Courtesy elpresidente408Or whatever. Apparently Yale sends an expedition to a tropical rainforest each year, with the mission of finding, you know, neat stuff. And being tropical rainforests, there’s plenty of neat stuff to find. (That is to say, the rainforests have tremendously biodiversity, and each of the thousands of species that live in them has interesting features to study, etc.)
After analyzing all the samples the team gathered from last year’s expedition to the Amazon Rainforest, they’re announcing some interesting findings. Among them is the discovery of a species of fungus that can digest polyurethane.
Polyurethane, of course, is a very versatile plasticky material used in all sorts of products. Unfortunately, it also sort of lasts forever, and it isn’t biodegradable—nothing we know of eats it or helps it decompose.
Nothing we knew of until now, that is! The Yale team discovered several organisms that could digest polyurethane, and one—the fungus in question—that can do it in an anaerobic (oxygen-free) environment. In fact, it can survive on polyurethane alone in either aerobic or anaerobic environments. The fungus itself, or the enzyme it produces that allows it to break down the plastic, could potentially become part of a solution for truly disposing of polyurethane materials, as opposed to putting them in landfills (where they’ll stay forever), burning them (which is toxic), or throwing them on the neighbor’s roof (which is fun, but limited in capacity).
The discovery also sort of goes to show you—or goes to show me, at least, because I don’t spend much time thinking about things that aren’t cats or guns—that searching for exciting and useful new species isn’t as straightforward as one might think. The polyurethane-eating fungus, for example, isn’t just some old mushroom sitting around in the jungle. It’s actually a microorganism that lives (harmlessly) inside the tissue of plants. So, like a mint hidden in the cushions of a crappy old chair, it could so easily have been overlooked and lost forever when we burned the chair down to make more room for soybeans and cattle.
Oh, I’m all mixed up. Pretty neat though, huh?
Courtesy Paulo Petry via the Nature ConservancyIf catfish are your thing (and why wouldn't they be?) then you'll be happy to learn about a new species of wood-eating catfish that's been discovered in the confluence of the Purus and Curanja rivers in Peru. Local people (Nahua) have been eating the armored catfish for a while but until now the only specimens scientists have seen were dried carcasses. That changed recently when researchers led by freshwater scientist Paulo Petry finally caught some live ones. I'm happy to report as one would expect, it is one ugly creature. The fish (which ranges from 12 to 25 inches in length) has a mouthful of specialized spoon-shaped teeth perfect for stripping wood from trees that have fallen into its river habitat. Very kissable as you can see here. Even though it ingests the wood, it doesn't digest it. The nutrients contained in the wood are absorbed in the fish's gut and the wood itself is excreted as waste.
This new species has yet to be described and remains unnamed but is included in the genus Panaque, to which all wood-eating catfish belong. More info and an interview with researcher Paulo Petry can be found on the Nature Conservancy blog.
A controversial battle to flood 500 sq km of rain forest in order to provide clean energy for 23 million Brazilian homes appears to be over. The creation of the Belo Monte Dam is expected to begin in 2015 and is rumored to cost around $17 billion. When it is completed, Belo Monte would be third largest hydro-electric dam in the world.
Brazil's environment minister Carlos Minc has stated that those who win the bidding process to building contract and operate Belo Monte will have to pay around $800 million to protect the environment and meet 40 other conditions. EuInfrastructure.com
Lives of up to 40,000 natives who extract from the river most of what they need for food and water could be affected. The biodiversity within the area to be flooded would definitely be effected. Does the ever increasing need for electricity justify these hydro-electric projects? Over the next decade at least 70 dams are said to be planned for the Amazon region.
Courtesy Matt Walker
Reading about mutinous mammals is waaaay better than writing the final paper of my undergrad career! Agreed? Yes, well to the point. Now I've heard that dolphins will bite ya if provoked, but that even that is extremely rare.
It is not uncommon for mammals to practice infanticide. It is practiced for a variety of reasons. Males may attack young of their own species so the mother is more receptive to further reproduction from that male. It is also practiced when resources are low and a groups well-being is in danger from lack of food. Both males and females of a species will practice infanticide.
Among their scientific class Cetaceans, a class including dolphins, whales, and porpoises violent behavior including infanticide is very rare and largely undocumented...until now!
Tucuxi Dolphins, native to the Amazon basin were observed practicing infanticide in Brazil by Mariana Nery, of the Southern University of Chile in Valdivia, and Sheila Simao, of the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Adult male Tucuxi are known to be aggressive but they rarely exhibit this behavior towards younger individuals. Nery and Simao observed six adult Tucuxi separate a newborn Tucuxi calf from its mother. They proceeded to ram into it, hold it under water, and toss it into the air. When the mother attempted to intervene four of the males herded her away. While the adult males attacked the calf the mother floated on her back. This behavior indicates either passiveness, or more likely a signal that she is receptive to sexual behavior. I believe she did this to distract the adult males from injuring or killing the calf, and to let them know she could reproduce again. To no avail. Sadly, the mother was seen days later without her calf.
Courtesy Mark GobleScientists know that the Amazon rainforest can help to slow down climate change. The trees not only take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen, but they also are made of carbon. All living things are made of carbon, and when these things die that carbon is released.
There was an unusually severe drought in 2005, which gave scientists a preview of the Amazon's future climate. Scientists think the rainforest will see hotter and more intense dry seasons with climate change. When Oliver Phillips a professor at the University of Leeds, looked at the effects of the drought, he found that it caused carbon losses in the rainforest. This is bad for us, because we rely on the Amazon to take in carbon dioxide, not release it!
In most years the Amazon absorbs almost 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide. In 2005, the trees did not absorb that much carbon dioxide, but the forest lost more than 3 billion tons. The losses were caused by all the trees that died in the drought. The impact of the drought, 5 billion extra tons of carbon dioxide is more than the annual emissions of Europe and Japan put together.
Courtesy NASA More than 2,000 protesters recently blocked roads and forced inspectors to flee Tailandia, a town in the state of Para, before their work was completed. The logging industry provides jobs for 2,000 to 3,000 people in that area but it is believed that more than 70% of wood felled in the area is of illegal origin. Tailandia, which has a population of around 67,000, was established 19 years ago and in that period it is believed that as much 60% of forest in the area has been destroyed. Some 140 officers raided eight illegal sawmills in the state of Para, confiscating 10,000 cubic metres (353,000 cubic feet) of lumber. Some 160 Brazilian troops have now been sent to join hundreds of police officers involved in efforts to tackle the illegal deforestation. BBCnews.com
In the last five months of 2007, another 3,235 sq km (1,250 sq miles) of rain forest were lost.
The Amazon represents over half of the planet's remaining rain forests (Wikipedia). The Amazon rain forest has been considered the "lungs" of the Earth, breathing in carbon dioxide and breathing out oxygen.
Click on these links for a more detailed discussion about the major causes of deforestation listed below.
The latest statistics show that rainforest land converted to cattle operations yields the land owner $60 per acre and if timber is harvested, the land is worth $400 per acre. However, if these renewable and sustainable resources are harvested, the land will yield the land owner $2,400 per acre.
Promoting the use of these sustainable and renewable sources could stop the destruction of the rainforests. By creating a new source of income harvesting the medicinal plants, fruits nuts, oil and other sustainable resources, the rainforests is be more valuable alive than cut and burned. Rain-Tree.com/facts
Click here for more information about Amazon rain forest destruction.
Courtesy NASAAren’t you tired of the rainforest already? Who’s with me on this? Who else is sick of tapirs and spider monkeys? Show me a tapir that can fetch a Frisbee, or a spider monkey that can be prepared in under five minutes and we’ll talk, but I don’t see those things happening any time soon. A don’t get me started on rainforest themed television! Please, people, as far as good TV goes, the rainforest was tapped out about ten years ago. National Geographic needs to move on, maybe get it self a new image (I’m thinking something along the lines of The O.C. That was a show I could get behind).
Wouldn’t it be good for everyone if there were a little (or a lot) less rainforest? I mean, think about this: in Minnesota, we have zero (0) rainforests, and an annual death-by-poison dart frog rate of zero (0). In Brazil, they have one (1) rainforest, and an annual death-by-poison dart frog rate of, um, greater than zero (>0). Do the math – that’s bad.
Well, good news is here at last: we’re winning! A new report by the World Wildlife Fund claims that not only can that great bastion of ho-hum, the Amazon rainforest, be defeated, but that it’s happening right now, faster than we had ever dared hope! 60 percent of the Amazon could be gone within 25 years!
The agents of deforestation have been hard at work for decades, but their progress has never been quite fast enough for me. See, they don’t hate the rainforest (not like I do, anyway), and their chopping and burning has been dictated by economic pressures for more agricultural land (primarily livestock pasture). Fortunately, it seems that the magic of climate change will be picking up the slack here.
The Amazon rainforest plays a significant role in absorbing carbon from the atmosphere. When it is slashed and burned (the preferred method for clearing more agricultural space) it not only releases lots of carbon, but it is then, of course, unable to absorb any more. The rising levels of CO2 in the atmosphere then contributes to climate change, which, it is believed, will lower rainfall rates in Amazonia over the course of the next several decades. The lower rainfall will then result in more forest fires. It’s what they call a “delicious circle.”
These are exciting times we live in! What do you all think? Does anybody have any other ideas on how we could hurry the destruction of the rainforest along? Be creative! Have fun! Like, maybe we could all buy a piece of teak furniture, and then throw it away to make room for… our new teak furniture! Or we could try re-branding the rainforest – I’m thinking something along the lines of “the tropical painforest,” or “the land of root canals and dead puppies.” The second one doesn’t have quite the same ring as “painforest,” but I like how it gets right to the point.
So? Any ideas?
And that could speed up global warming with 'incalculable consequences', says alarming new research. Studies by the blue-chip Woods Hole Research Centre, carried out in Amazonia, have concluded that the forest cannot withstand more than two consecutive years of drought without breaking down. And that process, which would be irreversible, could begin as early as next year.
For those who'd like some perspective, the Amazon rainforest represents half the rainforests in the world. It encompasses 1.2 billion acres, or 1.875 million square miles. That's 3.25% of the planets land mass. That’s a huge chunk of land. So if this report is accurate, it’s far from being insignificant.
The Amazon now appears to be entering its second successive year of drought, raising the possibility that it could start dying next year. The immense forest contains 90 billion tons of carbon, enough in itself to increase the rate of global warming by 50 per cent.
Read more from The Independent (U.K.), July 23, 2006