Category Archives: Ecosystems

In The Amazon Rain Forest The Trees Help Make The Rain

The Amazon rainforest is home to strange weather. One peculiarity is that rains begin 2 to 3 months before seasonal winds start to bring in moist air from the ocean. Now, researchers say they have finally figured out where this early moisture comes from: the trees themselves. (Click on title for full story.)

Algae That Survive In Deserts Hold Valuable Secrets

In the future, microalgae could be used to make an oil that represents an alternative to palm oil; this would reduce the demand for palm tree plantations, which pose a major threat to the natural environment. Moreover, understanding how microalgae can colonize a desert region will help us to understand the effects of climate change in the region. (Click on title for full story.)

That Pristine Jungle? Humans Have Been Altering It For 45,000 Years

The first review of the global impact of humans on tropical forests in the ancient past shows that humans have been altering these environments for at least 45,000 years. This counters the view that tropical forests were pristine natural environments prior to modern agriculture and industrialization. The study found that humans have in fact been having a dramatic impact on such forest ecologies for tens of thousands of years, through techniques ranging from controlled burning of sections of forest to plant and animal management to clear-cutting. (Click on title for full story.)

North America’s Song Birds At Greatest Risk From Central America’s Deforestation

The resulting analysis found that 21 species of eastern-flyway forest birds well known to U.S. birders—including Least Flycatchers, Tennessee Warblers, and Indigo Buntings—spend up to 200 days per year, on average, at their wintering grounds in Central America. And they really crammed into those southern forests: The migrants occurred in densities three times higher than at their summertime nesting areas. The researchers then modeled how changes in land-use (like converting forest to farmland or homes) and climate (like changes in temperature and rainfall) might affect both breeding and wintering areas by 2050. The computer models showed that, within 40 years, deforestation on wintering grounds will pose the greatest threat to these migratory species—even more so than habitat loss where they breed. (Click on title for full story.)

Remnant Prairies Survive In Forgotten Cemetaries

Illinois once had 22 million acres of tall-grass prairie. Today, only 2,300 acres remain. But of those acres, many of the finest examples of untouched, pre-settlement prairie sit on 29 tenuous pioneer cemetery plots, fragile islands of untamed land in what is now an ocean of agricultural conformity. Together these cemeteries, often left undisturbed because they are burial grounds, make up about 50 acres. It is as if the pioneers, in their deaths, left us a few seeds of life. (Click on title for full story.)

Mangroves Cleanse Polluted Soil And Water Of Heavy Metals

Grey mangrove trees, Avicennia marina, filter heavy metals out of the surrounding soil and water. A new study from Indonesia has found that their leaf litter accumulates the most copper, followed by leaves and then roots. (Click on title for full story.)

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Reconsidering The Value Of Alien Plants When Native Ecosystems Are Too Degraded

“Conservation practitioners are investing millions of dollars to eradicate invasive species, but what if some of those invasive species are actually benefiting native species and ecosystem services? Our experimental study shows for the first time that this can be the case.” (Click on title for full story.)

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Some Plants Grow So Slowly They Require More Than One Botanist’s Lifetime For Proper Study

In 1974, a graduate student named David Inouye marked a small plant in an alpine meadow in Colorado with an aluminum tag. Forty-three years later, Inouye, now a professor emeritus at the University of Maryland, is still waiting for it to flower. “I’m hoping I live long enough,” he says. (Click on title for full story.)

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What Happens After Invasive Plants Are Eradicated? It Will Never Be The Same

By the end of the three years of the study, the plant community in the plots where stiltgrass had been removed had diverged even further from the community present in the plots that had never been invaded at all (and from the ones were stiltgrass was allowed to remain). In other words, when the invaders left, the place changed even more than before. (Click on title for full story.)

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The Greening Of Antarctica

Researchers in Antarctica have discovered rapidly growing banks of mosses on the ice continent’s northern peninsula, providing striking evidence of climate change in the coldest and most remote parts of the planet. Amid the warming of the last 50 years, the scientists found two different species of mosses undergoing the equivalent of growth spurts, with mosses that once grew less than a millimeter per year now growing over 3 millimeters per year on average. (Click on title for full stroy.)