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News articles on plants
Mongabay.com news articles on plants in blog format. Updated regularly.
(06/14/2009) Laura Ingalls Wilder’s beloved series of novels about life in the American frontier begins in Wisconsin with the novel Little House in the Big Woods. Less than a hundred years since its publication, a study in Conservation Biology finds that these Midwestern ‘big woods’ are experiencing a worse-than-expected decline and would likely be unrecognizable to Wilder herself.
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.
Protecting global biodiversity must include islands
(05/12/2009) If the world is to save biodiversity, islands are key, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study found that while islands have fewer overall species than continental areas of the same size, they have far more endemic species, i.e. animals and plants that can be found no-where else in the world.
New lichen named after Obama
(04/15/2009) A California researcher has named a new species of lichen after President Barack Obama. Kerry Knudsen of the University of California-Riverside (UCR) named the lichen Caloplaca obamae.
Mangroves save lives by softening cyclone’s blow
(04/15/2009) In 1999 a super cyclone struck the eastern coast of India, leaving 10,000 people dead. At the time the Orissa cyclone, named after the Indian state which it battered, was the deadliest storm in India in over a quarter century. However, according to a new study published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the death toll would have been significantly higher if the mangrove forests buffeting the Indian villagers from the sea had not softened the cyclone’s blow.
Trees in trouble: massive die-offs predicted with global warming
(04/13/2009) An experimental study of pinon pines at Biosphere 2 in Arizona shows that an increase in temperature makes the species more susceptible to die-off during drought. When temperatures were increased by 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit), the piñon pines died 28 percent faster than trees which experienced drought-conditions at current temperatures, according to a new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Vanishing forest elephants are the Congo's greatest cultivators
(04/09/2009) A new study finds that forest elephants may be responsible for planting more trees in the Congo than any other species or ghenus. Conducting a thorough survey of seed dispersal by forest elephants, Dr. Stephen Blake, formerly of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and now of the Mac Planck Institute for Ornithology, and his team found that forest elephants consume more than 96 species of plant seeds and can carry the seeds as far as 57 kilometers (35 miles) from their parent tree. Forest elephants are a subspecies of the more-widely known African elephant of the continent's great savannas, differing in many ways from their savanna-relations, including in their diet.
Revolutionary new theory overturns modern meteorology with claim that forests move rain
(04/01/2009) Two Russian scientists, Victor Gorshkov and Anastassia Makarieva of the St. Petersburg Nuclear Physics, have published a revolutionary theory that turns modern meteorology on its head, positing that forests—and their capacity for condensation—are actually the main driver of winds rather than temperature. While this model has widespread implications for numerous sciences, none of them are larger than the importance of conserving forests, which are shown to be crucial to 'pumping' precipitation from one place to another. The theory explains, among other mysteries, why deforestation around coastal regions tends to lead to drying in the interior.
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.
Could America’s 700 billion stimulus have saved life on earth?
(02/26/2009) In a January op-ed in Science, ecologist Jaboury Ghazoul wistfully and wittily ponders how far the 789 billion stimulus bill recently passed by the US Congress could go toward saving our planet's embattled life-forms. In his essay, Ghazoul suggests we put the 700 billion “in the context of the species extinction crisis”. According to various scientific analyses the extinction rate is currently 100 to 1,000 times the average. Such a catastrophic loss of species—while making the world a lonelier and less interesting place—will unpredictably reshape ecosystems we depend on, causing social, political, and economic upheaval.
Ecstasy threatens rainforests in Cambodia
(02/25/2009) Authorities, working with conservationists, have raided and closed several 'ecstasy oil' distilleries in Cambodia's Cardamom Mountains. The distilleries posed a threat to the region's rich biological diversity, reports Fauna & Flora International (FFI), the conservation group involved in the operation.
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.
Could engineering rainforests save the planet from global warming?
(01/21/2009) At the Smithsonian symposium entitled “Will the Rainforests Survive?”, leading tropical biologists vigorously debated current threats to the rainforest and what the future may hold. While climate change was identified as a leading threat to rainforests, many of the scientists argued that the tropics may also be the key to mitigating the impact of global warming.
Secondary forest should become new conservation initiative
(01/19/2009) “I want to convince you we need to go beyond primary forests to preserve biodiversity”, Robin Chazdon told an audience at the National Natural History Museum during a symposium on the tropics. Chazdon, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Connecticut, has been studying secondary growth forests for over eighteen years. Secondary forests are those forests in the process of regrowth after being used for agriculture or logging. In her study area of NE Costa Rica, many of these forests were converted to pastures in the 1970s and 1980s, but have since been abandoned. In her presentation Chazdon argued that to preserve biodiversity numerous types of human-impacted landscapes, such as secondary forest, require attention by the conservation community.
Symposium tackles big question: how many species will survive our generation
(01/16/2009) Nine scientists dusted off their crystal balls Monday at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC, weighing in on the future of the world’s tropical forest. Despite the most up-to-date statistics, prognosis for the future of tropical forests varied widely. In the last few years a schism has occurred among biologists regarding the future of the tropics. No tropical scientist denies that rainforests and the species which inhabit them face unprecedented threats; neither do they argue that some of these forested regions and species will likely not survive the next fifty years. What has sparked debate, sometimes heated, is how bad will is it really? When the dust settles, what percentage of species will survive and how much forest will remain?
Shade-grown coffee preserves native tree diversity
(12/23/2008) A new study finds that shade-grown coffee protects the biodiversity of tree species, as well as those of birds and bats. Published in Current Biology, the study found that native trees in shade-grown coffee plantations aid the overall species’ gene flow and can become a focal point for reforestation.
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.
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.
Global warming causes plants to move to higher elevations
(06/26/2008) Global warming has caused many plant species to move to higher elevations, report researchers writing in the journal Science.
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.
Lemurs are key to health of Madagascar's rainforests
(06/12/2008) Lemurs play a key role in the health of Madagascar's tropical rainforests said a renowned primatologist speaking at a meeting of conservation biologists 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.
Reforestation a growing, but complicated, initiative
(06/12/2008) As the rate of deforestation continues apace — 13 million hectares per year in a global basis — several countries have begun to look at reforesting degraded areas to aid suffering biodiversity, indigenous groups, and small local economies. However most of the interest and activity surrounding reforestation is as a tool to mitigate climate change. A new program just launched by the Nature Conservancy and several local partners plans to plant a billion trees in the fragmented Atlantic Forest of Brazil. The United Nations Environmental Program has already planted over two billion trees worldwide and plans to plant five billion more. China has planted billions more. However effective reforestation is not proving as easy as simply planting trees and waiting for them to grow, in fact, sometimes it may be best to leave the whole process to nature.
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.
Group files for ESA protection of 681 species in 12 states
(05/21/2008) On March 19th WildEarth Guardians filed a lawsuit to place 681 species under the Endangered Species Act. Dr. Nicole Rosmarino, wildlife program director for the environmental group, says These 681 species represent species in only 12 states, include no subspecies, and are only the "most imperiled" of the United State's threatened species. Rosmarino estimates that in total there are 6,000-9,000 endangered species in the United States today. Mongabay.com recently caught up with Dr. Rosmarino regarding this landmark lawsuit and the reasoning for it.
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.
Biodiversity key to fighting climate change
(04/29/2008) Scientists from Brown University have discovered that an ecosystem's productivity is directly linked to its diversity of plant species. The discovery has granted biodiversity new importance in the fight against climate change: the more productive the ecosystem the more carbon it captures.
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.
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.
Orchids may have co-existed with dinosaurs
(08/29/2007) Orchids are old enough to have co-existed with dinosaurs, report Harvard University scientists.
U.S. grazing lands at risk due to rising CO2 levels
(08/27/2007) Rising carbon dioxide levels could cause significant changes to open grazing lands and rangelands around the world, reports a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Climate change is making poison ivy worse
(06/26/2007) New research shows that climate change is making poison ivy more potent, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal.
Rainforest trees colonized Africa from the Amazon
(06/24/2007) A giant rainforest tree is helping scientists understand similarities between African and South American rainforests, reports research published in the journal Molecular Ecology.
Plants in outer space may be black
(06/20/2007) Plants in outer space could be black if they is mechanisms other than chlorophyll to harness the energy of the sun, reports a new study published in Astrobiology.
Carnivorous plants invade San Francisco
(05/13/2007) While most plants derive nutrients from soil, some trap and consume living creatures for their primary source of sustenance. Now a special exhibit at the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers offers a journey into the strange world of carnivorous plants.
Climate shift in East Africa due to geology, not global climate change
(05/11/2007) A shift towards a drier climate in East Africa may be due to geological changes like the emergence of the Rift Valley, not global climate change suggests research published in the current issue of the journal Nature. Dr. Bonnie Jacobs, Chair of Environmental Science Program at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas, Texas, reports that the rise of the high Ethiopian plateau may have caused dramatic shifts in the region's vegetation.
Tropical plants may be more adaptable to climate change
(05/07/2007) Tropical plants may be more adaptable to environmental change by extracting nitrogen from a variety of sources, reports a study published in the May 7 early online edition of The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Climate change could dramatically change forests in Central America
(05/02/2007) Drought could cause dramatic shifts in rainforest plant communities in Central America, reports a new study published in the May 3 issue of Nature. The research shows that many rainforest plants are ill-equipped to deal with extended dry periods, putting them at elevated risk from changes in climate projected for the region.
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