Engine made in Wisconsin is not the same as one manufactured in China: the paint on the Chinese twin may contain dangerous levels of lead. Also a plump red tomato from Florida is often not the same as one grown in Mexico. The imported fruits and vegetables found in our shopping carts in winter & early spring are grown with types & amounts of pesticides that would often be illegal in the United States.

In this case, the victims are North American songbirds. Bobolinks were once a common sight in the Eastern United States. In mating season, the male in his handsome tuxedo-like suit sings deliriously as he whirrs madly over the hayfields. Bobolink numbers have plummeted almost 50 percent in the last four decades, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey.

The birds are being poisoned on their wintering grounds by highly toxic pesticides. Rosalind Renfrew, a biologist at the Vermont Center for Ecostudies, captured bobolinks feeding in rice fields in Bolivia and took samples of their blood to test for pesticide exposure. She found that about half of the birds had drastically reduced levels of cholinesterase, an enzyme that affects brain and nerve cells — a sign of exposure to toxic chemicals.

Since the 1980s, pesticide use has increased fivefold in Latin America as countries have expanded their production of nontraditional crops to fuel the demand for fresh produce during winter in North America and Europe.
Rice farmers in the region use monocrotophos, methamidophos and carbofuran, all agricultural chemicals that are rated Class I toxins by the World Health Organization, are highly toxic to birds, and are either restricted or banned in the United States. In countries like Guatemala, Honduras and Ecuador, researchers have found that farmers spray their crops heavily and repeatedly with a chemical cocktail of dangerous pesticides.

In the mid-1990s, American biologists used satellite tracking to follow Swainson’s hawks to their wintering grounds in Argentina, where thousands of them were found dead from monocrotophos poisoning. Migratory songbirds like bobolinks, barn swallows and Eastern kingbirds are suffering mysterious population declines, and pesticides may well be to blame.
A single application of a highly toxic pesticide to a field can kill seven to 25 songbirds per acre. About half the birds that researchers capture after such spraying are found to suffer from severely depressed neurological function.

Migratory birds, modern-day canaries in the coal mine, reveal an environmental problem hidden to consumers. Testing by the United States Food and Drug Administration shows that fruits and vegetables imported from Latin America are three times as likely to violate Environmental Protection Agency standards for pesticide residues as the same foods grown in the United States. Some but not all pesticide residues can be removed by washing or peeling produce, but tests by the Centers for Disease Control show that most Americans carry traces of pesticides in their blood. American consumers can discourage this poisoning by avoiding foods that are bad for the environment, bad for farmers in Latin America and, in the worst cases, bad for their own families.

Most mass-produced coffee is grown in open fields heavily treated with fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides and insecticides. In contrast, traditional small coffee farmers grow their beans under a canopy of tropical trees, which provide shade and essential nitrogen, and fertilize their soil naturally with leaf litter. Their organic, fair-trade coffee is now available in many coffee shops and supermarkets, and it is recommended by the Audubon Society, the American Bird Conservancy and the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center.
Bananas are typically grown with one of the highest pesticide loads of any tropical crop. Although bananas present little risk of pesticide ingestion to the consumer, the environment where they are grown is heavily contaminated.
When it comes to nontraditional Latin American crops like melons, green beans, tomatoes, bell peppers and strawberries, it can be difficult to find any that are organically grown. We should buy these foods only if they are not imported from Latin America.

Now that spring is here, we take it for granted that birdsong will fill the air when our apple trees blossom. But each year, as we continue to demand out-of-season fruits and vegetables, we ensure that fewer and fewer songbirds will return.


Bridget Stutchbury, a professor of biology at York University in Toronto, is the author of “Silence of the Songbirds”

Altered Planet

wyeth 1 treeAndrew Newell Wyeth (1917 – 2009)
Detail, Snow Hill

 


by Robert Macfarlane

In 2003 the Australian philosopher Glenn Albrecht  coined the term solastalgia to mean a “form of psychic or existential distress caused by environmental change”.

Albrecht was studying the effects of long-term drought and large-scale mining activity on communities in New South Wales, when he realised that no word existed to describe the unhappiness of people whose landscapes were being transformed about them by forces beyond their control.
He proposed his new term to describe this distinctive kind of homesickness.

Albrecht’s coinage is part of an emerging lexis for what we are increasingly calling the “Anthropocene”: the new epoch of geological time in which human activity is considered such a powerful influence on the environment, climate and ecology of the planet that it will leave a long-term signature in the strata record.
And what a signature it will be:
We have bored more than 31 million miles of holes in our search for oil.
We remove mountain tops to get at the coal they contain.
The oceans dance with billions of tiny plastic beads.
Weaponry tests have dispersed artificial radionuclides globally.
The burning of rainforests for monoculture production sends out killing smog-palls that settle into the sediment across entire countries.
We have become titanic geological agents, our legacy legible for millennia to come.

Plastics in particular are being taken as a key marker for the Anthropocene.
We currently produce around 100 million tonnes of plastic globally each year.
Because plastics are inert and difficult to degrade, some of this plastic material will find its way into the strata record. Among the future fossils of the Anthropocene, therefore, might be the trace forms not only of megafauna and nano-planktons, but also shampoo bottles and deodorant caps – the strata that contain them precisely dateable with reference to the product-design archives of multinationals.
What will survive of us is plastic – and lead-207, the stable isotope at the end of the uranium-235 decay chain.

Recent publications indicate that scientists will recommend the designation of the Anthropocene, and that the “stratigraphically optimal” temporal limit will be located somewhere in the mid-20th century.

This places the start of the Anthropocene simultaneous with the start of the nuclear age.
It also coincides with the so-called “Great Acceleration”, when massive increases occurred in population, carbon emissions, species invasions and extinctions, and when the production and discard of metals, concrete and plastics boomed.
Jason W Moore argues that the Anthropocene is not the geology of a species at all, but rather the geology of a system, capitalism – and as such should be rechristened the Capitalocene.

In 2010 Timothy Morton adopted the term hyperobject to denote some of the characteristic entities of the Anthropocene. Hyperobjects are “so massively distributed in time, space and dimensionality” that they defy our perception, let alone our comprehension.
Among the examples Morton gives of hyperobjects are climate change, mass species extinction and radioactive plutonium. “In one sense hyperobjects are abstractions,” he notes, “in another they are ferociously, catastrophically real.”

We are living through what is popularly known as the 6th great extinction

A third of all amphibian species are at risk of extinction.
A fifth of the globe’s 5,500 known mammals are classified as endangered, threatened or vulnerable.
The current extinction rate for birds may be faster than any recorded across the 150 million years of avian evolutionary history.
We exist in an ongoing biodiversity crisis – but register that crisis, if at all, as an ambient hum of guilt, easily faded out.

A remarkable artwork by the American writer and conservation biologist Julianne Lutz Warren is called “Hopes Echo”.
It concerns the huia, a bird of New Zealand that was made extinct in the early 20th century due to habitat destruction, introduced predators and overhunting for its black and ivory tail feathers.

The huia vanished before field-recording technologies existed, but a version of its song has survived by means of an eerie series of preservations: a sound fossil.
In order to lure the birds to their snares, the Maori people learned to mimic the huia song. This mimicked song was passed down between generations, a practice that continued even after the huia was gone. In 1954 a pakeha (a European New Zealander) called RAL Bateley made a recording of a Maori man, Henare Hamana, whistling his imitation of the huia’s call. Warren’s exhibit makes Bateley’s crackly recording available.
It is, as Warren puts it, “a soundtrack of the sacred voices of extinct birds echoing in that of a dead man echoing out of a machine echoing through the world today”.

Many of the new words we have had to invent are ugly coinages for an ugly epoch.
Taken in sum, they speak of our stuttering attempts to describe just what it is we have done.


excerpted from, Generation Anthropocene

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/apr/01/generation-anthropocene-altered-planet-for-ever

 

The Last Word

What good is wallabyLagostrophus fasciatus (Banded Hare Wallaby), 
Charles Alexandre Lesueur (1 January 1778 – 12 December 1846), naturalist, artist, and 
explorer;
writer on zoological, geological, historical, and archeological research

 

The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant: ‘What good is it?’

Aldo Leopold (January 11, 1887 – April 21, 1948)
Scientist, ecologist, forester, conservationist, and environmentalist

 

Gold and Green

a lopez garcia fruitAntonio López Garcia
Los Melacotones y Las Rosas (detail), 1956

 


The Consent

Late in November, on a single night
Not even near to freezing, the ginkgo trees
That stand along the walk drop all their leaves
In one consent, and neither to rain nor to wind
But as though to time alone: the golden and green
Leaves litter the lawn today, that yesterday
Had spread aloft their fluttering fans of light.

What signal from the stars? What senses took it in?
What in those wooden motives so decided
To strike their leaves, to down their leaves,
Rebellion or surrender? and if this
Can happen thus, what race shall be exempt?
What use to learn the lessons taught by time.
If a star at any time may tell us: Now.


Howard Nemerov (1920 – 1991)

 


Night of The Ginko

by Oliver Sacks (1933 – 2015)

Today in New York—November 13th—leaves are falling, drifting, skittering everywhere. But there is one striking exception: the fan-shaped leaves of the ginkgo are still firmly attached to their branches, even though many of them have turned a luminous gold. One sees why this beautiful tree has been revered since ancient times.

Carefully preserved for millennia in the temple gardens of China, ginkgoes are almost extinct in the wild, but they have an extraordinary ability to survive the heat, the snows, the hurricanes, the diesel fumes, and the other charms of New York City, and there are thousands of them here, mature ones bearing a hundred thousand leaves or more—tough, heavy Mesozoic leaves such as the dinosaurs ate. The ginkgo family has been around since before the dinosaurs, and its only remaining member, Ginkgo biloba, is a living fossil, basically unchanged in two hundred million years.

While the leaves of the more modern angiosperms—maples, oaks, beeches, what have you—are shed over a period of weeks after turning dry and brown, the ginkgo, a gymnosperm, drops its leaves all at once. The botanist Peter Crane, in his book “Ginkgo,” writes that, in relation to a very large ginkgo in Michigan, “for many years there was a competition to guess the date on which the leaves would fall.” In general, Crane says, it happens with “eerie synchronicity,” and he quotes the poet Howard Nemerov

Are the ginkgoes responding to some external signal, such as the change of temperature or light? Or to some internal, genetically programmed signal? No one knows what lies behind this synchronicity, but it is surely related to the antiquity of the ginkgo, which has evolved along a very different path from that of more modern trees.

Will it be November 20th, 25th, 30th? Whenever it is, each tree will have its own Night of the Ginkgo. Few people will see this—most of us will be asleep—but in the morning the ground beneath the ginkgo will be carpeted with thousands of heavy, golden, fan-shaped leaves.

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/11/24/night-ginkgo

The Ostrich

ostrichThe Ostrich
Presented by his Majesty to the late Merchioness of Londondery and now in the gardens of the Zoological Society

Copper etching by J. Engleheart. Printer: R. Clay. London, 1829


 

Plant-Blind

marshal sunflowerAlexander Marshal (c.1620 – 1682)
English entomologist, gardener, and botanical artist, noted for the florilegium he compiled

We Need a Cure

Humanity is suffering from an illness the extent of which is not fully known, and the impact of this is being felt across the globe. It renders humankind unable to see the plants in their environment, and leaves us deeming the plant-life everywhere as nothing more than  background for more important things.

Take an image of a lion in the wild in Africa and ask anyone what they see. The answer you will invariably get is “a lion”. If you are lucky, you may get the answer “a wild lion”, or if you are extremely lucky, “a wild lion in Africa”.
Generally you won’t get the answer “The African savannah in the dry season with some amazing acacia scrub and a lion lying on a bed of dry red grass (Themeda triandra) in the shade of a really old sausage tree (Kigelia africana)”.

The picture is not just a picture of a lion. It’s a picture of a whole environment and the biodiversity within it, without which the lion cannot survive.
A human is in exactly the same position as the lion. However, we have forgotten our need for this web of which we are a part.
The inability even to see the vegetation surrounding us has been given a name; plant blindness

The number of garden designers is growing, and yet specialist plant nurseries, with their focused knowledge of the individual plants in their care, are closing.
Plants – living things – often become throwaway items used purely for decoration, with little acknowledgment given to their much deeper importance to the human state.

Plants are vitally important elements in our ecosystem that clothe us, feed us, give us the oxygen that we breathe, and the medicines that cure us.
They are carbon sinks that will allow us to reduce global warming, control the impact of drought, and filter pollution out of the air and the water.
They need to be understood as the complex living organisms, in their myriad of forms, which they truly are.

Plants need to become valued again, recognized, seen.
We need to find a cure for plant blindness, and quickly.

by Robbie Blackhall-Miles

Robbie Blackhall-Miles is a modern day plant hunter’s propagator and gardener. He is interested in ancient families of plants and blogs about these on his website fossilplants.co.uk. He also tweets as @fossilplants.

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/gardening-blog/2015/sep/17/we-need-a-cure-for-plant-blindness


https://secretgardening.wordpress.com/2011/06/22/1154/

‘Does it matter that so many of the stories we tell take place in some ecological make-believe, where plants and animals are treated as little more than the living wallpaper of a stage set for human actions or as interchangeable ciphers for conveying life lessons?’


https://secretgardening.wordpress.com/2011/08/24/the-secret-gardener/

“the people who live in cities have lost their connexion with the earth; they hang, as it were, in the air, hover in all directions, and find no place where they can settle”


https://secretgardening.wordpress.com/2015/08/06/to-ungive/

We are blasé, in the sense that Georg Simmel used that word in 1903, meaning “indifferent to the distinction between things”.
As we deplete our ability to denote and figure particular aspects of our places, so our competence for understanding and imagining possible relationships with non-human nature is correspondingly depleted.

Hinged Double Sonnet for the Luna Moths

LunaMaruyama Ōkyo (圓山 應舉, June 12, 1733 – August 31, 1795)

 

Hinged Double Sonnet For The Luna Moths
by Sean Nevin

       —Norton Island, Maine

For ten days now, two luna moths remain
silk-winged and lavish as a double broach
pinned beneath the porch light of my cabin.
Two of them, patinaed that sea-glass green
of copper weather vanes nosing the wind,
the sun-lit green of rockweed, the lichen’s
green scabbing-over of the bouldered shore,
the plush green peat that carpets the island,
that hushes, sinks then holds a boot print
for days, and the sapling-green of new pines
sprouting through it. The miraculous green
origami of their wings—false eyed, doomed
and sensual as the mermaid’s long green fins:
a green siren calling from the moonlight.

A green siren calling from the moonlight,
from the sweet gum leaves and paper birches
that shed, like tiny white decrees, scrolled bark.
They emerge from cocoons like greased hinges,
all pheromone and wing, instinct and flutter.
They rise, hardwired, driven, through the creaking
pine branches tufted with beard moss and fog.
Two luna moths flitting like exotic birds
towards only each other and light, in these
their final few days, they mate, then starving
they wait, inches apart, on my cabin wall
to die, to share fully each pure and burning
moment. They are, like desire itself, born
without mouths. What, if not this, is love?


from Oblivio Gate, published in 2008 by Southern University Press

 

Published in: on September 3, 2015 at 11:07 pm  Comments (1)  
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Beasts

The Sloth-Bear

A natural history drawing of a Sloth Bear produced  by a local artist under the supervision of Francis Buchanan (later Buchanan-Hamilton, 1762-1829) while he was Superintendent of the Institution for Promoting the Natural History of India at Barrackpore

 

— Should this be true, that Beasts were Automata or Machines, they could have no Sense or Perception of Pleasure or Pain, and consequently no Cruelty could be exercis’d towards them; which is contrary to the doleful Significations they make when beaten or tormented,
and is contrary to the common Sense of Mankind, all Men naturally pitying them, as apprehending them to have such Sense and Feeling of Pain and Misery as themselves have . . .
Besides, having the same members and Organs of Sense as we have, it is very probable they have the same Sensations and Perceptions with us . . .
and at last seemingly contrary to the Scripture too: Proverbs 12:10 . . .  A good Man is merciful to his Beast; which is the true Exposition of it  . . . .

John Ray (1627 – 1705), who laid the foundations of botany and zoology in Britain