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News articles on plants
Mongabay.com news articles on plants in blog format. Updated regularly.
(04/11/2014) In the largest global assessment of urban biodiversity to date, researchers examined the biodiversity of urban areas and found that cities are home to a surprising number of species. The study underlines the conservation importance of preserving and creating green spaces when it comes to urban planning.
Amazon trees super-diverse in chemicals
(03/03/2014) In the Western Amazon—arguably the world's most biodiverse region—scientists have found that not only is the forest super-rich in species, but also in chemicals. Climbing into the canopy of thousands of trees across 19 different forests in the region—from the lowland Amazon to high Andean cloud forests—the researchers sampled chemical signatures from canopy leaves and were surprised by the levels of diversity uncovered.
Next big idea in forest conservation? Applying genomics to conservation issues
(02/21/2014) Jaboury Ghazoul uses his expertise in plant ecology to address societal issues ranging from climate change adaptation to food production. He is excited about the use of genomics-- the study of hereditary information passed down through an organism’s genetic code--for conservation. And genomics are certainly a hot topic in modern ecology.
Bromeliads may actually protect fruit trees from pest damage
(01/22/2014) Imagine a plant. Now remove the soil, for it’s not essential. In fact, an estimated one-tenth of all plant species have liberated themselves from soil and evolved into epiphytes — plants that grow on other plants.
Characteristics of nutmeg family explored
(11/11/2013) A special issue of Mongabay's open-access academic journal, Tropical Conservation Science, explores the state of knowledge of the nutmeg (Myristicaceae) tree family.
'Lost' bird rediscovered in New Caledonia along with 16 potentially new species (photos)
(10/29/2013) In early 2011, Conservation International (CI) dubbed the forests of New Caledonia the second-most imperiled in the world after those on mainland Southeast Asia. Today, CI has released the results of a biodiversity survey under the group's Rapid Assessment Program (RAP) to New Caledonia's tallest mountain, Mount Panié. During the survey researchers rediscovered the 'lost' crow honeyeater and possibly sixteen new or recently-described species. Over 20 percent larger than Connecticut, New Caledonia is a French island east of Australia in the Pacific Ocean.
Scientists outline how to save nearly 70 percent of the world's plant species
(09/05/2013) In 2010 the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) pledged to set aside 17 percent of the world's land as protected areas in addition to protecting 60 percent of the world's plant species—through the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC)—by 2020. Now a new study in Science finds that the world can achieve both ambitious goals at the same time—if only we protect the right places. Looking at data on over 100,000 flower plants, scientists determined that protecting 17 percent of the world's land (focusing on priority plant areas) would conserve 67 percent of the world's plants.
Over 700 species added to the threatened categories on the IUCN Red List (photos)
(07/02/2013) In another sign of the global biodiversity crisis, the IUCN Red List has added 715 species to its threatened categories of Vulnerable, Endangered, and Critically Endangered in this year's update. Some of these species were evaluated by the IUCN Red List for the first time while others saw their conditions deteriorate, such as the the white-lipped peccary (Tayassu pecari) which is now listed as Vulnerable due to overhunting, deforestation, and possibly disease. As of this year, the Red List has evaluated 70,923 of the world's species—including almost all mammals, birds, and amphibians—of which 20,934 are deemed threatened.
Warming world hits fig wasps and figs
(06/19/2013) Recent experiments concerning hugely-important fig plants (Ficus) and their relationship with small, short-lived fig wasps suggest dire potential consequences due to human induced climate change, finds a study published in the journal Biology Letters. The researchers collected four species of adult female fig wasps from the lowland tropical forests of Singapore to test their tolerance to gradually increased temperatures.
Difference within common species may predict the presence of rare animals
(06/05/2013) When deciding whether or not to clear a patch of rainforest land for development, scientists are often called in to quantify how many different species exist there. But determining the number of rare and threatened species living in a section of jungle isn't easy. If they are very rare, the individual members of the species will be hard to find; if the area being surveyed is along a steep slope it may be difficult to access the area; if there are lots of species to identify, you might need to hire a dream team of biologists—each specialized within a different area of biodiversity—and that can get expensive. However a new study in the Proceedings of the Royal Society Journal by an international group of scientists suggests a more cost-effective and efficient way to rapidly assess local biodiversity.
Plants re-grow after five centuries under the ice
(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.
Climate change to halve habitat for over 10,000 common species
(05/13/2013) Even as concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere hit 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in human history last week, a new study in Nature Climate Change warns that thousands of the world's common species will suffer grave habitat loss under climate change.
The Hawaiian silversword: another warning on climate change
(05/06/2013) The Hawaiian silversword (Argyroxyphium sandwicense), a beautiful, spiny plant from the volcanic Hawaiian highlands may not survive the ravages of climate change, according to a new study in Global Change Biology. An unmistakable plant, the silversword has long, sword-shaped leaves covered in silver hair and beautiful flowering stalks that may tower to a height of three meters.
Future generations to pay for our mistakes: biodiversity loss doesn't appear for decades
(04/15/2013) The biodiversity of Europe today is largely linked to environmental conditions decades ago, according to a new large-scale study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Looking at various social and economic conditions from the last hundred years, scientists found that today's European species were closely aligned to environmental impacts on the continent from 1900 and 1950 instead of more recent times. The findings imply that scientists may be underestimating the total decline in global biodiversity, while future generations will inherit a natural world of our making.
An insidious threat to tropical forests: over-hunting endangers tree species in Asia and Africa
(04/04/2013) A fruit falls to the floor in a rainforest. It waits. And waits. Inside the fruit is a seed, and like most seeds in tropical forests, this one needs an animal—a good-sized animal—to move it to a new place where it can germinate and grow. But it may be waiting in vain. Hunting and poaching has decimated many mammal and bird populations across the tropics, and according to two new studies the loss of these important seed-disperser are imperiling the very nature of rainforests.
Invasive plants hurt locals in Mauritius
(03/18/2013) Native species on the island of Mauritius have long had to deal with invasive species. In fact, invasives likely played a major role in the extinction of the Mauritius' most famous resident, the dodo. While scientists have long cataloged the impact of invasive animals on island wildlife, there has been less clarity when it comes to invasive plants. However, a new paper in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation has found that invasive plants do indeed negatively impact local species.
Seeing the forest through the elephants: slaughtered elephants taking rainforest trees with them
(03/11/2013) Elephants are vanishing. The booming illegal ivory trade is decimating the world's largest land animal, but no place has been harder hit than the Congo basin and its forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis). The numbers are staggering: a single park in Gabon, Minkebe National Park, has seen 11,100 forest elephants killed in the last eight years; Okapi Faunal Reserve in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has lost 75 percent of its elephants in fifteen years; and a new study in PLoS ONE estimates that in total 60 percent of the world's forest elephants have been killed in the last decade alone. But what does that mean for the Congo forest?
Biofuel boom could lead to life-threatening ozone pollution
(01/09/2013) Not long ago biofuels were seen as one of the major tools to combat climate change, but a large number of studies in recent years have shown that many first generation biofuels may have little climate benefit—and some are actually harmful—and are also linked to rising food prices. Now, a new study in Nature Climate Change warns that biofuels using fast-growing trees (polar, willow, and eucalytpus) could also exacerbate ground-level ozone pollution.
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."
Mountain pine beetle threatening high-altitude, endangered trees
(01/02/2013) In the western U.S., few trees generally grow in higher altitudes than the whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis). Providing shelter and food for bears, squirrels and birds, the whitebark pine ecosystems also help regulate water flow from snowmelt. But, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), climate change has produced a novel threat for these high-altitude forests : mountain pine beetles (Dendroctonus ponderosae).
Some Amazon trees more than 8 million years old
(12/14/2012) Some Amazon rainforest tree species are more than eight million years old found a genetic study published in the December 2012 edition of Ecology and Evolution.
Featured video: turning yards and neighborhoods into wildlife habitat
(12/03/2012) A new animation by the American Society of Landscape Architects introduces viewers to the benefits of making their yards and neighborhoods wildlife friendly. By focusing on the threat of sprawl to biodiversity, the video shows how urban and suburban residents can use native plants, freshwater, and wildlife-friendly structures to allow a space for nature, and, possibly even help create and maintain corridors for wild animals.
Happy Halloween: nine new species of tree-climbing tarantula discovered
(10/31/2012) If you suffer from acute arachnophobia, this is the perfect Halloween discovery for you: a spider expert has discovered nine new species of arboreal (tree-dwelling) tarantulas in the Brazil. Although tarantula diversity is highest in the Amazon rainforest, the new species are all found in lesser-known Brazilian ecosystems like the Atlantic Forest, of which less than 7 percent remains, and the cerrado, a massive savannah that is being rapidly lost to agriculture and cattle ranching.
Wax palm can be sustainably harvested
(09/17/2012) The wax palm can be harvested sustainably with just a few management restrictions, according to a new study in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science (TCS). Found only in the Peruvian and Ecuadorian Andes, the leaves of the wax palm (Ceroxylon echinulatum) are used to make Easter handicrafts. But the practice has caused fears that the species, which is currently categorized as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List, is being overexploited.
Extremely rare plant region left unprotected in the Yucatan Peninsula
(09/17/2012) For the first time, scientists have identified the areas of the Yucatan Peninsula that hold the highest concentrations of endangered woody plants, which includes trees, shrubs, and lianas. In doing so they uncovered four key regions, but also noted that the region with the highest concentration of extremely rare plants was left unprotected, according to a new paper in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science.
Teetering on the edge: the world's 100 most endangered species (photos)
(09/10/2012) From the Baishan fir (five left in the world) to the Sumatran rhino (around 250), a new report highlights the world's top 100 most endangered species, according to the the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). The list spans the taxonomic gamut, from fungi (Cryptomyces maximus) to amphibians (the Table Mountain ghost frog) to flowers (the Cayman Islands ghost orchid) and much more (see full list at the end of the article).
Rainforest fungi, plants fuel rainfall
(09/04/2012) Salt compounds released by fungi and plants in the Amazon rainforest have an important role in the formation of rain clouds, reports research published in the journal Science.
One extinction leads to another...and another
(08/28/2012) A new study in Biology Letters demonstrates that altering the relationship between a predator and its prey can cause wide-ranging ripple effects through an ecosystem, including unexpected extinctions. Species help each other, directly or indirectly, which scientists refer to as mutualism or commensalism. For example, a species’ success may rely not only upon the survival of its food source, but may also indirectly rely upon the survival of more distantly related species.
Forget-me-not: two new flowers discovered in New Zealand gravely endangered
(08/23/2012) New Zealand scientists have discovered two new species of forget-me-nots (flowers in the genus Mytosis), both of which are believed to be endangered. Discovered in Kahurangi National Park on the South Island, the new species highlight the diversity of the tiny flowers in New Zealand.
Half of tropical forest parks losing biodiversity
(07/25/2012) Governments have set up protected areas, in part, to act as reservoirs for our Earth's stunning biodiversity; no where is this more true than in the world's tropical forests, which contain around half of our planet's species. However a new study in Nature finds that wildlife in many of the world's rainforest parks remains imperiled by human pressures both inside and outside the reserves, threatening to undercut global conservation efforts. Looking at a representative 60 protected areas across 36 tropical nations, the scientists found that about half the parks suffered an "erosion of biodiversity" over the last 20-30 years.
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.
96 percent of the world's species remain unevaluated by the Red List
(06/28/2012) Nearly 250 species have been added to the threatened categories—i.e. Vulnerable, Endangered, and Critically Endangered—in this year's update of the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List. The 247 additions—including sixty bird species—pushes the number of threatened species globally perilously close to 20,000. However to date the Red List has only assessed 4 percent of the world's known species; for the other 96 percent, scientists simply don't know how they are faring.
Pitcher plants use rain to trap insects
(06/15/2012) Carnivorous pitcher plants get an assist from Mother Nature in capturing their insect prey, according to a study published in PLoS ONE.
Scientists to Rio+20: save biodiversity to save ourselves
(06/06/2012) World leaders need to do much more to protect the Earth's millions of species for the services they provide, according to a new scientific consensus statement in Nature based on over 1,000 research papers. Written by 17 top ecologists, the statement points out that despite growing knowledge of the importance of biodiversity for human well-being and survival, species continue to vanish at alarming rates. The statement comes just weeks before the UN'S Rio+20 Summit on Sustainable Development, which is supposed to chart a path for a less impoverished and more equitable world including an emphasis on greater environmental protections, but which has been marred by a lack of ambition.
Why bird droppings matter to manta rays: discovering unknown ecological connections
(06/04/2012) Ecologists have long argued that everything in the nature is connected, but teasing out these intricate connections is not so easy. In fact, it took research on a remote, unoccupied island for scientists to discover that manta ray abundance was linked to seabirds and thereby native trees.
Blue tarantula, walking cactus, and a worm from Hell: the top 10 new species of 2011
(05/23/2012) A sneezing monkey, a blue tarantula, and an extinct walking cactus are just three of the remarkable new species listed in the annual Top Ten New Species put together by the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University. This year's list includes a wide-variety of life forms from fungi to flower and invertebrate to primate.
Biodiversity loss cripples plant growth
(05/02/2012) For decades scientists have been warning that if global society continues with "business-as-usual" practices the result will be a mass extinction of the world's species, an extinction event some researchers say is already underway. However, the direct impacts of global biodiversity loss has been more difficult to compile. Now a new study in Nature finds that loss of plant biodiversity could cripple overall plant growth.
New reptile discovered in world's strangest archipelago
(04/25/2012) Few people have ever heard of the Socotra Archipelago even though, biologically-speaking, it is among the world's most wondrous set of islands. Over one third of Socotra's plants are found no-where else on Earth, i.e. endemic, while 90 percent of its reptiles are also endemic. Adding to its list of unique life-forms, researchers have recently uncovered a new skink species that is found only on the island of Abd al Kuri, which is slightly smaller than New York City's Staten Island. Dubbed the "the other Galapagos," the four Socotra islands are under the jurisdiction of Yemen, although geographically speaking the islands are actually closer to Somalia.
Amazon plant yields miracle cure for dental pain
(03/14/2012) The world may soon benefit from a plant long-used by indigenous people in the Peruvian Amazon for toothaches, eliminating the need for local injections in some cases. Researchers have created a medicinal gel from a plant known commonly as spilanthes extract (Acmella Oleracea), which could become a fully natural alternative to current anesthetics and may even have a wide-range of applications beyond dental care.
Majority of Andes' biodiversity hotspots remain unprotected
(02/01/2012) Around 80 percent of the Andes' most biodiverse and important ecosystems are unprotected according to a new paper published in the open-access journal BMC Ecology. Looking at a broad range of ecosystems across the Andes in Peru and Bolivia, the study found that 226 endemic species, those found no-where else, were afforded no protection whatsoever. Yet time is running out, as Andean ecosystems are undergoing incredible strain: a combination of climate change and habitat destruction may be pushing many species into ever-shrinking pockets of habitat until they literally have no-where to go.
Picture of the day: the world's largest bromeliad
(01/30/2012) Found in the Andes of Peru and Bolivia, the world's biggest bromeliad Puya raimondii is imperiled by climate change and human disturbances.
Protecting original wetlands far preferable to restoration
(01/26/2012) Even after 100 years have passed a restored wetland may not reach the state of its former glory. A new study in the open access journal PLoS Biology finds that restored wetlands may take centuries to recover the biodiversity and carbon sequestration of original wetlands, if they ever do. The study questions laws, such as in the U.S., which allow the destruction of an original wetland so long as a similar wetland is restored elsewhere.
Economic slowdown leads to the pulping of Latvia's forests
(01/23/2012) The economic crisis has pushed many nations to scramble for revenue and jobs in tight times, and the small Eastern European nation of Latvia is no different. Facing tough circumstances, the country turned to its most important and abundant natural resource: forests. The Latvian government accepted a new plan for the nation's forests, which has resulted in logging at rates many scientists say are clearly unsustainable. In addition, researchers contend that the on-the-ground practices of state-owned timber giant, Latvijas Valsts meži (LVM), are hurting wildlife and destroying rare ecosystems.
Scientists discover over 19,000 new species in 2009
(01/19/2012) In 2009 researchers described and named 19,232 species new to science, pushing the number of known species on Earth to just under two million (1,941,939 species), according to the State of Observed Species (SOS). Discoveries included seven new birds, 41 mammals, 120 reptiles, 148 amphibians, 314 fish, 626 crustaceans, and 9,738 insects.
Geology has split the Amazon into two distinct forests
(01/19/2012) The common view of the Amazon is that it is one massive, unbroken forest. This impression is given by maps which tend to mark the Amazon by a large glob of green or even by its single name which doesn't account for regional changes. Of course, scientists have long recognized different ecosystems in the Amazon, most especially related to climate. But a new study in the Journal of Biogeography has uncovered two distinct forest ecosystems, sharply divided, caused by million of years of geologic forces.
New book series hopes to inspire research in world's 'hottest biodiversity hotspot'
(01/17/2012) Entomologist Dmitry Telnov hopes his new pet project will inspire and disseminate research about one of the world's last unexplored biogeographical regions: Wallacea and New Guinea. Incredibly rich in biodiversity and still full of unknown species, the region, also known as the Indo-Australian transition, spans many of the tropical islands of the Pacific, including Indonesia's Sulawesi, Komodo and Flores, as well as East Timor—the historically famous "spice islands" of the Moluccan Archipelago—the Solomon Islands, and, of course, New Guinea. Telnov has begun a new book series, entitled Biodiversity, Biogeography and Nature Conservation in Wallacea and New Guinea, that aims to compile and highlight new research in the region, focusing both on biology and conservation. The first volume, currently available, also includes the description of 150 new species.
Seals, birds, and alpine plants suffer under climate change
(01/11/2012) The number of species identified by scientists as vulnerable to climate change continues to rise along with the Earth's temperature. Recent studies have found that a warmer world is leading to premature deaths of harp seal pups (Pagophilus groenlandicus) in the Arctic, a decline of some duck species in Canada, shrinking alpine meadows in Europe, and indirect pressure on mountain songbirds and plants in the U.S. Scientists have long known that climate change will upend ecosystems worldwide, creating climate winners and losers, and likely leading to waves of extinction. While the impacts of climate change on polar bears and coral reefs have been well-documented, every year scientists add new species to the list of those already threatened by anthropogenic climate change.
Weird carnivorous flower devours worms underground
(01/09/2012) A worm measuring only a millimeter in length scoots its way through relatively massive grains of white sand. The worm, known as a nematode or roundworm, is seeking lunch in the form of bacteria. Suddenly, however, its journey is interrupted: it is caught on a large green surface. Unable to wiggle free the worm is slowly digested, becoming lunch itself for an innocuous purple flower called Philcoxia minensis.
How lemurs fight climate change
(01/09/2012) Kara Moses may have never become a biologist if not for a coin toss. The coin, which came up heads and decided Moses' direction in college, has led her on a sinuous path from studying lemurs in captivity to environmental writing, and back to lemurs, only this time tracking them in their natural habitat. Her recent research on ruffed lemurs is attracting attention for documenting the seed dispersal capabilities of Critically Endangered ruffed lemurs as well as theorizing connections between Madagascar's lemurs and the carbon storage capacity of its forests. Focusing on the black-and-white ruffed lemur's (Varecia variegata) ecological role as a seed disperser—animals that play a major role in spreading a plant's seeds far-and-wide—Moses suggests that not only do the lemurs disperse key tree species, but they could be instrumental in dispersing big species that store large amounts of carbon.
Will Taiwan save its last pristine coastline?
(01/05/2012) Voters in the January 14 Taiwanese presidential election will decide the fate of the island’s last pristine wilderness known as the Alangyi Trail. Amongst the three candidates, only one (Tsai Ing-wen from the Democratic Progressive Party) may support the conservation of Alangyi Trail and its coastline. One of the top domestic stories of 2011 were the efforts by the Pingtung County government, indigenous tribes, and NGOs to preserve the Alangyi Trail, according to the Taiwan Environmental Information Center. Alangyi is now a major issue reflecting steadily growing environmental concern amongst the Taiwanese, but its fate is sadly uncertain.
Using palm hearts sustainably in Colombia
(12/12/2011) Long eaten by indigenous populations, palm hearts have also popular abroad, usually in fine dining establishments. However, palm hearts are cut-out of the inner core of various palm tree species, in some cases killing the tree. A new study published in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Society looks at the sustainability of palm heart extraction from the palm species Prestoea acuminata in the Colombian Andes. While harvesting from Prestoea acuminata does not kill the host tree, better management is needed to ensure the practice doesn't become unsustainable.
Estimating the rich diversity of galling insects
(12/12/2011) How does one estimate the number of tiny, cryptic "galling" insects without finding and describing every one (a task that could take centuries of taxonomic work)? According to a new paper in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science, you count the plants. Galling insects use plant tissue for development creating a "gall," or abnormal growth on the plant. Such little-known insects include gall wasps, gall midges, aphids, and jumping plant lice. The groups are known to be highly diverse, with over 2,000 species described from the US alone; scientists have previously estimated that there may be as many as 132,000 different species.
Madagascar tree diversity among the highest worldwide
(12/12/2011) In terms of biodiversity, the hugely imperiled forests of Madagascar may be among the world's richest. Researchers estimate that the island off the coast of Africa is home to at least 10,000 tree and shrub species with over 90 percent of them found no-where else in the world. With little baseline data collected on Madagascar's ecosystems, a new study, the first ever of tree diversity in Madagascar lowland rainforests, hopes to begin the process. Published in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science, the new study surveyed tree species in eastern Madagascar's Betampona Special Reserve.
Zoopharmacognosy: how self-healing animals could save humans
(11/27/2011) As humans we take many things for granted. When we come down with a sore throat, a fever, or the dreaded stomach flu, we drag our aching bodies into our cars and visit the doctor. Animals have no such luxury. Instead they have mastered evolution and have acquired an innate knowledge of the plants, soils, minerals, algae, and other remedies that nature offers to heal their aches and pains.
One night only: new orchid species surprises scientists
(11/22/2011) A mysterious new orchid blooms for one night only, opening around 10 PM and closing at 10 AM. Discovered on the island of New Britain near Papua New Guinea, the new species is the world's first orchid that flowers only at night. Scientists found the new flower, named Bulbophyllum nocturnum, in a logging concession on the tropical island.
Giant rat plays big ecological role in dispersing seeds
(11/16/2011) Rats are rarely thought of as heroes. In fact, in many parts of the world they are despised, while in others they serve largely as food. But, scientists are now discovering that many tropical forest rodents, including rats, serve as heroic seed dispersers, i.e. eating fruits and nuts, and carrying seeds far from the parent tree, giving a chance to a new sapling. While this has been documented with tropical rodents in South America like agoutis and acouchis, a new study in Biotropica documents the first successful seed dispersal by an African rodent: the Kivu giant pouched rat (Cricetomys kivuensis), one of four species of giant African rats.
Picture of the day: quiet river in the woods
(11/13/2011) A river and forest in Gooseberry Falls State Park in the US state of Minnesota. The forest here is made up primarily of evergreens, aspen, and birch.
Critically Endangered lemurs disperse seeds, store carbon
(11/13/2011) Many tropical plants depend on other species to carry their progeny far-and-wide. Scientists are just beginning to unravel this phenomenon, known as seed dispersal, which is instrumental in supporting the diversity and richness of tropical forests. Researchers have identified a number of animal seed dispersers including birds, rodents, monkeys, elephants, and even fish. Now a new study in the Journal of Tropical Ecology adds another seed disperser to that list: the Critically Endangered black-and-white ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata). Capable of dispersing big tree species, the black-and-white ruffed lemur may even play a big role in carbon sequestration.
Picture of the day: bromeliads in a cloud forest
(10/25/2011) These bromeliads of the cloud forests of the Andes are epiphytes. While they grow on other plants, in these cases trees, they are not parasitic.
Dam puts wild coffee species at risk of extinction
(09/26/2011) Coffee may be one of the world's most popular hot (and cold) drinks, however few coffee drinkers may know that there are dozens of different coffee species in the world and some are even endangered. Only discovered in 2004, Kihansi coffee (Coffea kihansiensis), makes its home in the Udzungwa Mountains of Tanzania. A new study in mongabay.com's open-access journal Tropical Conservation Science finds that the Kihansi coffee is nearing extinction due in part to a hydroelectric dam built upstream that has severely impacted the Kihansi River.
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.
Yellowstone burning: big fires to hit world's first national park annually by 2050
(07/25/2011) An icon of conservation and wilderness worldwide, Yellowstone National Park could see its ecosystem flip due to increased big fires from climate change warn experts in a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS). A sudden increase in large fires—defined as over 200 hectares (500 acres)—by mid-century could shift the Yellowstone ecosystem from largely mature conifer forests to younger forests with open shrub and grasslands.
Decline in top predators and megafauna 'humankind’s most pervasive influence on nature'
(07/14/2011) Worldwide wolf populations have dropped around 99 percent from historic populations. Lion populations have fallen from 450,000 to 20,000 in 50 years. Three subspecies of tiger went extinct in the 20th Century. Overfishing and finning has cut some shark populations down by 90 percent in just a few decades. Though humpback whales have rebounded since whaling was banned, they are still far from historic numbers. While some humans have mourned such statistics as an aesthetic loss, scientists now say these declines have a far greater impact on humans than just the vanishing of iconic animals. The almost wholesale destruction of top predators—such as sharks, wolves, and big cats—has drastically altered the world's ecosystems, according to a new review study in Science. Although researchers have long known that the decline of animals at the top of food chain, including big herbivores and omnivores, affects ecosystems through what is known as 'trophic cascade', studies over the past few decades are only beginning to reveal the extent to which these animals maintain healthy environments, preserve biodiversity, and improve nature's productivity.
Elephants: the gardeners of Asia's and Africa's forests
(04/25/2011) It seems difficult to imagine elephants delicately tending a garden, but these pachyderms may well be the world's weightiest horticulturalist. Elephants both in Asia and Africa eat abundant amounts of fruit when available; seeds pass through their guts, and after expelled—sometimes tens of miles down the trail—sprouts a new plant if conditions are right. This process is known by ecologists as 'seed dispersal', and scientists have long studied the 'gardening' capacities of monkeys, birds, bats, and rodents. Recently, however, researchers have begun to document the seed dispersal capacity of the world's largest land animal, the elephant, proving that this species may be among the world's most important tropical gardeners.
Giant fish help grow the Amazon rainforest
(04/12/2011) A fruit in the flooded Amazon falls from a tree and plops in the water. Before it can even sink to the floor, a 60-pound monster fish with a voracious appetite gobbles it. Nearly a week later—and miles away—the fish expels its waste, including seeds from the fruit eaten long ago and far away. One fortunate seed floats to a particularly suitable spot and germinates. Many years later the new fruit tree is thriving, while the same monster-fish returns from time-to-time, waiting for another meal to drop from the sky. This process is known as seed-dispersal, and while researchers have studied the seed-dispersal capacity of such species as birds, bats, monkeys, and rodents, one type of animal is often overlooked: fish.
The value of the little guy, an interview with Tyler Prize-winning entomologist May Berenbaum
(04/06/2011) May Berenbaum knows a thing or two about insects: in recognition of her lifelong work on the interactions between insects and plants, she has had a character on The X-Files named after her, received the Public Understanding of Science and Technology Award for her work in making science accessible to the public, and this year has been awarded the prestigious Tyler Environmental Prize. "Winning the Tyler Prize is an incredible honor—most of my scientific heroes have been Tyler Prize winners and I’m exceedingly grateful to be considered worthy of being included among their ranks," Berenbaum told mongabay.com in an interview. "The Prize is also tremendously enabling—because the money is unrestricted I can use it to carry out projects that have been difficult to fund."
'Luck and perseverance': new plant genus discovered in Amazon
(03/31/2011) The discovery of a new plant species is not uncommon, especially in places of remarkable biodiversity such as the Amazon rainforest. However, discovering a new plant genus, a taxonomic rank above species, is, according to Henk van der Werff fromt the Missouri Botanical Garden (MBG), "a matter of luck and perseverance". Researchers with the Missouri Botanical Garden have been blessed with both as they have announced two new species of Amazonian plants, one from Ecuador and one from Peru, that comprise a completely new genus: named, Yasunia, since the plant was originally discovered in Ecuador's vast Yasuni National Park.
'Huge reduction' of water from plants due to higher carbon levels
(03/30/2011) As if ocean acidification and a warming world weren't enough, researchers have outlined another way in which carbon emissions are impacting the planet. A new study shows that higher carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have taken a toll on how much water vapor plants release, potentially impacting the rainfall and groundwater sources. A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) has found that carbon dioxide levels over the past 150 years has reduced plants' spores, called stomata, by over one third (34%). This is important because stomata take in oxygen and carbon dioxide and release water vapor in a process dubbed 'transpiration'. Less stomata means less water driven into the atmosphere.
Leaf harvesting impacts Amazon palm
(03/28/2011) Overexploitation of wildlife doesn't just threaten animals such as bluefin tuna, pangolins, and parrots, but plants as well. Leaves from the carana or puy palm (Lepidocaryum tenue) are used for thatching buildings in the northwestern Amazon, however a recent study in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science finds that the overharvesting could imperil a palm's ability to survive.
Logged forests in Vietnam retain significant biodiversity, including dipterocarp trees
(03/28/2011) Little remains of Vietnam's primary forest: as of 2005 only 12% of Vietnam forest was classified as primary. While deforestation rates have lessened since the end of the 1990s, survival of species in Vietnam depends in part on secondary, logged, and degraded forests. A new study in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science finds that logged forests in southern Vietnam still retain significant biodiversity of trees, including important conservation species, such as Dipterocarp trees.
How to save the Pantanal and increase profits for the cattle industry
(03/28/2011) The Pantanal spanning Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay is the world's largest wetland—the size of Florida—and home to a wide-variety of charismatic species, such as jaguars, capybaras, and giant anteaters. However, the great wetland is threatened by expansion in big agriculture and an increasingly intensive cattle industry. Yet there is hope: a new study by Wildlife Conservation Society of Brazil (WCS-Brazil) researchers has found that cattle and the ecosystem can exist harmoniously. By replacing current practices with rotational grazing, cattle ranchers gain a healthier herd and more profits while safeguarding the ecological integrity and wildlife of the world's largest wetland system. The study published in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science is a rare instance of a win-win situation.
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.
Rich plant diversity leads to increased productivity, ecosystem services
(03/08/2011) A new study finds that diversity of plant species matters—big time. Analyzing nearly 600 research studies, the meta-study in the American Journal of Botany found that productivity in biodiverse plant ecosystems was 1.5 times higher than in monocultures. In other words, a prairie is more productive than a cornfield and forest more productive than a rubber plantation. The researchers warn that eroding plant diversity threatens essential ecosystems services such as food, water purification, oxygen production, carbon sequestration, and the availability of raw materials.
Not enough data on world's tropical plants to predict impact of warming world
(02/14/2011) How many tropical plant species are threatened by climate change? Which plants have big enough ranges to survive a warming world, not to mention deforestation? How likely is it that the tropics are undergoing a current mass extinction? These questions may appear straight forward, but a new study in Global Change Biology finds that researchers lack the hard data necessary to come to any confident conclusions. According to the study, nine out of ten tropical plants from Africa, Asia, and South America lack the minimum number of collections needed (at least 20) to determine the species' range, and therefore predict the impact of climate change.
Vines rising in the Amazon and other American rainforests
(02/14/2011) For years tropical scientists have anecdotally reported an increase in vines in the Amazon and other American tropical forests, but now a number of studies have confirmed such reports: vines are on the rise in Neotropical rainforests.
From Cambodia to California: the world's top 10 most threatened forests
(02/02/2011) Growing populations, expanding agriculture, commodities such as palm oil and paper, logging, urban sprawl, mining, and other human impacts have pushed many of the world's great forests to the brink. Yet scientists, environmentalists, and even some policymakers increasingly warn that forests are worth more standing than felled. They argue that by safeguarding vulnerable biodiversity, sequestering carbon, controlling erosion, and providing fresh water, forests provide services to humanity, not to mention the unquantifiable importance of having wild places in an increasingly human-modified world. Still, the decline of the world's forests continues: the FAO estimating that around 10 million hectares of tropical forest are lost every year. Of course, some of these forests are more imperiled than others, and a new analysis by Conservation International (CI) has catalogued the world's 10 most threatened forests.
Tiny bats trade in caves for pitcher plants in Borneo
(01/26/2011) A tiny species of bat in Borneo has chosen an unusual roost: a carnivorous pitcher plant, according to a recent study. The study examines how this behavior actually benefits both the bats and the plants, creating a symbiotic relationship.
World's weirdest aphrodisiac: elephant-digested durian fruit
(01/20/2011) The spiky, odorous, weighty, and almost impenetrable durian fruit is considered by some to be a fine delicacy, but others a putrid horror. Its taste has been described between a delicious custard and old gym socks. Still, even durian lovers may be uncomfortable with the idea of eating the fruit after it has been consumed and expelled by a wild Asian elephant. But according to the New Straits Times recently wealthy businessmen are willing to pay over $300 for a sample of elephant-ingested durian, which they believe acts as an aphrodisiac.
Forgotten species: the plummeting cycad
(12/06/2010) I have a declarative statement to make: cycads are mind-blowing. You may ask, what is a cycad? And your questions wouldn't be a silly one. I doubt Animal Planet will ever replace its Shark Week with Cycad Week (perhaps the fact that it's 'animal' planet and not 'plant' planet gave that away); nor do I expect school children to run to see a cycad first thing when they arrive at the zoo, rushing past the polar bear and the chimpanzee; nor do I await a new children's book about a lonely little anthropomorphized cycad just looking for a friend. In the world of species-popularity, the cycad ranks pretty low. For one thing, it's a plant. For another thing, it doesn't produce lovely flowers. And for a final fact, it looks so much like a palm tree that most people probably wouldn't know it wasn't. Still, I declare the cycad to be mind-blowing.
Slight rise in mangrove forests in Eastern India
(11/29/2010) While mangrove forests are vanishing around the world, the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests is reporting a slight uptick of mangrove forests along the nation's eastern coast. According to a report, mangroves expanded from 4,581 square kilometers in 2005 to 4,639 square kilometers in 2007, an increase of 58 square kilometers.
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.
Photographer discovers new species of meat-eating plant in Cambodia
(11/16/2010) British photographer Jeremy Holdren recently discovered a new species of carnivorous pitcher plant in Cambodia's Cardamom Mountains during a survey with Fauna & Flora International (FFI).
What do wolves and sharks have in common?
(11/15/2010) Sharks dwell in the ocean, wolves on land; sharks are a type of fish, wolves are a mammal; sharks go back some 400 million years, wolves only some 2 million years. So, these animals should have little in common, right? However, a new study in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment points to surprising similarities among these disparate animals. As top predators, both wolves and sharks impact their prey and other species in similar ways.
Critics say Obama slow on endangered species
(11/15/2010) The Obama Administration is lagging behind past administrations in its listing of dwindling species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). To date the US Fish and Wildlife Service has added 51 species to the ESA since Obama's took office, according to the conservation group, Center for Biological Diversity. By contrast, the Clinton Administration averaged 65 species a year with a total of 522 species protected. Obama is more proactive than George W. Bush, however, who was seen by many critics as actively undercutting the ESA. Only one of the species protected so far by the Obama Administration is found in the continental US.
Eight new plants discovered in Bolivia
(11/07/2010) Researchers have described eight new species of plant from in and near Madidi National Park in the Bolivian Andes. Described in the journal Novon by botanists with the Missouri Botanical Garden and the National Herbaium in Laz Paz, Bolivia, seven of the eight plants were found as apart of the Proyecto Madidi (Project Madidi), a ten year effort to describe the plant species of three inter-connecting protected areas in Bolivia—Madidi National Park, Pilón Lajas Biosphere Reserve and Communal Lands, and Apolobamba Integrated Management Natural Area.
Bushmeat hunting alters forest structure in Africa
(11/04/2010) According to the first study of its kind in Africa, bushmeat hunting impacts African rainforests by wiping-out large mammals and birds—such as forest elephants, primates, and hornbills—that are critical for dispersing certain tree species. The study, published in Biotropica, found that heavy bushmeat hunting in the Central African Republic changes the structure of forest species by favoring small-seeded trees over large-seeded, leading to lower tree diversity of trees that have big seeds.
Monarch butterflies medicate their sick kids
(10/12/2010) A new study in Ecology Letters has discovered that monarch butterflies employ medicinal plants to treat their larva. Researchers found that certain species of milkweed, which the larva feed on, can reduce the threat of a sometime deadly parasite. However, even more surprising: "we have also found that infected female butterflies prefer to lay their eggs on plants that will make their offspring less sick, suggesting that monarchs have evolved the ability to medicate their offspring," says lead author Jaap de Roode.
Photos: 200 new species discovered in 60-day expedition in New Guinea
(10/06/2010) A 2009 expedition to Papua New Guinea proves once again that the island-nation is as diverse in life as it is in human cultures. It took researchers with Conservation International (CI) and the local Institute for Biological Research (IBR) just two months to uncover a startling 200 new species: averaging more than 3 a day in the remote Nakanai Mountains and Muller Range rising from the island of New Britain, a part of Papua New Guinea. Half of the new species were spiders, but the team also found two new mammals, nine new plants, two dozen frogs, and multitude of insects. Most surprising was the discovery of at least two species so unique that they are likely to be assigned their own genus.
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.
Ugandan forest being stripped for fuel wood
(09/27/2010) A new study in the open access journal of Tropical Conservation Science finds that the Kasagala forest reserve in central Uganda is losing important tree species and suffering from low diversity of species. Researchers believe that forest degradation for charcoal and firewood has put heavy pressure on this ecosystem.
The effect of forest regeneration strategies on beetles
(09/27/2010) As conservationists attempt to find the best way to re-establish forests in abandoned areas, a new study in the open-access journal Tropical Conservation Science compares the impacts on bess beetles of different method to regeneration forest. Bess beetles are important dead wood-recyclers in the forest. Looking at three different forests in the Colombian Andes—natural regeneration, monoculture reforestation, and an old-growth forest as a baseline—researchers found that old-growth and natural regeneration had the highest diversity of bess beetles, while old-growth sported the greatest abundance of beetles.
Indian carnivore eats mostly fruit
(09/27/2010) When is a carnivore no longer a carnivore? A new study in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science has found that the brown palm civet (Paradoxurus jerdoni), a cat-sized tree-loving carnivore, lives almost entirely off fruit and seeds. Studying over a 1000 feces from the brown palm civet during three years, researchers found that 97 percent of its diet was composed of plants, not meat. Given its penchant for fruit, researchers argue that the brown palm civet is an important disperser of tropical plants, playing a vital ecological role rarely connected to civets.
Plant names cut by over half a million
(09/22/2010) Researchers expect to strike out some 600,000 plant species names from taxonomy lists, representing over half of the names in current lists which stretched to nearly a million. The names cut are duplicate monikers for the same plant: for example, researchers discovered an astounding 800 different names for the tomato (Solanum lycopersicum). Researchers are once-and-for-all weeding out alias names in an attempt to create a single definitive list of plant names.
How the overlooked peccary engineers the Amazon, an interview with Harald Beck
(09/20/2010) When people think of the Amazon rainforest, they likely think of roaring jaguars, jumping monkeys, marching ants, and squeezing anacondas. The humble peccary would hardly be among the first animals to cross their mind, if they even know such pig-like animals exists! Yet new research on the peccary is proving just how vital these species are to the world's greatest rainforest. As seed dispersers and seed destroyers, engineers of freshwater habitats and forest gaps, peccaries play an immense, long overlooked, role in the rainforest. "Peccaries have the highest density and biomass of any Neotropical mammal species. Obviously these fellows have quite an appetite for almost anything, but primarily they consume fruits and seeds. Their specialized jaws allow them to crush very hard seeds. The cracking sounds can be heard through the thick vegetation long before we could see them. As peccary herds bulldoze through the leaf litter in search for insects, frogs, seeds, and fruits, they destroy (i.e. snap and trample) many seedlings and saplings, sometimes leaving only the bare ground behind," Harald Beck, assistant professor at Towson University in Maryland, told mongabay.com in an interview.
Exploring Kenya's sky island
(08/18/2010) Rising over 2,500 meters from Kenya's northern desert, the Mathews Range is a sky island: isolated mountain forests surrounded by valleys. Long cut off from other forests, 'sky islands' such as this often contain unique species and ecosystems. Supported by the Nature Conservancy, an expedition including local community programs Northern Rangelands Trust and Namunyak Conservancy recently spent a week surveying the mountain range, expanding the range of a number of species and discovering what is likely a new insect.
Visiting the Gulf: how wildlife and people are faring in America's worst environmental disaster, an interview with Jennifer Jacquet
(07/29/2010) "President Obama called it 'the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced.' So I thought I should face it and head to the Gulf"—these are the opening words on the popular blog Guilty Planet as the author, marine biologist Jennifer Jacquet, embarked on a ten day trip to Louisiana. As a scientist, Jacquet was, of course, interested in the impact of the some four million barrels of oil on the Gulf's already depleted ecosystem, however she was as equally keen to see how Louisianans were coping with the fossil fuel-disaster that devastated their most vital natural resource just four years after Hurricane Katrina.
Backbone of marine food chain in alarming decline
(07/28/2010) Tiny marine algae, known as phytoplankton, are the backbone of the marine food chain, yet a new study in Nature has found that this backbone is disintegrating. Researchers discovered that since 1950 phytoplankton has declined by approximately 40 percent across the Northern Hemisphere, a decline that corresponds to warming waters due to climate change. Given that phytoplankton feed the oceans' abundance all the way up the food chain—from zooplankton to fish to seabird to sharks to humans—the decline has likely impacted the very structure of the ocean.
Australian rainforest plant yields possible cancer killer
(06/14/2010) A drug derived from a plant native to the Australian rainforest may prove to be a new weapon against cancer, according to the AFP. QBiotics Ltd has released a statement announcing that a drug made from the seeds of a rainforest shrub has successfully treated tumors in over 150 animals, and the company is now preparing to test the drug on humans.
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