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News articles on botany
Mongabay.com news articles on botany in blog format. Updated regularly.
(05/27/2013) While monitoring the retreat of the Teardrop Glacier in the Canadian Arctic, scientists have found that recently unfrozen plants, some of which had been under ice since the reign of Henry VIII, were capable of new growth.
Botanists discover cave-dwelling plant
(01/07/2013) The South China Karst region resembles a lost world with its stone forests and towering limestone formations that look like petrified skyscrapers. Standing at the edge of one of the region’s many vine-covered gorges, you could picture an apatosaurus lifting its head above the mist that blankets the gorge floor. Of course, that would be impossible, but what botanists recently found in the region was only slightly less surprising (to botanists). Near the back of a limestone cave, pink flowers bloomed on a newly discovered nettle that could survive on just a tiny fraction of the sunlight other plants receive. As Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park said, "life will find a way."
Struggling to conserve seed biodiversity: the gaps and wisdom in current research
(07/18/2012) Biodiversity conservation is huge field, but at its heart we find something very small: the seed. From seeds come the plants we need and food for the animals we hope to conserve as well. Knowledge of seed dispersal, or how seeds are generated and move through the landscape, is essential if we are to understand the influence of human activity on biodiversity.
Climate change to favor trees over grasses in Africa
(06/29/2012) As the world warms, scientists are working rapidly to understand how ecosystems will change, including which species will benefit and which will falter. A new study in Nature finds that elevated CO2 concentrations should favor trees and woody plants over savannah and grasslands in Africa.
How fruit defines Borneo
(08/01/2011) Among conservationists and biologists, the mega-island of Borneo is a sort of Mecca. Its rich plant and animal biodiversity, as well as high degree of endemism (unique species found nowhere else) make it a naturalist's dream. There is one aspect of this biological richness which applies to the wellbeing and happiness of all of Borneo’s residents, human and animal, in a very direct way: fruit. From wild forest berries to juicy cultivated rambutans, fruit permeates the ecology, landscape and culture of Borneo. On the island there are over 70 wild fruit trees species and around 45 cultivated species that are consumed by people (1). Science has certainly not yet documented all the fruit consumed by wildlife, but we know that the total must be over 500 species.
Alien plants invade Nigerian protected 'gene bank'
(03/28/2011) Very few studies have been conducted on invasive species in Nigeria, however a new study in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science has discovered 25 invasive plants in a field gene bank at the National Center for Genetic Resources and Biotechnology (NASGRAB) in Ibadan. The gene bank is used to establish populations of important and, in some cases threatened, native plant species. The gene bank spans 12 hectares, but the study found that 18% of the area was overtaken with invasive species that likely compete with the protected Nigerian plants for nutrients, space, and light. Among the 25 invasive species, 14 were herbs, 8 were vines, 2 were shrubs, and one was a tree.
Botanist killed in crossfire in Philippines
(11/17/2010) A local botanist was killed in crossfire between the Filipino military and suspected communist guerrillas with the New People's Army on Monday, reports the Inquirer.net.
Losing nature's medicine cabinet
(10/04/2010) In all the discussions of saving the world's biodiversity from extinction, one point is often and surprisingly forgotten: the importance of the world's species in providing humankind with a multitude of life-saving medicines so far, as well as the certainty that more vital medications are out there if only we save the unheralded animals and plants that contain cures unknown. Already, species have provided humankind everything from quinine to aspirin, from morphine to numerous cancer and HIV-fighting drugs. "As the ethnobotanist Dr. Mark Plotkin commented, the history of medicine can be written in terms of its reliance on and utilization of natural products," physician Christopher Herndon told mongabay.com. Herndon is co-author of a recent paper in the journal Biotropica, which calls for policy-makers and the public to recognize how biodiversity underpins not only ecosystems, but medicine.
Mass extinction fears widen: 22 percent of world's plants endangered
(09/28/2010) Scientific warnings that the world is in the midst of a mass extinction were bolstered today by the release of a new study that shows just over a fifth of the world's known plants are threatened with extinction—levels comparable to the Earth's mammals and greater than birds. Conducted by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; the Natural History Museum, London; and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the study is the first time researchers have outlined the full threat level to the world's plant species. In order to estimate overall threat levels, researchers created a Sampled Red List Index for Plants, analyzing 7,000 representative species, including both common and rare plants.
Planting figs could save endangered species in Borneo
(06/28/2010) In one of the most remote and undisturbed forests of Borneo, the Maliau Basin in the Malaysian state of Sabah, researchers picked a single fig tree (Ficus caulocarpa) and surveyed the species feeding from it over a 5-day-period. Their findings, published in Tropical Conservation Science, shows that a fig tree over a short period of time feeds a high percentage of endangered species, prompting researchers to recommend replanting figs in disturbed forests as a way to save Borneo's frugivores (fruit-eating species) from extinction.
When nature saves your life
(06/14/2010) If someone saves your life, you want to express your gratitude however you can -- a gesture, a "thank you,", or somehow returning the favor. Yet when you owe your life to a plant found thousands of miles away, the task becomes much harder. As a nurse, I’ve known for years that many life-saving medicines come from plants and animals found around the world. But I never thought that one day I would have to rely on the bark of a rare Asian tree to survive.
Women in Bangladesh help biodiversity with homegardens
(03/29/2010) Overpopulated, largely poor, and environmentally degraded, the nation of Bangladesh has known its share of woes. Yet even in face of struggles, including a forest loss of over 90 percent, the women of Bangladesh are aiding the country's struggling people and biodiversity through the establishment of some 20 million homegardens. Long-neglected by the government and NGOs, these homegardens provide food, firewood, and medicine.
Local vegetation can point to the consequences of climate change, Israeli scientists say after extensive studies
(02/23/2010) A recent study by a team of researchers from Bar Ilan University suggests that endangered plants in water-saturated habitats can be taken as indicators for climate change in the Levant region. They present a picture particularly of the consequences of changes in precipitation.
New tree species discovered in Guyana is rich source of oil
(12/09/2009) Botanists working have described a new species of tree with commercial significance in Guyana. The discovery is published in Brittonia, a journal put out by the New York Botanical Garden.
World’s smallest orchid discovered in Ecuador
(11/30/2009) Measuring just 2.1 millimeters wide, the world’s smallest orchid has been discovered hiding in the roots of another plant, reports the Independent.
Present day tropical plant families survived in warmer, wetter tropics 58 million years ago
(10/18/2009) Fifty eight million years ago the tropical rainforests of South America shared many similarities with today's Neotropical forests, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Looking at over 2,000 fossils in Colombia from one of the world's largest open pit coal mines, scientists were able to recreate for the first time the structure of a long vanished rainforest. One inhabited by a titanic snake, giant turtles, and crocodile-like reptiles.
Plants recognize that family comes first
(10/16/2009) People like to say 'blood is thicker than water'. But plants may actually treat ther siblings better than many of us: although lacking in blood, scientists have found that plants not only recognize family, but respect their space.
Will tropical trees survive climate change?, an interview with Kenneth J. Feeley
(09/24/2009) One of the most pressing issues in the conservation today is how climate change will affect tropical ecosystems. The short answer is: we don't know. Because of this, more and more scientists are looking at the probable impacts of a warmer world on the Earth's most vibrant and biodiverse ecosystems. Kenneth J. Feeley, tropical ecologist and new professor at Florida International University and the Center for Tropical Plant Conservation at the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, is conducting groundbreaking research in the tropical forests of Peru on the migration of tree species due to climate change.
Tropical East Asian forests under great threat
(06/02/2009) Tropical East Asia's rapid population growth and dramatic economic expansion over the past half century have taken a heavy toll on its natural resources. More than two-thirds of the region's original forest cover has been cleared or converted for agriculture and plantations, while its flora and fauna have suffered dearly from a burgeoning trade in wildlife products—several charismatic species have gone extinct as a direct consequence of human exploitation. Nevertheless tropical East Asia remains a top global priority for conservation, supporting up to a quarter of the world's terrestrial species.
Plant communities changing across the globe, says scientist Sasha Wright
(03/29/2009) Having studied plant communities across three continent and within widely varied ecosystems—lowland tropics, deciduous forests, grasslands, and enclosed ecosystems on hill-tops—graduate student Sasha Wright has gained a unique understanding of shifts in plant communities worldwide as they respond to pressures from land use and global climate change. “Plant communities are certainly changing,” Wright told Mongabay.com in a March 2009 interview. “These changes are undoubtedly affected by an increased occurrence of extreme weather events, temperature fluctuations, atmospheric CO2 concentrations, human land use, and in some cases urbanization of populations.”
Loss of genetic diversity hurts agriculture
(03/23/2009) Agriculture has long been dependent on the ability of plant species to adapt to varying environmental conditions — without this diversity agriculture development would not have been possible. But human activities are putting this diversity at risk through habitat destruction and introduction of alien species, especially in parts of the world where such diversity is particularly critical: tropical developing countries. This threat has spurred increased efforts to find and conserve plants with special traits adapted to the marginal farming systems of tropical smallholders.
Chocolate has been a delicacy north of Mexico for a thousand years
(02/02/2009) Chocolate, produced from cacao beans, has been a part of American culture for a thousand years according to new paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Analyzing chemical residue from jars of native peoples in New Mexico, researchers Patricia Crown and Jeffrey Hurst discovered theobromine, a chemical signature of cacao. The jars have been dated from 1000 to 1125 AD, well over three hundred years before Columbus and the earliest recorded discovery of cacao north of Mexico. The cacao jars are from Pueblo Bonito, an archaeological site in Chaco Canyon, which is located in northwestern New Mexico. Chaco Canyon, once home to 2,000-5,000 inhabitants, was composed of a dense group of pueblos, of which Bonito was the largest. Incorporating 800 rooms, Pueblo Bonito was the center of a number of towns and villages in Chaco Canyon.
Photos: Google Earth used to find new species
(12/22/2008) Scientists have used Google Earth to find a previously unknown trove of biological diversity in Mozambique, reports the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew. Scouring satellite images via Google Earth for potential conservation sites at elevations of 1600 meters or more, Julian Bayliss a locally-based conservationist, in 2005 spotted a 7,000-hectare tract of forest on Mount Mabu. The scientifically unexplored forest had previously only been known to villagers. Subsequent expeditions in October and November this year turned up hundreds of species of plants and animals, including some that are new to science.
Tropical species face high extinction risk
(12/10/2008) Tropical plant species face an inherently high extinction risk due to small populations and restricted ranges relative to temperate species, reports research published in PLoS ONE. These traits leave them vulnerable to habitat disturbance and climate change.
What allows rainforests to grow so wildly?
(12/10/2008) Molybdenum, a rare trace element, is the secret to rainforests' lush growth, reports research published in the journal Nature Geoscience.
Invasive ant interferes with gecko's role in pollinating endangered plant
(11/28/2008) Invasive ants are destroying the symbiotic relationship between a colorful gecko and a critically endangered flower on the island of Mauritius, reports New Scientist citing research published by Dennis Hansen and Christine Müller in the journal Biotopica.
Rainforest biodiversity results from habitat specialization rather than chance
(10/22/2008) The rich diversity of trees in tropical forests may be "the result of subtle strategies that allow each species to occupy its own ecological niche" rather than random dispersal, report researchers writing in the journal Science.
Breakthrough may enable reforestation using mahogany
(10/16/2008) Brazilian researchers are closer to developing a way to establish large-scale mahogany plantations, reports the ITTO in its bi-monthly update. Scientists at the Federal Rural University of Amazonia (UFRA) have found that planting a matrix of mahogany with cedar reduces the incidence of the Hypsipyla grandella caterpillar, a chief pest of mahogany that has doomed previous attempts to reforest with the valuable hardwood species.
Regrowing the Amazon rainforest will require help from bats and birds
(09/15/2008) As large tracts of Amazon rainforest are degraded by industrial logging and cleared for cattle pasture and agriculture, other deforested areas are abandoned and being reclaimed by forest. Understanding this recolonization of degraded forest lands by pioneer species will critical to efforts to rehabilitate restore forests around the world.
Loss of wildlife is threatening biodiverse forests in northeastern India
(09/15/2008) Logging, agricultural expansion, and hunting of large birds and mammals in the tropical forests of northeastern India may be reducing the capacity of the biologically-rich ecosystem to regenerate itself, report researchers writing in the open-access journal Tropical Conservation Science.
New tree species discovered in Amazon biodiversity hotspot
(08/17/2008) I was walking down the Anaconda Trail at the Madre Selva Biological Station with botanist Rodolfo Vasquez when he suddenly stopped, stared at the bark of a 120-foot tree, and started searching the ground. Odd behavior? Perhaps, but when you're with Peru's top field botanist, odd behavior is forgivable, since it means that something interesting is probably afoot.
Account of 18th century Amazon adventurer to be published for the first time
(08/11/2008) After establishing his ingenious classification system in 1735, Carl Linnaeus, the greatest naturalist of his era, sent young and eager followers to all parts of the world to help him in the goal of collecting and cataloguing the world's species. It was a project unlike any before; Swedish naturalists, often referred to as Linnaeus's apostles, roamed as far as Japan, South America, Australia, and the Arctic with the same goal in mind—describing species according to Linnaeus's system.
20% of the Brazilian Amazon's tree species to go extinct
(08/11/2008) A new study estimates the number of trees that will go extinct in the Brazilian Amazon due to habitat loss.
Elephants may explain Mount Kilimanjaro's bamboo enigma
(06/25/2008) At nearly 6,000 meters in height, Mount Kilimanjaro is both Africa's tallest mountain and the world's highest solitary peak, home to a diverse range of habitats that support a large variety of plant species. Yet, unlike any other mountain in Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro contains no bamboo.
Global warming threatens California's native plants
(06/24/2008) Two-thirds of California's native plants could suffer an 80 percent or more reduction in geographic range by the end of the century due to changing climate warns a study appearing tomorrow in the open-access journal PLoS ONE.
Hunting, deforestation wipe out 6 of 7 hornbill species in Borneo park
(06/14/2008) Logging, forest conversion for palm oil, and hunting have triggered a precipitous drop in key wildlife populations in Malaysia's Lambir Hills National Park, on the island of Borneo, said a biologist speaking at a scientific conference in Paramaribo, Suriname.
New discoveries about past forest changes may help predict future ones in a changing climate
(06/12/2008) There is no better method to understand the future than to look to the past. Several new studies of the earth's glacial history are transforming the way scientists look at tree behvaior during extreme changes in climate. Scientists Remj Petit, Feng Sheng Hu, and Christopher Dick described such changes in relation to current global warming in the new issue of the journal Science. They report that already "in some parts of the world, tree species have started to shift their distributions in response to anthropogenic climatic warming", thus raising the stakes for understanding how tree species will adapt to coming changes.
Colombia creates rainforest reserve to protect medicinal plants
(06/11/2008) Colombia today announced the creation of a rainforest reserve dedicated to the protection of medicinal plants. The Orito Ingi-Ande Medicinal Flora Sanctuary encompasses 10,626 hectares of biologically-rich tropical rainforest ranging in altitude from 700 to 3300 meters above sea level. The sanctuary is based on an initiative launched by local indigenous communities with the support of the Amazon conservation Team (ACT), an innovative NGO working with native peoples to conserve biodiversity, health, and culture in South American rainforests. Members of the communities — which include the Kofán, Inga, Siona, Kamtsá, and Coreguaje tribes — combined their rich knowledge of medicinal plants with cutting-edge technology to determine the placement and extent of the reserve. Their contributions to the effort are reflected in the name of the reserve, according to ACT.
Defaunation, like deforestation, threatens global biodiversity
(05/20/2008) Loss of wildlife is a subtle but growing threat to tropical forests, says a leading plant ecologist from Stanford University. Speaking in an interview with mongabay.com, Dr. Rodolfo Dirzo says that the disappearance of wildlife due to overexploitation, fragmentation, and habitat degradation is causing ecological changes in some of the world's most biodiverse tropical forests. He ranks defaunation — as he terms the ongoing biological impoverishment of forests — as one of the world's most significant global changes, on par with environmental changes like global warming, deforestation, and shifts in the nitrogen cycle.
Insect diversity in the tropics greater than previously believed
(05/15/2008) The tropics are more biodiverse than previously believed, report researchers writing in the journal Science.
'CAT scan' shows Hawaiian forests invaded by alien species
(03/03/2008) Invasive plant species are altering the ecology of Hawaiian rain forests, reports a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Giant exploding palm tree discovered in Madagascar
(01/17/2008) A gigantic palm that flowers itself to death and exists as part of an entirely unique genus has been discovered in Madagascar; its name will be published in the Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society on 17 January 2008. The mystery palm has a huge trunk which towers over 18m high and fan leaves which are 5m in diameter - among the largest known in flowering plants. This is the most massive palm ever to be found in Madagascar.
Prehistoric Carnivorous Fungi Lassoed its Prey
(12/13/2007) Scientists have discovered the oldest known carnivorous fungus, according to a study published in Science.
Transgenic plant may thrive under global warming-induced drought
(11/26/2007) Researchers have created a drought-resistant tobacco plant through genetic engineering, according to a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. The work could eventually lead to the development of crops that are better able to survive higher temperatures and reduced rainfall associated with global warming.
Large-scale agriculture 'compromises' forest's ability to recover
(11/19/2007) As deforestation of tropical forests continues unhindered, one of the future hopes for these damaged ecosystems is regeneration in secondary forests. Some areas that were once slash-and-burned for cattle ranching or subsistence agriculture have been abandoned, allowing scientists to study the possibility of recovery in the rainforest. If anyone has a clear idea of the potential of secondary forests it is Robin L. Chazdon. Dr. Chazdon, a full professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Connecticut, has been studying the regeneration of secondary forest for over twenty-five years. She has published over 50 papers on tropical ecology, currently she serves as an active member of the Biotropica editorial board and is a member of the Bosques Project, which measures secondary forest recovery in Northern Costa Rica.
Biodiversity conservation will only work if local people benefit
(11/19/2007) Biodiversity loss is already having an economic impact in Africa according to a 7-year monitoring project underwritten by Europeans and African governments. The project, known as the Biodiversity Monitoring Transect Analysis in Africa (BIOTA), relies on a network of biodiversity observatories equipped with weather stations, sensors and a monitoring program that includes remote sensing, data on soil fertility and agricultural indicators. Dr. Nina Farwig, a scientist at the Johannes Gutenberg-University of Mainz and a participating member of BIOTA-East Africa, says that conservation efforts in the tropics will only be effective if the local people benefit. Her work with BIOTA shows that even in the absence of extensive forest cover, a patchwork of agricultural landscapes can contribute to the biodiversity conservation.
Law enforcement key to saving Borneo's rainforests
(11/13/2007) In an interview with mongabay.com, Dr. Rhett Harrison, a Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) associate researcher and Secretary for the Asia-Pacific Chapter of ATBC, says that law enforcement could be the key to safeguarding biodiversity contained in Borneo's lowland parks. Harrison says there may be opportunities for conservationists to work with oil palm to developers to ensure that existing forests are not converted for plantations and that palm oil can be produced in a sustainable manner. He also adds that carbon offsets may eventually offer a means to fund conservation and sustainable development efforts in areas that still have standing forest.
Amazon plant diversity still a mystery
(10/21/2007) The Amazon is one of the few places on the earth that still evokes an accurate sense of mystery. While the Taiga, Antarctica, and Sahara may compare to the Amazon in wilderness size, none hold the same mystique of unknown species. It is believed that one third of the world's species inhabits this tropical rainforest. The only region comparable in mystery (though not in species) may be the world's oceans.
"Weird" algae key to survival of coral reefs
(08/31/2007) A team of coral researchers has taken a major stride towards revealing the workings of the mysterious "engine" that drives Australia's Great Barrier Reef, and corals the world over.
Orchids may have co-existed with dinosaurs
(08/29/2007) Orchids are old enough to have co-existed with dinosaurs, report Harvard University scientists.
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