Scientists Just Solved The Strange Case of Pine Trees That Always Lean Towards The Equator

Posted by on June 5, 2017 in Our Environment | 0 comments

Scientists Just Solved The Strange Case of Pine Trees That Always Lean Towards The Equator

Cook pines in Sri Lanka. Photo: eFesenko/Shutterstock But how do they do it? SIGNE DEAN 5 JUN 2017 You can find them in many places around the world – tall, lean conifers that can’t seem to grow straight. And now scientists have figured out that the direction these Cook pines (Araucaria columnaris) lean is always towards the equator, but they’re not quite sure why. Scientists have measured these trees across five continents and, for the first time, documented a species with a leaning pattern that appears to be hemisphere-dependent. Cook pines originally come from New Caledonia, a tropical archipelago in the southwest Pacific Ocean. The trees were first classified during Captain James Cook’s second mission to circumnavigate the globe. These stately pines are a popular choice for parks and gardens in many parts of the world. They can grow up to 60 metres tall (197 feet), and due to their short branches, they have a characteristic narrow appearance. But even more characteristic is a propensity for a drunken-looking slant. “When grown outside of its native range, this species has a pronounced lean so ubiquitous that it is often used as the identifying characteristic for the species,” the researchers write in their paper. Leaning pines on the campus of the University of California, US. Photo: Johns et al., Ecology (2017) It started out as an anecdotal observation – one of the researchers, botanist Matt Ritter from California Polytechnic State University, noticed that in California and Hawaii, the pines all seemed to be leaning south. But A. columnaris are also commonly grown in Australia, where one of them has even become an infamous leaning Christmas tree in the town of Lismore. And weirdly enough, colleagues told him that the tilt in the southern hemisphere is directed towards the north. To investigate this, Ritter and his team gathered measurements from 256 trees across 18 regions on five continents, including the species’ native range in New Caledonia. The researchers excluded any trees whose growth could be impacted by another object, such as a building or electricity pole. They recorded the height of each tree, trunk diameter, as well as the compass direction and extent of the lean, and to their surprise, Cook pines turned out to be more systematic in their leanings than anyone could have expected. “We uncovered a surprisingly consistent pattern of hemisphere-dependent directional leaning in A. columnaris,” the team reports. On average, the pines tilt by 8.05 degrees, leaning south in the northern hemisphere, and the opposite direction in the southern hemisphere. Less than 9 percent of the trees measured didn’t conform to this pattern. And latitude makes a difference, too – the further away the trees grew from the equator, the greater the slant. So instead of labelling them drunks, it could have something to do with sunlight. Many plants, including conifers like these pines, are known for their propensity to lean towards a light source when it’s not directly above the shoot – a characteristic known as phototropism. But there’s a different plant characteristic that helps trees stay upright – their ability to detect gravity at a molecular level, and therefore direct roots and shoots in the correct directions (towards and away from the ground, respectively). Even if a baby tree develops a tilt towards the sun, as...

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Save the Karoo

Posted by on April 28, 2017 in Our Environment | 0 comments

Save the Karoo

As the Karoo faces increased development, scientists are calling on citizens to help them research this unique landscape. Photo: Ashraf Hendricks By Sarah Wild 25 April 2017 “Scientists know very little about the plants and animals in the Karoo, and there is an urgent need to document the indigenous species found in this important part of South Africa,” says the Karoo BioGaps Project, a citizen science initiative which aims to document the Karoo’s natural resources. But this vast track of South Africa, which contains a wide range of animal and plant life despite its extreme temperatures and low rainfall, is being eyed for development. Shale gas exploration, solar plants and other infrastructure are being earmarked for the Karoo, to boost much-needed development. But without data, scientists and policy makers do not know which areas require additional protection or to be left alone entirely. “We need to learn which species are widespread, and which are sensitive to proposed future changes in land use and development,” says the newly launched project. There are two ways you can get involved in documenting Karoo biodiversity: You can photograph Karoo species and upload your pics to http://www.ispotnature.org/projects/karoo-biogaps. There is also a community forum where uploaders can discuss photos and observations. Even if you have no plans for visiting the Karoo anytime soon, you can help to transcribe the thousands of historical records at http://transcribe.sanbi.org/. These treasure troves were collected before conservationists and explorers dreamed that a person would be able to take and share photos with anyone in the world instantly. “It is absolutely critical for us to digitise these old herbarium and museum records as they are basically unavailable for use by scientists in their un-digitised format,” says Carol Poole, the South Africa’s National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) project co-ordinator for biodiversity research. “The ability these days to crunch large datasets means that including all these historical records along with current fieldwork records is very important. “They give us a perspective of what species existed where in the past, and we can compare that to where we find these species in the fieldwork being conducted today. So comparing historical and current species records is an important part of assessing species’ distribution and threat status,” she says. Some of these records date back to the 1830s, and digitizing them will make them accessible to anyone who wants to look at them. There are 12 main groups that the Karoo BioGap Project is looking to inventory: plants, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, freshwater fish, birds, bees, spiders, dragon flies, scorpions, grasshoppers, and butterflies. Citizen science is the latest trend in resource cataloguing, but researchers say that engaging non-scientists in this way introduces them to a world that usually gathers dust in archives or allow them to discover new things. There are a number of citizen science projects in South Africa, allowing anyone interested to choose the project that would suit their interests best. For example, rePhotoSA, an initiative out of the Plant Conservation Unit and the Animal Demography Unit at the University of Cape, is collecting photos from around southern Africa to track how climate change and development have altered landscapes. It calls itself a “repeat photography project of southern African landscapes” http://rephotosa.adu.org.za/ For a more hands-on experience, the miniSASS project aims to create an inventory of life...

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The Water Crisis Is Not Only About The Drought.

Posted by on April 23, 2017 in Our Environment | 0 comments

The Water Crisis Is Not Only About The Drought.

Article by Karen from Probiotic Team Article copied from: “Earth Probiotic Recycling Solutions” March 2017 by admin Last week I attended a GCX organised breakfast on “water as a business risk”. In the up market areas of South Africa we tend to think of water and drought. So in Cape Town everyone knows how much water is left before the rains come (about 100!). In Johannesburg, where we’ve had wonderful rain, water restrictions have been lifted. And our maize farmers have also had great rains to effectively break their drought. Even the Kalahari Desert is no longer a desert (for a few months). Drought is not something we can do much about. Yes, climate change in the anthropocene is having a massive impact on where the rain falls (and when). As is El Niño. But. The water crisis is bigger than water availability. The water crisis is also about water management – really, how are we managing the little water we do have available to us. Water scarcity is also about the quality of available water. Professor Anthony Turton was a keynote speaker at the GCX breakfast and he scared the hell out of me. He presented a load of stats, graphs, scenarios but the really scary part was what is happening to our water right now. The first is water treatment. As our city populations grow the demand on water treatment facilities increases. Unfortunately this not being done particularly well. Sewage is flowing into our dams and streams and leading to eutrophic water conditions. This basically means that these water bodies have very high nutrient content which promote the growth of cyanobacteria which produce killer microcystin toxins. The second issue highlighted by Prof. Turton was that of salinity. Now we should remember that salt is the product of a reduction process and can’t be simply broken down further. The only way to reduce high salt content in water is by diluting it – basically adding more water. But what happens when there is not enough water? Then basically we’ll be drinking water with too high a salt content. And the Vaal River has a problem. While this is bloody scary, we don’t even want to talk about Acid Mine Drainage. Or even all the anti-biiotics, chemicals and hormones that are also present in our water system. If you’re feeling a little helpless, depressed and pissed off I don’t blame you! But we can’t retreat into dystopian depression. That’s not going to help. Many people doing millions of small good things can make a massive difference. So what can you do? For a start stop using dangerous chemicals and soaps. Use biodegradable earth (water) friendly products which you can find here. Look after your water as if it is the most precious thing you own. This means putting in rain water tanks, recycling your grey water, fixing leaks, putting in water minimisation shower heads. For gardeners it means planting indigenous AND endemic plants which are water wise. Endemic is important as it’s no good planting a plant from KZN which thrives on high humidity in the Karoo. Basically its really about acting as if you live in Cape Town (even when you’re in Johannesburg). And of course composting your organic waste. This not only improves the water holding capacity of your soil. It also stops organic waste in landfills leaching and polluting our precious underground water...

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Fall armyworm in South Africa

Posted by on March 10, 2017 in Our Environment | 0 comments

Fall armyworm in South Africa

Scientists are calling for urgent action to halt the spread of a pest that is destroying maize crops and spreading rapidly across Africa. The fall armyworm poses a major threat to food security and agricultural trade, warns the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International (Cabi). It says farmers’ livelihoods are at risk as the non-native insect threatens to reach Asia and the Mediterranean. The Food and Agriculture Organization plans emergency talks on the issue. The fall armyworm, so called because it eats its way through most of the vegetation in its way as it marches through crops, is native to North and South America but was identified for the first time in Africa last year. Cabi chief scientist Dr Matthew Cock said: “This invasive species is now a serious pest spreading quickly in tropical Africa and with the potential to spread to Asia. “Urgent action will be needed to prevent devastating losses to crops and farmers’ livelihoods.” Scientists think the caterpillar or its eggs may have reached the continent through imported produce. Once established in an area, the adult moths can fly large distances and spread rapidly. By Helen BriggsBBC News 6 February 2017 From the sectionScience & Environment Fall armyworm starts attacking SA soya bean crops Mar 10 2017 05:02 Read Fin24’s top stories trending on Twitter: A farm owner shows the armyworm on a leaf of corn crop on a farm in Onderstepoort just north of Pretoria. (Gulshan Khan, AFP) RELATED ARTICLES ‘Pest group’ to tackle armyworm invasion – govt UN meeting warns of ‘huge’ armyworm threat Armyworm invading SA is a major threat to global agriculture Johannesburg – The fall armyworm plague, which started marching through South African maize farms in December 2016, has now been found in soya bean crops.This is according to Igni Bouwer, a Laeveld Agrochem agent in the Ermelo area, who says the pest was identified on a soya bean farm in the Dirkiesdorp district between Piet Retief and Wakkerstroom in Mpumalanga earlier this week.”So far it seems as if the spread to soya beans in the area is only limited to one farm that has about 250 hectares of soya beans under irrigation,” Bouwer said.This latest development comes after the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) last week founded a pest action group to help combat the spread of the fall armyworm, which threatens to severely impact food crops, especially maize.Since the fall armyworm started moving south in Africa at the beginning of 2016, it has since appeared in Limpopo, Gauteng and Mpumalanga.It has primarily damaged maize crops but Potatoes SA says an isolated case of a potato infestation occurred in the Loskop Valley in Limpopo. According to a CropLife South Africa, the fall armyworm has even been found in sorghum, cotton, some vegetables, probably in groundnuts and in natural veld around maize fields.The pest has since spread to farms in all provinces except the Western Cape, according to the Laeveld Agrochem.Meanwhile, Corné Liebenberg, marketing director at Laeveld Agrochem, said that to control the pest, early detection is essential and specific insecticides must be applied in the early stages of the larvae’s development.“It is very important to stay updated and to only use insecticides that are registered and recently confirmed to be effective against FAW as resistance to even some...

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