In Our Hands Forests Sleep

lynx-la-balsaminaProbably from the botanical manuscripts of Federico Angelo Cesi (1585 – 1630), founder of the Accademia dei Lincei

 
Protea montana
 is a threatened species from the very highest peaks of the Western Cape of South Africa.
A fluffy seed coat allows it to be blown – after a fire has released it from the prison of a dead flower head – to a site where the same fluff allows it to corkscrew into the shallow soil and wait for winter rain.

For a thing so small, a seed bears a heavy burden: the future existence of its species.
If things go wrong for the seed, it could mean potential extinction.

Each plant species produces its own unique and beautiful seeds.
Beyond that beauty and uniqueness are the processes that place them into dormancy until the conditions are just right, distribute them, bring them out of their stasis and cause them to germinate.
Then each has its  pollination process allowing it to produce more seeds.

Mimetes stokoei
, the mace pagoda, has been declared extinct twice because there were no actual plants of this species growing anywhere on Earth.
What wasn’t considered at the time was that the mace pagoda had placed its entire future security as a species
on seed buried just under the surface of the soil, and was waiting for the right kind of fire to trigger germination.

Hope, so inextricably tied up in seeds, has led to them being one of our most important backup plans for the planet, and so humanity.
There are people out there all over the world busily collecting and storing seed; guardians of our future.
The wild relatives of our crops, endangered species, and culturally important varieties, are all important to seed-bankers.
In some countries, it’s the only way to preserve the sheer levels of genetic diversity there now.

We don’t really know what the future holds, so we must cover all bases.
On the day when we need to put endangered species back into restored habitats, or bring back genetic diversity to our crops, we will have all that potential locked away in the form of a seed.

Ecosystem restoration projects across the globe depend entirely on seed, along with the people collecting them and those who know how to grow them.
With some forethought, often on the part of enlightened governments, people are coming together to make sure the possibilities of seeds are realised.
In Thailand, rainforest is being restored using seed bombs dropped from army planes.
In the USA the Native Seed Network and the Plant Conservation Alliance are bringing together a united force of native seed collectors, growers, and landscape restoration experts in an attempt, fostered by the Obama government through its National Seed Strategy for Rehabilitation and Restoration, to make sure all degraded habitats are restored using seed of local provenance as a matter of utmost urgency.

 

Robbie Blackhall-Miles is a plantsman and conservationist. He tweets as @fossilplants.
https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/gardening-blog/2017/jan/13/seeds-little-time-capsules-that-could-secure-our-future?CMP=share_btn_tw#comment-91392416

https://secretgardening.wordpress.com/2014/05/10/the-seed-shop/

 

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Lady with Unicorn

lady unicorn paleGiorgio Barbarelli da Castelfranco (1477/8–1510)

 

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 Rhinoceros

rhinoceronPen and ink drawing, Albrecht Dürer, 1515


The Rhinoceros

In early 1514, Afonso de Albuquerque, governor of Portuguese India, sent ambassadors to Sultan Muzafar II, ruler of Cambay, to seek permission to build a fort on the island of Diu. The mission returned without an agreement, but diplomatic gifts were exchanged, including a rhinoceros.
Albuquerque decided to forward the gift, known by its Gujarati name of ganda, and its Indian keeper, to King Manuel I of Portugal.
On the Nossa Senhora da Ajuda, with two companion vessels, all loaded with spices, the animal sailed across the Indian Ocean, around the Cape of Good Hope and north through the Atlantic, stopping briefly in MozambiqueSaint Helena and the Azores.
The rhinoceros was finally unloaded in Portugal, near the site where the Manueline Belém Tower was under construction. The tower was later decorated with gargoyles shaped as rhinoceros heads under its corbels.

A rhinoceros had not been seen in Europe since Roman times: it had become something of a mythical beast, occasionally conflated in bestiaries with the “monoceros” (unicorn), so the arrival of a living example created a sensation.
In the context of the Renaissance, it was a piece of Classical Antiquity which had been rediscovered, like a statue or an inscription.
The animal was examined by scholars and the curious, and letters describing the fantastic creature were sent to correspondents throughout Europe.
The earliest known image of it illustrates a poemetto by Florentine Giovanni Giacomo Penni, published in Rome fewer than eight weeks after its arrival in Lisbon.

It was housed in King Manuel’s menagerie at the Ribeira Palace in Lisbon, separate from his elephants and other large beasts at the Estaus Palace.

Manuel decided to give the rhinoceros as a gift to the Medici Pope Leo X. The King was keen to curry favour with the Pope, to maintain the papal grants of exclusive possession to the new lands that his naval forces had been exploring in the Far East since Vasco da Gama discovered the sea route to India around Africa in 1498.
The previous year, the Pope had been very pleased with Manuel’s gift of a white elephant, also from India, which the Pope had named Hanno.
Together with other precious gifts of silver plate and spices, the rhinoceros, with its new collar of green velvet decorated with flowers, embarked on December 1515 for the voyage to Rome.

The vessel passed near Marseille in early 1516. King Francis I of France was returning from Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume in Provence, and requested a viewing of the beast. The Portuguese vessel stopped briefly at an island off Marseilles, where the rhinoceros disembarked to be beheld by the King.

After resuming its journey, the ship was wrecked in a sudden storm as it passed through the narrows of Porto Venere, north of La Spezia on the coast of Liguria. The rhinoceros, chained and shackled to the deck to keep it under control, was unable to swim to safety and drowned.

The carcass of the rhinoceros was recovered near Villefranche and its hide was returned to Lisbon, where it was stuffed. Some reports say that the mounted skin was sent to Rome, arriving in February 1516, to be exhibited impagliato (Italian for “stuffed with straw”), although such a feat would have challenged 16th-century methods of taxidermy, which were still primitive. If a stuffed rhinoceros did arrive in Rome, its fate remains unknown: it might have been removed to Florence by the Medici, or destroyed in the 1527 sack of Rome. In any event, there was not the popular sensation in Rome that the living beast had caused in Lisbon, although a rhinoceros was depicted in contemporary paintings in Rome by Giovanni da Udine and Raphael.

Valentim Fernandes, a Moravian merchant and printer, had seen the rhinoceros in Lisbon shortly after it arrived and had written a letter describing it to a friend in Nuremberg in June 1515. A second letter of unknown authorship was sent from Lisbon to Nuremberg at around the same time, enclosing a sketch by an unknown artist, Albrecht Dürer.
Without ever seeing the rhinoceros himself, Dürer made two pen and ink drawings, and then a woodcut was carved from the second drawing

The German inscription on the woodcut, drawing largely from Pliny’s account, reads:

On the first of May in the year 1513 AD, the powerful King of Portugal, Manuel of Lisbon, brought such a living animal from India, called the rhinoceros. This is an accurate representation. It is the colour of a speckled tortoise, and is almost entirely covered with thick scales. It is the size of an elephant but has shorter legs and is almost invulnerable. It has a strong pointed horn on the tip of its nose, which it sharpens on stones. It is the mortal enemy of the elephant. The elephant is afraid of the rhinoceros, for, when they meet, the rhinoceros charges with its head between its front legs and rips open the elephant’s stomach, against which the elephant is unable to defend itself. The rhinoceros is so well-armed that the elephant cannot harm it. It is said that the rhinoceros is fast, impetuous and cunning.

Dürer’s woodcut is not an accurate representation of a rhinoceros. He depicts an animal with hard plates that cover its body like sheets of armour, with a gorget at the throat, a solid-looking breastplate, and rivets along the seams. He places a small twisted horn on its back, and gives it scaly legs and saw-like rear quarters.
None of these features is present in a real rhinoceros.
It is possible that a suit of armour was forged for the king’s exhibition of the rhinoceros versus an elephant in Portugal, and that these features depicted by Dürer are parts of the armour.
Alternatively, Dürer’s armour may represent the heavy folds of thick skin of an Indian rhinoceros, or, as with the other inaccuracies, may simply be misunderstandings or creative additions by Dürer.
Dürer also draws a scaly texture over the body of the animal, including the armour. This may be Dürer’s attempt to reflect the rough and almost hairless hide of the Indian rhinoceros, which has wart-like bumps covering its upper legs and shoulders.
On the other hand, his depiction of the texture may represent dermatitis induced by the rhinoceros’ close confinement during the four-month journey by ship from India to Portugal.


[Silvio Bedini (1917 – 2007)
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/12/08/AR2007120801552.html]

 

 

The Rhinoceros
2015

A critically endangered male Sumatran rhino born in a US zoo has been flown to Indonesia to mate, as part of efforts to save his species. Eight-year-old Harapan, born in Cincinnati, was the last Sumatran rhino in the Western hemisphere.
The rhinos natural habitat in the forest of Sumatra is being devastated by illegal logging, and forest fires set by farmers clearing land for palm oil and pulp plantations
They are prized by poachers as their horns are used in [fake aphrodisiac scams dignified by the term] “Chinese medicine”.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-34695888

 

The ancient Sumatran rhino has been declared extinct in Malaysia,
following the fate of black rhinos in West Africa in 2011.

Central Africa’s northern white rhino has been reduced to four animals,
and conservationists say the more plentiful southern white rhinos are under unprecedented attack from poachers eager to sell the horns to Asian and Arab buyers.

http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-34527409

 


After roaming free for millions of years, rhinos may be able to survive in Kenya only if they are protected behind fences in sanctuaries, a leading conservation charity has said.
Those that remain are increasingly vulnerable to extremely well-organised poaching gangs,  and people from inside the Kenya Wildlife Service have been found to be colluding with them.

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jan/05/kenyan-rhinos-wild-poaching-sanctuaries

 

Just last week, preservationists at the Old Pejeta animal sanctuary in Kenya conceded that their one male and two female northern white rhinos will not reproduce naturally.
The animals were flown from the Czech zoo to the Kenyan conservancy in December 2009 in hopes that the natural environment there could be easier for them to breed in than in captivity.
Efforts will now be made to keep the species alive through in vitro fertilization. That experiment could take place with a southern white rhino surrogate mother. Southern white rhinos almost went extinct at the end of the 19th century, plunging down to only 20 at one point. Decades of conservation efforts gradually brought them back to life. 
The greater population of the southern white rhino could aid in reproduction of its northern counterpart. Scientists who have studied the critically endangered animal claim that dramatic population loss has reached the point at which inter-crossing the two subspecies will likely be necessary for the survival of the northern white rhino.
Geneticists view breeding rhinos across subspecies as a last resort of sorts, because of the possibility that the genes of the northern white rhino would not be preserved.
Other options are even less appealing. The six remaining animals in the subspecies would have to inbreed to produce any pure-bred offspring. But the negative effects of inbreeding, like reduced fertility and higher infant mortality rates, decrease the likelihood that the population of the subspecies could rebound this way.
“One can always believe in miracles but everything leads us to believe that hope they would reproduce naturally has gone,” Dvur Kralove Zoo spokeswoman Jana Mysliveckova told Agence France-Presse.


http://www.csmonitor.com/Science/2014/1215/Only-five-white-rhinos-left-on-earth.-Can-this-species-be-saved-video

 

Earth Day

Dronte_The Last Dodo 17th_Century17th-century illustration of a dodo

The dodo (Raphus cucullatus) is a bird that lived only on the island of Mauritius, east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. Its closest genetic relative was the Rodrigues solitaire, now also extinct, the two forming the subfamily Raphinae of the family of doves.
Mauritius was discovered by Portuguese sailors in 1505 , but it was the Dutch who established permanent habitation on the island.

The dodo had no fear of people and was easy prey because it could not fly. It lived on fruits and nuts, and built nests on the ground.
The name Dodo, is from an old Portugese word, doudo, which means “slow down”.

The first settlers brought animals with them not native to Mauritius.
There were, for example, pigs, monkeys, and rats who plundered the birds’ nests, while men felled the forests where the birds lived.

The last widely accepted record of a dodo sighting is the 1662 report by shipwrecked mariner Volkert Evertsz of the Dutch ship Arnhem.
“These animals on our coming up to them stared at us and remained quiet where they stand, not knowing whether they had wings to fly away or legs to run off, and suffering us to approach them as close as we pleased. Amongst these birds were those which in India they call Dod-aersen (being a kind of very big goose); these birds are unable to fly, and instead of wings, they merely have a few small pins, yet they can run very swiftly. We drove them together into one place in such a manner that we could catch them with our hands, and when we held one of them by its leg, and that upon this it made a great noise, the others all on a sudden came running as fast as they could to its assistance, and by which they were caught and made prisoners also.”

The last known dodo was killed less than 100 years after the species had been found.
Its extinction was not immediately noticed, and some considered it to be a mythical creature.

http://da.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dronte

see also: https://secretgardening.wordpress.com/2014/04/07/the-american-frontier/

In the Wilderness

Bosch_-_Saint_John_the_Baptist_in_the_Desert_Jheronimus van Aken  (c. 1450 – 9 August 1516)


Species across land, rivers, and seas decimated as humans kill for food in unsustainable numbers and destroy habitats


The number of wild animals on Earth has halved in the past 40 years, according to a new analysis.

Creatures across land, rivers, and the seas are being decimated as humans kill them for food in unsustainable numbers, while polluting or destroying their habitats, the research by scientists at World Wildlife Fund and the Zoological Society of London found.

“If half the animals died in London zoo next week it would be front page news,” said Professor Ken Norris, ZSL’s director of science. “But that is happening in the great outdoors.
This damage is not inevitable but a consequence of the way we choose to live.” He said nature, which provides food and clean water and air, was essential for human wellbeing.

“We have lost one half of the animal population and knowing this is driven by human consumption, this is clearly a call to arms and we must act now,” said Mike Barratt, director of science and policy at WWF.
He said more of the Earth must be protected from development and deforestation, while food and energy had to be produced sustainably.

The number of animals living on the land has fallen by 40% since 1970.
From forest elephants in central Africa, where poaching rates now exceed birth rates, to the Hoolock gibbon in Bangladesh and European snakes like the meadow and asp vipers, destruction of habitat has seen populations tumble.

Marine animal populations have also fallen by 40% overall, with turtles suffering in particular.
Hunting, the destruction of nesting grounds and getting drowned in fishing nets have seen turtle numbers fall by 80%.

A second index in the new Living Planet report calculates humanity’s “ecological footprint”, ie the scale at which it is using up natural resources.

Currently, the global population is cutting down trees faster than they regrow,
catching fish faster than the oceans can restock,
pumping water from rivers and aquifers faster than rainfall can replenish them,
and emitting more climate-warming carbon dioxide than oceans and forests can absorb.

The report concludes that today’s average global rate of consumption would need 1.5 planet Earths to sustain it.
But four planets would be required to sustain US levels of consumption, or 2.5 Earths to match UK consumption levels.

The fastest decline among the animal populations were found in freshwater ecosystems, where numbers have plummeted by 75% since 1970.
“Rivers are the bottom of the system,” said Dave Tickner, WWF’s chief freshwater adviser. “Whatever happens on the land, it all ends up in the rivers.” For example, he said, tens of billions of tonnes of effluent are dumped in the Ganges in India every year.

As well as pollution, dams and the increasing abstraction of water damage freshwater systems. There are more than 45,000 major dams – 15m or higher – around the world.
“These slice rivers up into a thousand pieces,” Tickner said, preventing the healthy flow of water.
While population has risen fourfold in the last century, water use has gone up sevenfold. “We are living thirstier and thirstier lives,” he said.


http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/sep/29/earth-lost-50-wildlife-in-40-years-wwf

Forest Die-Off Detail

Lucas Cranach the Elder (Lucas Cranach der Ältere, c. 1472 – 16 October 1553), Lucas Cranach the Elder (c. 1472 – 16 October 1553)

Study Of A Flying Sparrow

Giovanni Nanni, also Giovanni de' Ricamatori, better known as Giovanni da Udine (1487–1564)

Giovanni Nanni, also Giovanni de’ Ricamatori, better known as Giovanni da Udine (1487–1564)

Carl Sagan, upon contemplating the rarity of life in the known universe said,

“The earth is a meadow in the sky . . .”
“If we ruin the earth, there is no place else to go”   ―

Lyrebirds – Accidental Historians

Archibald James Campbell 1853-1929. Silver gelatin print.

Nature’s Living Tape Recorders May Be Telling Us Secrets
Robert Krulwich

In 1969, Neville Fenton, an Australian park ranger, recorded a lyrebird singing a song that sounded very much like a flute, a flute being played by a human. After much sleuthing, Mr. Fenton discovered that 30 years earlier, a farmer/flute player had lived near the park and played tunes to his pet lyrebird. That lyrebird downloaded the songs, then was allowed to live wild in the park.

Phrases from those flute songs apparently became part of the local lyrebird songbook. A scholar named Norman Robinson figured out that the songs wild lyrebirds were singing in 1969 were modified versions of two popular tunes from the 1930s, “The Keel Row” and “Mosquito’s Dance.”

When the BBC’s David Attenborough ran into a lyrebird deep in the Australian woods, the bird not only sang the songs of 20 other forest birds, it also did a perfect imitation of foresters and their chainsaws, who apparently were getting closer. That same bird made the sound of a car alarm.
These birds were, in effect, recording the sounds of their own habitat destruction.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/krulwich/2011/04/26/135694052/natures-living-tape-recorders-may-be-telling-us-secrets?ft=1&f=1007