Re-Blog: Let’s Read “Do Plants Eat Meat?”


(Originally posted 9/25/2017 on Read With The Gringa)

A fun instructional book about plant science.

Plants do strange things!

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Evolution & Climate Change


(Originally posted 3/9/17 on Read With The Gringa)

Climate change, now, more than ever, is quite a hot topic, pardon the pun, if you will. Some people think we shouldn’t be so grave and serious about the contributions mankind’s industrialization makes to the Earth’s carbon budget. Climate change naysayers say concerned scientists are simply trying to rally support to fund their research with fear-mongering tactics. They claim that well-meaning citizens are responding with emotions rather than really examining the facts. They claim that the Earth goes through climate change cycles on a regular basis. They say this is just the normal way of nature. They also claim that pollution is really not that big of a deal because the Earth, like any living organism, is capable of adaptation as a survival instinct. This would mean that the Earth would simply “clean herself up”. 


Is such a perspective true? To find out let’s take a look at one of the all-time worst environmental disasters, the Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster. It’s been 30 years since a Ukrainian nuclear plant melted down and contaminated a 1,000 square mile area in Eastern Europe with high levels of deadly radiation. Medical experts and scientists expect it will be close to 20,000 years before humans can safely inhabit the area. Journalists and researchers can only visit for very brief periods or else risk exposure to a lethal dose of radiation. Yet, still, hundreds of people, mostly old folks who are unable or unwilling to relocate, survive in nearby villages, although there are very high rates of deadly forms of cancer. 


But what about the local flora and fauna? How well has the Earth done at surviving and cleaning itself up? How is nature faring in that neck of the polluted woods? Is it a wasteland of scorched earth and fried animal remains? Are there glowing rabbits and three-headed wolverines? Have talking plants begun to grow?


Well, within the most immediate radius of the nuclear plant’s site, about 10-15 miles out, it is considered by scientists to be a “clean zone”. No, that doesn’t mean it’s clean of pollution or ill effects. It means clean of practically all life as we know it. But go a bit further and you find a radioactive region teeming with wildlife who is enjoying life unmolested in an area uninhabited by man. 


You may have always wondered if the joke about cockroaches being the only thing to survive a nuclear holocaust is true. It is. In fact, insects seem to have superpowers when it comes to radioactive disasters. And because the bugs survive and thrive, the birds do as well! And so on, and so on down the wildlife food chain. Mankind may one day disappear, leaving behind the bugs and birds and mammals to rule the world.


However, judging from the spider-webs, it seems that bugs may suffer cognitively. Webs of affected spiders show erratic patterns that deviate significantly from their uncontaminated counterparts. So, a post-climate change world bereft of man, may be overrun by insane insects, mutant birds and an abundance of fat mammals.


Wolves have always been synonymous with Eastern Europe. That is probably why they were selected to be studied by biologists to see what their radioactive survival story is. What has been discovered is that wolves are thriving. That can only mean there are plenty of other large and medium sized mammals for them to prey upon. Wild Przewalski’s horses are recovering even though they are considered a rare and endangered species. Beavers are happily gnawing away at the wild forest growth. Bears forage happily and wolves are always looking on for an opportunity at a good meal.


Researchers are recording things like high rates of cataracts, higher occurrences of albinism, and curious physical mutations. However, despite these ill effects, the overall report from scientists and researchers is that, considering the devastation of a nuclear disaster, the wildlife actually seems to be rebounding and doing well. So well, in fact, that around Chernobyl a greater concentration of wolves can be found as compared to Yellowstone National Park!


What does that mean? Should we stop fussing about climate change? The gringa supposes we could if we don’t mind the humans of tomorrow looking very different than the humans of today. Here are some of the theorized adaptations that might happen to humans who evolve in order to survive the rising temperatures of climate change and effects of more solar radiation trapped within our atmosphere:

  • We get shorter and skinnier. Decreasing mass while maximizing surface area makes us more efficient at venting heat.
  • Our eyes grow larger because we become nocturnal, active during the cooler period when the sun is down.
  • Babies have lower birth weight because we engage in less exercise thus require fewer calories.

If the world is over-radiated, humans will need to avoid contamination. They have to avoid more than just exposure to invisible radiation in the air. Radiation is also passed through the food chain. That means more than just avoiding eating vegetables that have grown in over-radiated soil. It also means not eating any meat from an animal that may have fed upon animals or plants that were contaminated somewhere along their own natural food chain. This limitation on the human diet would contract our dietary options which would also result in a “skinnification” of mankind.

Funny thing is the gringa is already pretty skinny and does have rather large eyes. Maybe it’s already happening and the gringa is well on her way to transforming into a new human species! Our generation could be what scientists call, thousands of years from now, the “missing link” or a “bridge species” between the humans of yesterday and the humans of tomorrow!


Sources & Video Credit: 


National Geographic


New York Times


The Atlantic


Mental Floss

Documentary/Documentaries HD


Image Credit: NBC News

Soil, Water & Pure Air


(Originally posted 3/7/17 on Read With The Gringa)


The gringa proudly considers herself a treehugger. As a female treehugger, I can count myself among legendary treehugging heroes. Have you ever heard about the the Chipko movement? It is a group of women from India who have been protecting the forests of their native country from deforestation since the 1970s. They link their efforts to an ancient Indian legend about a courageous young girl named Amrita Devi. First, the gringa will tell the dear readers the legend and then you’ll find out about the Chipkos.


Long, long ago, before there was Internet, a Maharajah sent his tree cutters to chop down the trees surrounding a small village. He must have needed lots of furniture, houdahs (saddles for elephants), and firewood. Amrita knew that her family, including her old, beloved grandmother, would die from hunger and cold if they had no firewood. She rushed out and wrapped her arms around a tree, refusing to let the woodcutters chop it down. 


Now, here is where the story really gets interesting. If you have a person like the gringa telling the story, you hear a fantastic ending where Amrita prevails, saves the forest and is rewarded by the Maharaja for her bravery, wisdom and loyalty to family. However, if the caveman gets to butt in and tell the ending, he will say that Amrita got her head chopped off by the woodcutters axe when they went ahead and felled the tree. But, she became a martyr and her village revolted and refused to let any more trees get cut down, setting aside a lovely little grove in her honor where her body and head were buried. The dear reader can pick their own ending.


As for the Chipko, regardless of the ending of the story, they are still inspired by Amrita’s story. In the 1970s these rural village gals made their own brave stand and took their place in history and created a lasting legacy. You see, in the 1960s India was blazing a trail of economic development that meant massive deforestation that the government called progress. Although burgeoning city and industrial growth may have been welcomed by many, for those whose lives were wrapped up in the harmony of life in the forests, subsisting on the crops they planted and the natural resources that surrounded them, such progress was devastating.


For rural communities progress meant crops were ruined, homes torn down, erosion destroyed farmland and flooding ensued. Basically, as centuries-old Himalayan forests were cut down, the culture and and environment supported by these forests disentegrated. Many of these villagers pushed further up mountainsides looking for fuel, water, clearings to plant crops, and materials to construct new homes. 


Finally, like most strong women, many of these matriarchs had had enough. They began engaging in “Chipko”. This is a Hindi word which means “to cling to”. The Chipkos would literally hug trees, refusing to let go so they could be chopped down. The official origins of this method of protest is recorded in a 1973 incident. A contractor had been dispatched to bring down 3,000 trees that were allotted for construction of a sporting goods store. Much of the surrounding area was already barren from prior deforestation efforts. 


When the woodcutters arrived, women began sounding the alarm throughout the village. The gal who was considered their leader was a widow in her 50s. She mustered 27 other women to her side and they rushed out to face off with the woodcutters. At first their brave leader tried to plead with the contractor. Then she attempted to reason with him and educate him on the consequences of deforestation. The response was insult and abuse from the contractor and his crew. 


The women channeled their inner Amritas and flung their arms around the trees and vowed to die before letting go. The men were so taken aback by their actions they surrendered their efforts and returned to the sporting goods jobsite empty-handed. So much for sneakers for everyone!


As the movement proved effective, it grew. New ideas were also integrated into the Chipko’s practices. A cultural practice that symbolized brother-sister relationships was put to good use, tying sacred threads around trees marked with the wood-choppers symbol for its future fate. Crewmen would understand those threads as meaning Chipkos were willing to die on behalf of that tree.


In 1987 the Chipko movement was honored with what might be considered by many a recognition as meaningful as a Nobel Peace Prize. For being a small women’s movement with the purpose of saving trees, the women were given the “Right to Livelihood Award” honoring the many moratoriums and battles won to save a precious natural resource. 

The gringa will close with a Chipko folk song:

The contractor says, “You foolish women, do you know what these forest bear?Resin, timber, and therefore foreign exchange!”

The women answer, “Yes, we know. What do these forests bear?Soil, water, and pure air. Soil, water, and pure air.”


Source & Image Credit: Women In World History

Video Credit: DD News

Are African Elephants Saving Themselves?


Although conservation groups have been trying to save the African elephants, could it be that now elephants are trying to save themselves? It seems that Darwin’s “Theory of Evolution” is being witnessed by humanity in real-time as an amazing biological transformation is taking place among elephants. Reports from researchers at Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park indicate an alarming increase of elephants being born without tusks.

This Is No Accident

In 1930, out of all of the young bulls and cows born to mature elephants, only 1% arrived in the world without tusks. Here we are, less than a century later, and the number of tuskless elephant calves has risen exponentially. About 15% of female calves are born in the wild without tusks and about 9% of males arrive in the same condition. Evolution for any species is an extremely slow and gradual process that generally takes thousands of years. Scientists have never expected to see genetic mutation on this scale to occur so rapidly. It certainly can be no accident. Elephants have grown wise to the reason that they are slaughtered. They are responding biologically to protect their own future. This news is simply incredible.

Not An Isolated Incident

The elephants of Uganda are not the only ones exhibiting this amazing response to the threat to their survival. Elephants everywhere are giving birth to tuskless calves. North Luangwa National Park in Zambia reported an unusually high number of calves born without tusks. Kenya is not only reporting tuskless births but that, for elephants who retain their tusks, they simply do not grow to the same scale. Elephants are now either tuskless or sporting smaller than normal tusks as a means to survive the threat of ivory profiteer poachers. Researchers have compared these results with calves born to elephants living in relatively stress-free conditions. Elephants living without the threat of slaughter for their ivory generally experience a 2% rate of calves born without tusks. Threatened, wild elephants are sacrificing their tusks in order to survive. Here is video on the evolution of elephants:

 

What Tuskless Really Means

This may sound like wonderful news. Tuskless elephants would surely be elephants left alone in the wild to enjoy their natural lives, right? Actually, this may not the great news it would seem. There is actually a very high price to be paid by elephants who lose their tusks voluntarily as a survival mechanism. In essence, they become a crippled creature. Elephants have tusks for a reason. They are not just aesthetic. Elephants are not graced with tusks so trophy hunters have a prize. Tusks are needed to dig for water and food. They are used to root about trees and self-defense against predators. Tusks play an important role in attracting a mate. It is easy to say that a crippled elephant is still better than a dead elephant, but I don’t think an elephant would agree with you. At about the 1 minute mark in the next video, you see an elephant use its tusks to dig in the mud in order to reach water:

 

 

Saving Tusks & Elephants

How can a person help African elephants survive and thrive in a world where they are free to live as elephants should, un-threatened and with their tusks? There are numerous conservation initiatives designed for protection of the species. However, a novel approach to conserving the African elephant in the wild is to support a local artist. Historically, artists have been able to fulfill their potential through the generous patronage of others. King George III supported a small group of artists who established the Royal Academy in 1768. France’s Marie Antoinette may have very well have been the catalyst for the French Revolution with her patronage of the arts, as well as political activist groups. Many artists use their craft to draw attention to specific causes. By supporting a local artist who devotes their talent to the plight of Africa’s elephants, patrons can follow a great historical tradition as they endeavor to do their part to save these awe-inspiring and majestic creatures. Hang a painting and save an elephant! How awesome is that!

BBC

Image Credit:  Fan Pop

Video Credit:  InformOverload

Fitbit For Wolves


(Originally posted 1/16/17 on Read With The Gringa)

Nature and technology, they are not mutually exclusive passions. In fact, our planet may now be facing challenges that will require a marriage of the two in order for nature to be protected, restored and preserved. Whether it be strengthening endangered species populations or protecting habitat, nature lovers who may see the advances of civilization as a threat, might now experience an ideological dilemma. Because it is technology that must be used to save that which naturalists love.

The U.S. National Park Service (NPS) is using SMART collar technology to track and study wolves. The gray wolves of Denali National Park and Preserve are sporting canine-customized “Fitbit” type collars so scientists can study how they patrol their territories, raise their pups, and hunt. Is such expense worth the investment? Can the world live without gray wolves? I mean, sure, it would be a sad thing if they ceased to exist but are they important enough to invest great time and expense to preserve their existence?

In 1978 the gray wolf was listed as a threatened and endangered species in 48 U.S. states. This has occurred due to man shooting, trapping or poisoning them virtually into oblivion. This, despite the fact that there are no known accounts of gray wolves attacking humans in modern history and occurrences of attacking livestock have been extremely rare. And, in such cases, by law the government has to reimburse farmers and ranchers for any livestock loss. Why, then, has man targeted the gray wolf with such hatred and violence? Who knows. But the gringa thinks we owe the gray wolf an apology. But do we owe the species the effort and expense of re-populating the country with gray wolves?

We do. A world without wolves is an eco-system out of balance and possibly doomed to failure. Let’s face it, although most naturalists are lovers of the peacefully co-existing grazers like white-tail deer, the reality is that predators are just as important if we want to keep herds of white-tail deer healthy.  And wolves do so much more than that.

In Yellowstone National Park a cascade of devastating effects followed the eradication of wolves in the mid-1920s. Elk populations became over-abundant which caused habitat damage due to overgrazing. This affected streams through erosion as groves of native trees and shrubbery were over-browsed. As the waters became more shallow, they warmed. The result was that many native fish species disappeared or became extremely scarce. As the trees and shrubbery declined, so did the native bird and beaver populations.

One species that did thrive with the disappearance of wolves were the coyotes. Too many coyotes meant fewer gophers and rodents. And, as coyotes glutted on small animals, other mid-level predators, like foxes and raptors, began to decline. With wolves missing from the eco-system, the animals who dine on the leftovers of their kills had to migrate elsewhere. Yellowstone also saw declines in the number of eagles, ravens, and even bears.

So what is life like without wolves? Decimated grasslands and tree copses, shallow rivers and streams, lots of coyotes and deer and little else. And, eventually, even the deer and coyotes will decline due to health problems related to over-population.

The good news is that mankind can right such wrongs with the right use of the right technology. In 1995 a program re-introduced wolves to areas of the American West. The results are dreams come true for every naturalist. The ecological balance was restored. Rivers and streams were re-shaped. Songbird populations blossomed. Trout and other fish flourished. The entire landscape of Yellowstone was re-structured into a healthier version, resembling its former self.

SMART collars deliver knowledge to researchers about wolf behavior, physiology, movements and interaction with ecology. This information can be used to develop better conservation measures. Developed at the University of California, Santa Cruz, these collars provide GPS information, 3D movement data, and distinct signatures for each wolf like acceleration, sleeping and eating habits. The metabolic rate of each animal can be calculated so that researchers know how many calories an individual wolf needs to consume for the expenditures made in activity. Scientists are even able to measure their oxygen levels. The information collected is answering questions such as what was the cause for an incident of pack starvation in Denali.

Saving wolf populations is just one piece of the save-the-planet puzzle. If you are a naturalist, the key to success in your mission may very well lie in technology that you might have typically been hesitant to embrace. The gringa sees the superheroes of tomorrow as being able to live in a tent as well as able to design and use sophisticated electronic equipment. Tomorrow’s planetary saviours need to study STEM disciplines as much as they need to study agriculture and wildlife.

Sources:

Pegasus Foundation

National Park Service

US Department of Agriculture

Living With Wolves

Sustainable Human

Image Credit:  National Park Service

Oysters & Fortunetellers


Where the gringa lives in the gulf coast of Texas, oyster farming is big business. The gringa’s farming experience is limited to my father’s cattle ranch and my own egg farming. Is that how oyster farming works? Do you just leave the little guys alone most of the time to do what oysters do? Toss them a bit of feed, protect them from predators, stuff like that? Well, actually oyster farming has gone hi-tech. For young people who are interested in a beach bum lifestyle with the edge of technology, oyster farming or working with the technology related to the industry may be your thing if you love science as much as beach bumming.

Oysters don’t need their human overseers to bring them a bale of hay or toss out some nutrient enriched scratch. They are living filters that live on the bottom of a bay. Oyster farmers really don’t have that much to do, it would seem, unless it is harvest time. Sounds like the perfect beach bum job.

However, there is one thing that can happen that can interrupt an oyster farmer’s hiatus between harvests. If storm clouds gather, oyster farmers have to get out of their hammocks, put away the surfboard and forego the margaritas and head out for some serious relocating work in the estuaries.

You see, as bottom feeding filters, rain in this polluted day and age can be deadly for oysters. And even if contaminants in run off don’t kill the slimy, little buggers they could, in turn, kill a human if eaten. A local thunderstorm with a heavy downpour means one of two things:

  • Completely relocate their stock, or,
  • Quarantine the area and delay harvest until it is safe.

Now, even if an oyster farmer was willing to relocate their oysters, often weather conditions can change rapidly and unexpectedly in coastal regions.  Usually an oyster farmer simply doesn’t have enough time to respond. So, the oysters bide the storm and everyone hopes for the best. But considering how heavily polluted most of the soil is in populated areas around the world, it’s usually not good news when it’s all over.

The gringa doesn’t have the numbers for industry loss or farm closures in the Gulf of Mexico area I call home. However, I can tell you about what’s been going on in Tasmania. Since 2013 industry research has recorded a loss of over $4.3 million (Australian currency!) for Tasmanian oyster farmers due to contamination related farm closures, caused by pollutants in rainfall water runoff that entered estuaries.  This sounds awful, right? Well, take heart, dear readers. There is good news for Tasmanians as well as oyster farmers everywhere thanks to an agriculture technology start-up company, The Yield.

The Yield has designed a system of sensors that were tested in 14 Tasmanian oyster farm estuaries. This comprised about 80% of the entire oyster industry for the state. The technology measured:

  • Water depth
  • Salinity
  • Temperature
  • Barometric pressure

Oyster farmers use their smartphone, or other device, to access the handy little app that is updated every five minutes with new data about their squishy, little, hard-shelled babies. Access is also available to food safety regulators so everybody that matters is in the loop.

But the gringa wants to know if this has made oyster farming better. I mean, it’s always fun to have new gadgets but where business is concerned, is there a point to the expense? Here are the benefits of this new technology:

  • Reduces paperwork between farmers & food service regulators.
  • Food quality and safety has improved.
  • Accurate measurements has resulted in fewer farm closures.
  • Fewer farm closures has resulted in higher production, yields and profits.

Well, it looks like this technology is worth the investment for oyster farmers. It also looks like the investment of time and effort of scientists and meteorologists for more than a century was also a worthy investment. That is the backbone of the information that went into designing this system. If you have a habit or hobby of recording weather related “stuff”, who knows, one day what you may consider a hobby or pre-occupation could change the world! More than a hundred years worth of weather and tidal related data helped developers understand weather and tidal patterns, how they changed with the seasons, and how this would affect the performance of the technology to predict weather events. So, basically, Tasmania’s oyster farmers are more successful because of digital fortunetellers.

Sources:

www.techrepublic.com

www.theyield.com

oysterstasmania.org

Image Credit: oysterstasmania.org

 

 

Stars Are Cool. No, Really, They Are


When the gringa’s dear readers think of a star, what do you think of? The Sun? Polaris? Alpha Centauri?  And what do you think would happen if you reached out to touch the Sun? You’d probably get vaporized, right? Well, depending on the star, not necessarily. In fact, if you touched the right star it might be a sensation more like when you roll over in bed and find the cool spot.

Brown dwarfs are cold stars. There are 14 that NASA believes are cool enough to touch. Cool! They are also the oldest stars in the Universe. I guess stars are kind of like people. Old folks with poor circulation are generally cold all the time. Stars get old and cold, too. Out of all the old, cold, brown dwarf stars in the Universe, it’s the Y-dwarfs that are even cooler than the average human’s body temperature. Y, you may ask. Well, the gringa will tell you why the Y is the way that it is.

Not only are they old but they are failures. Poor Y-dwarfs. They must have very low self-esteem. Perhaps that is why they don’t shine as brightly as other stars. They have grown old and are failures as stars. The gringa feels very sorry for the poor, little things.

Because their cores are not very dense they can’t fuse loads of atoms within. That means they don’t burn as hot and brightly as other stars. The gringa finds it very amusing that the denser a star is the brighter it is. It doesn’t seem to work that way in humans.

If Y-dwarfs are such failures at being stars, the gringa wonders if they should be considered stars at all. Do we have a Pluto prospect in the future? Just as Pluto got demoted from planet to dwarf planet, Y-dwarf stars may very well face the possibility of being re-classified. In the future scientists may decide they don’t meet all the guidelines of being a star. The gringa thinks this is a wonderful possibility for Y-dwarfs. Whereas poor Pluto suffered a demotion, the Y-dwarf could get better news. They could go from being failures as stars to being over-achievers for whatever it is they may become!

However, it may take astronomers quite some time to collect enough data in their studies. Their failure to shine bright like a diamond in the sky means it is difficult to view and study them. It’s practically impossible to study them at all with a telescope dependent on visible light. To take productive peeks at Y-dwarfs NASA had to construct an infrared telescope and mount it to an orbiting satellite. And that is why the Universe is wiser thanks to these cold, little star failures, because of Wide-field Infrared Survey Explore (WISE) that studies them in the heavens.

Source:  www.nasa.gov

Image Credit:  www.jpl.nasa.gov