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Skydiving spiders show off their gliding skills

By dropping spiders from tree tops, researchers are discovering how they maneuver their bodies in the air.

via New Scientist:

These jungle spiders free fall with style. After being dropped from the tops of trees, the spiders shown in this video are typically able to soar to the nearest tree trunk, providing the first evidence that spiders can glide.

Stephen Yanoviak from the University of Louisville in Kentucky and his colleagues filmed spiders of the genusSelenops as they were released from a height of 24 metres during tests at a research station in the Amazon rainforest in Peru.

Characterised by a flat body, which has earned them the nickname “flatties”, they quickly right themselves and get into a posture similar to that of skydivers. Then they head for a tree trunk more than 90 per cent of the time, travelling up to 5 metres horizontally while steering with their forelegs.

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Putting a Price on Nature

If we “do the math,” we can preserve that amorphous thing popularly referred to as “nature,” according to Anna Lieb at PBS Nova:

I’ve done the math, and for $1.20, you can preserve a 19-inch by 19-inch square of rainforest habitat—home, on average, to 0.000006 long-tailed macaques and 0.0000001 pangolins. All you have to do is pay a bit more for palm oil, found in roughly half of all grocery store items: chocolate bars, cereal, and lipstick, to name a few.

Palm oil plantation. Photo: Achmad Rabin Taim (CC)

Palm oil plantation. Photo: Achmad Rabin Taim (CC)

 

“Most people probably consume some palm oil every day,” says David Wilcove, a professor of ecology at Princeton University. The ubiquitous stuff is squeezed from the fruit of trees whose rapidly expanding cultivation has infamously contributed to widespread deforestation in southeast Asia, and increasingly, parts of South America and Africa.

derived the numbers above from a study appearing this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), part of a collection authored by over 80 researchers from 50 institutions spanning ten different countries.

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Aesthetics, Immanuel Kant & Imagination

Irving Guyer

Does an artist perceive or invent his creation? How does imagination relate to freedom, beauty and nature?
Paul Guyer talks to four by three about the relationship between aesthetics and morality in the work of Immanuel Kant, Hegel’s rejection thereof and Schopenhauer’s positive conception of the aesthetic experience.


four by three: A substantial part of your work as a philosopher has been in the field of aesthetics. What motivated you to start working on this discipline of philosophy?

Paul Guyer: In hindsight, three things.  First, I started taking classes with Stanley Cavell as a freshman at Harvard (his large humanities class, some of the material from which turned up forty years later in his last book, Cities of Words). Cavell did not teach any conventional aesthetics in that course, or at any time during my undergraduate and graduate years at Harvard, but his title was ‘Professor of Aesthetics and General Theory of Value,’ and that may have both piqued my interest and licensed the subject of aesthetics for me.… Read the rest

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Which Life Form Dominates Earth?

Springtails can be smaller than a pinhead (Credit: Sinclair Stammers / NPL)

Springtails can be smaller than a pinhead (Credit: Sinclair Stammers / NPL)

Nic Fleming Via BBC:

We humans tend to assume we rule the Earth. With our advanced tool making, language, problem solving and social skills, and our top predator status, we like to think of ourselves as the dominant life form on the planet.

But are we?

There are organisms that are significantly more numerous, cover more of the Earth’s surface and make up more of its living biomass than us. We are certainly having major impacts in most corners of the globe and on its other inhabitants.

But are there are other living things that are quietly having greater, more significant influences? Who or what is really in charge?

If world domination is a numbers game, few can compare with tiny six-legged, shrimp-like springtails, or Collembola. Ranging from 0.25-10mm in length, there are typically around 10,000 per square metre of soil, rising to as many as 200,000 per square metre in some places.

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Magic mushrooms ‘less harmful than thought’ and should be reclassified, says leading psychiatrist

RuthArt (CC BY 2.0)

RuthArt (CC BY 2.0)

Charlie Cooper via The Independent:

Psychedelic drugs including LSD and magic mushrooms are much less harmful than has been claimed, and should be reclassified to make it easier for scientists to research their potential benefits, a leading psychiatrist has said.

Promising medical research into psychedelics ground to a halt as long ago as 1967, when they were made illegal amid widespread concern about their psychological and social harms.

However, writing in the BMJ, psychiatrist Dr James Rucker, said that no evidence had ever shown the drugs to be habit-forming. There is also little evidence of harm when used in controlled settings, and a wealth of studies indicating that they have uses in the treatment of common psychiatric disorders, he said.

Researchers are beginning to look again at how LSD and psilocybin – the active compound in magic mushrooms – might be of benefit in the treatment of addiction, for obsessive compulsive disorder and even, according to one small Swiss study, to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety in terminally ill patients.

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Mysterious Anti-electron Clouds Inside Thunderstorm

Daniel Mösch (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Daniel Mösch (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Via Fosters.com:

DURHAM — A terrifying few moments flying into the top of an active thunderstorm in a research aircraft has led to an unexpected discovery that could help explain the longstanding mystery of how lightning gets initiated inside a thunderstorm.

University of New Hampshire physicist Joseph Dwyer and lightning science colleagues from the University of California at Santa Cruz and Florida Tech describe the turbulent encounter and discovery in a paper to be published in the Journal of Plasma Physics.

In August 2009, Dwyer and colleagues were aboard a National Center for Atmospheric Research Gulfstream V when it inadvertently flew into the extremely violent thunderstorm—and, it turned out, through a large cloud of positrons, the antimatter opposite of electrons, that should not have been there.

To encounter a cloud of positrons without other associated physical phenomena such as energetic gamma-ray emissions was completely unexpected, thoroughly perplexing and contrary to currently understood physics.

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Nature’s Global Warming Fix

Mikael Miettinen (CC BY 2.0)

Mikael Miettinen (CC BY 2.0)

Robert Hunziker writes at CounterPunch:

Mother Earth has experienced five extinction events, but she’s still standing.

Like a prizefighter, she is the Milky Way Galaxy Grand Champion.

Our tenacious planet is armed to fight and conquer global warming without fancy gadgets or special geo-engineering techniques. She can do it on her own, having proven herself time and again, restoring one extinction event after another, and the rest.

We only have to give her a chance, some elbow room to strut her stuff.

Good news, there is no reason to go thru another extinction event to see if nature still has “her stuff.” She does!

In large measure, it’s about dirt versus soil: “Absent carbon and critical microbes, soil becomes mere dirt, a process of deterioration that’s been rampant around the globe. Many scientists say that regenerative agricultural practices can turn back the carbon clock, reducing atmospheric CO2 while also boosting soil productivity and increasing resilience to floods and drought.

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Iconic boab trees trace journeys of ancient Aboriginal people

Legend tells that huge hollow boabs were used as prisons in north west Australia. Robyn Jay/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Legend tells that huge hollow boabs were used as prisons in north west Australia. Robyn Jay/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Haripriya Rangan, Monash University

Baobabs, the iconic bottle trees of Africa and Madagascar, have a single relative, the boab, living in the Kimberley region of northwest Australia. No one knows when and how the boab came across from Africa to Australia, or why its natural range is limited to this region.

In a study published recently in PLOS ONE, we solve one part of this mystery by showing that ancient Aboriginal peoples were responsible for spreading the boab in the Kimberley.

The boab mystery

An early hypothesis was that baobabs existed in parts of the supercontinent of Gondwana, which split up and became Africa, Madagascar and Australia more than 50 million years ago. This was not very convincing because, for one thing, peninsular India was part of that massive continental break-up, but does not have any of its own baobab species.… Read the rest

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