Tag Archives | Nature

Simple, Brainless Organisms Store Memories Externally

Barely-alive creatures, such as the slime mold at right, are able to produce “memories” — they just store them in their physical surroundings rather than a brain, Ars Technica has the latest news on the secret lives of simple beings:

Is it possible to know where you’ve been when you don’t have a brain? Depending on your definition of “know,” the answer may be yes. Researchers have shown that the slime mold, an organism without anything that resembles a nervous system (or, for that matter, individual cells), is capable of impressive feats of navigation. It can even link food sources in optimally spaced networks. Now, researchers have shown it’s capable of filling its environment with indications of where it has already searched for food, allowing it to “remember” its past efforts and focus its attention on routes it hasn’t explored.

In the course of studying the slime mold, some researchers noticed that the slime mold would avoid any areas covered in slime.

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New Zealand Grants Personhood Rights To River

In my eyes, this makes more sense than the Citizens United ruling. Via Care2:

In a landmark case for the Rights of Nature, officials in New Zealand recently granted the Whanganui, the nation’s third-longest river, with legal personhood “in the same way a company is, which will give it rights and interests”. The decision follows a long court battle for the river’s personhood initiated by the Whanganui River iwi, an indigenous community with strong cultural ties to the waterway.

Under the settlement, the river is regarded as a protected entity, under an arrangement in which representatives from both the iwi and the national government will serve as legal custodians towards the Whanganui’s best interests.

While it may seem an odd extension of rights, in many ways it harkens back to a time when mankind’s fate was more readily acknowledged as being intertwined with that of the rivers, lakes, and streams that sustained us.

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Birds Hold Funerals For Their Dead

Disputing the notion that the deaths of animals are insignificant or interchangeable, Discovery News writes that birds gather in vigil by their dead and join together in song:

Researchers have just observed what appears to be the avian version of a funeral. Teresa Iglesias and colleagues studied the western scrub jay and discovered that when one bird dies, the others do not just ignore the body. Multiple jays often fly down to gather around the deceased.

The subsequent ceremony isn’t quiet either. “Discovery of a dead conspecific elicits vocalizations that are effective at attracting conspecifics, which then also vocalize, thereby resulting in a cacophonous aggregation,” Iglesias and her team wrote.

Prior research suggests giraffes and elephants might also hold ceremonies for their dead. If so, perhaps there are shared factors with humans and birds. Solidifying group togetherness and social bonding appear to be key benefits, along with learning how to avoid (if possible) whatever did in the deceased.

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The Growing Silence Of The Natural World

The rich, complex musical symphonies produced by nature are now being irrevocably destroyed. The Guardian writes:

When musician and naturalist Bernie Krause drops his microphones into the pristine coral reef waters of Fiji, he picks up a raucous mix of sighs, beats, glissandos, cries, groans, tones, grunts, beats and clicks. The water pulsates with the sound of creatures vying for acoustic bandwidth. He hears crustaceans, parrot fish, anemones, wrasses, sharks, shrimps, puffers and surgeonfish.

But half a mile away, where the same reef is badly damaged, he can only pick up the sound of waves and a few snapping shrimp. It is, he says, the desolate sound of extinction.

Krause, whose electronic music with Paul Beaver was used on classic films like Rosemary’s Baby and Apocalypse Now, has spent 40 years recording over 15,000 species, collecting 4,500 hours of sound from many of the world’s pristine habitats.

But such is the rate of species extinction and the deterioration of pristine habitat that he estimates half these recordings are now archives, impossible to repeat because the habitats no longer exist or because they have been so compromised by human noise.

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The Fukushima Disaster Produced Mutant Irradiated Butterflies

Radiation turns your dreams to nightmares, via Mother Jones:

Researchers collected butterflies immediately following the nuclear meltdown and six months later, both from the surrounding areas of Fukushima and from various other localities in Japan. As compared with the butterflies collected from elsewhere, Fukushima butterflies showed some abnormally-developed legs, dented eyes, deformed wing shapes, and changes to the color and spot patterns of their wings, with an overall abnormality rate of around 12 percent.

While these levels of mutations were still relatively mild, more alarming were the same data on butterflies collected six months later, in September of last year. The overall rate of similar mutations among these butterflies was around 28 percent, while this number skyrocketed to around 52 percent in the second generation produced from the collected butterflies.

The study renews worries that humans, too, might be affected by the released radiation in the Fukushima area, but the researchers insist that this is not an easy line to draw.

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The Nazi Plan To Breed Lost Animal Species

Jurassic Park fifty years prior? Cabinet Magazine on a strange form of zoology in Nazi Germany, centered around the cordoning off of untainted forests for the re-creation of pure, ancient breeds of ponies, boars, and a mystical striped oxen called the auroch:

In 1920, the brothers Lutz and Heinz Heck, directors of the Berlin and Munich zoos, respectively, began a two-decade breeding experiment. Working with domestic cattle sought out for their “primitive” characteristics, they attempted to recreate “in appearance and behavior” the living likeness of the animals’ extinct wild ancestor: the aurochs.

This conflation of biological and aesthetic destiny coincided with a strain of Nazi thought that sought to apply pseudo-Darwinian theories in support of a racialized conception of the state. In this mode, the zoologist Konrad Lorenz identified parallels between the changes he observed in animals as the result of their domestication and what he saw as the deleterious genetic effects of civilization.

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The A to Z of Foraging

Fir002 (CC)

From The Ecologist:

Fed up of paying a premium for supermarket berries and herbs? Take a walk on the wild side and pick your own

Foraging – a word that evokes images of wild boars scouring for truffles and dawn raids on your local woodland’s wild mushroom supply – is set to become a major food trend in 2012, according to a recent study by food and drink tasting company My Secret Kitchen. Fresh, wild food is an attractive option for those strapped for cash or who simply want to avoid supermarket produce and eat more naturally. ‘During the recession, more people have been buying British produce and cooking homemade dishes so the natural next step was foraging,’ says Phil Moran of My Secret Kitchen. ‘It’s all about people wanting to go back to their roots and to feel more in control psychologically.’

Fortunately though, raiding Mother Nature’s buffet of goodies doesn’t require burying your face into the forest floor wild-hog-style.

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Back To Eden

After years of back-breaking toil in ground ravaged by the effects of man-made growing systems, Paul Gautschi has discovered a taste of what God intended for mankind in the garden of Eden. Some of the vital issues facing agriculture today include soil preparation, fertilization, irrigation, weed control, pest control, crop rotation, and PH issues. None of these issues exist in the unaltered state of nature or in Paul's gardens and orchards. "Back to Eden" invites you to take a walk with Paul as he teaches you sustainable organic growing methods that are capable of being implemented in diverse climates around the world.
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Mysterious Electric Blue Clouds Appear Again Over the Poles

Writes Jesus Diaz on Gizmodo:
Every year around this time, mysterious electric blue clouds appear over the North and South pole. They are called noctilucent clouds and they can only be seen in deep twilight, when the Sun is below the horizon. According to NASA, "their origin is still largely a mystery": "Various theories associate them with meteoric dust, rocket exhaust, global warming—or some mixture of the three." They are the highest clouds, located almost on the edge of space at 54 miles (85 kilometers) from the Earth's surface, in the mesosphere. They are very difficult to observe, but they appear as white and blue tendrils when they are illuminated by the Sun and the rest of the atmosphere is in our planet's shadow...
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How Man Changes The Soundscape Of Nature

Alastair Leithead profiles the fascinating work of Bernie Krause for BBC News:
A landscape may look healthy, but how does it sound, and what does that say about how its wildlife is doing? It's a question Bernie Krause has spent much of his life trying to answer. To do so, he's recorded the sounds of thousands of places in far-flung corners of the world.

Dr. Bernie Krause: The Great Animal Orchestra from California Academy of Sciences and California Academy of Sciences on FORA.tv He coined the word "biophany" to describe these recordings...

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