Friday, April 1, 2011

Random Elimination...or Stealthy, Purposeful Extermination?

Spring is being rather coy this year, struggling to emerge, but a few diminutive flowers have appeared between late snow showers that are more tedious than threatening.
Tiny early flowering bulbs stagger out between icy showers, while meanwhile this week, more studies and articles about our collapsing ecosystem accrue, which I in my role as curator have archived here on this post, like Oscar the Grouch sweeping up detritus...and like Oscar, it makes me grumpy.
The death march of trees this March continued its melancholic journey to desolation...but too slowly for most people to understand the implications of this universal trend.  When unusual mortality is noted, it is narrowly attributed to local conditions of drought, or insect infestations, or a disease or fungus.  Rarely is it recognized that tree damage from exposure to ozone underlies such secondary attacks.  If this information is new and you are thinking...this is crazy talk...Not really!  Please scroll up the page and click on the Basic Premise link!
A maple is valiantly setting bright red buds, but there are so many wrecked limbs that the crown is paltry remnant of what it was just a few years ago.
Opportunistic and voracious lichens festoon the branches.
Beyond the maple is a willow across the pond, in even more battered circumstances.
In spite of the blanket of obliviousness that prevails in our media, academia and political arenas, this past week I have had surprising conversations with several people who unexpectedly agree that our civilization is hurtling towards catastrophe.  I suddenly discovered that when asking someone a mild question about their impression of the trajectory of our tenure on earth, a torrent of despair is likely to ensue.  These are ordinary folks who I would never have guessed to be doomers or so cynical about the forces that control policy.  It appears there is a growing coalition of individuals who feel an underlying and pervasive sense of unease and resignation.
One, a soft-voiced, middle-aged black woman, agreed with me that trees are dying from pollution because so many in her own yard had died recently - and she didn't accept the excuses she had been given from nurserymen about insects and disease being the cause.  She went so far as to venture that given the way the world is headed, she is in retrospect glad she had never had children.  Now, that is a non-trivial conclusion.  Women, like men, are powerfully hormonally programed to desire to procreate, and to be grateful not to have done so can only be the result of some very deep introspection and despair for the fate of the non-existent offspring.
Another woman in the food service business related a story of the proprietor of an Italian deli, who was astonished that he can no longer obtain the routine delivery of produce as commonplace as eggplant.  Expect many more spotty shortages as we draw closer to severe deprivation when 2011 crops fail!
Next was an older woman (well..older than me!) who fully concurred we have embarked on a trajectory of collapse, and was eager to relay, in a lugubriously thick Norwegian accent, that she had just spoken on the phone to her sister back in Norway who had proclaimed (in the wake of the accident in Fukushima) "It is the Ragnarök!" - which is the ancient Norse myth of destruction in which the earth is engulfed first by war, then fire, and then flooded -  a prediction upon which Wagner based Götterdämmerung, if that gives you any idea how lachrymose that fate would be.
The Amazon forest was in the news this week.  Scientists report that they are surprised to find that green is not returning following an extreme drought, even though the normal amount of precipitation has resumed.  If I were in Brazil, I would go to a nursery where the stock receives regular water, even during times of drought, to see if the foliage is similarly brown.  The closest I've been was a trip to Costa Rica where trees in the wild and tended plants in a landscape were identically damaged (those photographs are here).  I can't get to Brazil, of course, so instead I went to a nursery close to Wit's End in New Jersey, where new shrubs are being delivered on pallets for spring planting.  In the rest of this post, links and excerpts (in lavender!) will be interspersed with photos of the shrubs at the nursery.
From a distance the display looks lush enough, but upon closer inspection, evergreen leaves exhibit classic ozone damage of stippling from injured stomates, and mottled chlorosis from inhibited photosynthesis.
If the billion acres of Amazon rainforest are 'the lungs of the Earth', then our planet had better get in to see a pulmonary specialist right quick. According to research conducted with the help of satellite imagery, the typically-lush Amazon is losing its greenness -- with an astonishing 618 million acres looking a bit on the brown and wilted side. Scientists studying the phenomenon say that last year's strangling drought is behind the change. There's just one problem though -- the rain's returned, but the green has not.
In the months following the break of the Amazon drought, an international team of researches, led by Boston University's Liang Xu, pored over recent satellite data and arrived at a troubling conclusion: the word's largest rainforest is in failing health, and the implications of this are planet-wide. While the Amazon is an important source of the Earth's oxygen, it also serves a vital role as a carbon sink. Oh, and an untold number of unique species live there, too, making it one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the world.
"The greenness levels of Amazonian vegetation -- a measure of its health -- decreased dramatically over an area more than three and one-half times the size of Texas and did not recover to normal levels, even after the drought ended in late October 2010," Liang Xu said in a statement, as reported by The International Business Times.
"The MODIS vegetation greenness data suggest a more widespread, severe and long-lasting impact to Amazonian vegetation than what can be inferred based solely on rainfall data," said Arindam Samanta, a co-lead author from Atmospheric and Environmental Research Inc. in Lexington, Mass., in a statement.

Back in the northern hemisphere, thanks to a source who shall remain anonymous, I received this fascinating link to a forestry service aerial survey map of dieback:

The caption says:  Tree mortality caused by pests depicted on these maps are not well represented by aerial detection surveys.  This is because mortality is either too scattered or the polygons are too small to see at a National scale.  These maps represent other reporting mechanisms and are the most current depictions of damage caused by these pests.
What's really chilling about the above graph is how the mortality is skyrocketing even as the area surveyed was decreased over two years by 100 million acres.

Note that although the Forest Service has established that ozone damages trees - and since 1994 has conducted their own annual ozone biomonitoring program - and we know ozone damaged trees are more susceptible to infestations from insects, disease and fungal attacks  - yet there is NO mention of the fundamental role of atmospheric pollution on this survey of tree mortality!  WHY??
Here are dozens of Japanese Andromedas for sale at the nursery.  They are in full bloom.
But their leaves are hanging straight down, limp and puckered.  That's not from drought or temperature.
Likewise these hollies have been coddled, but there is no way to insulate their leaves from exposure to toxins in the air.
This speckled appearance and bronze discoloration is an indication that high levels of tropospheric ozone have inhibited the ability of the leaves to produce chlorophyll.
For another potential indicator, let's turn our attention to a recent article about the spread of kudzu, known as "the woody vine that ate the American South" which is now covering tree branches and overwhelming the canopy elsewhere:

Kudzu, the plant scourge of the U.S. Southeast. The long tendrils of this woody vine, or liana, are on the move north with a warming climate.

But kudzu may be no match for the lianas of the tropics, scientists have found. Data from sites in eight studies show that lianas are overgrowing trees in every instance.
If the trend continues, these "stranglers-of-the-tropics" may suffocate equatorial forest ecosystems.
Tropical forests contain more than half of Earth's terrestrial species, and contribute more than a third of global terrestrial carbon and a third of terrestrial net primary productivity, says ecologist Stefan Schnitzer of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Tropical forests are indeed experiencing large-scale structural changes, the most obvious of which may be the increase in lianas, according to Robert Sanford, program director in the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Division of Environmental Biology, which funded the research.
Lianas are found in most tropical lowland forests. The woody vines are "non-self-supporting structural parasites that use the architecture of trees to ascend to the forest canopy," says Schnitzer.
In tropical forests, lianas can make up some 40 percent of the woody stems and more than 25 percent of the overall woody species.
Lianas usually have a high canopy-to-stem ratio, says Schnitzer, "which allows them to deploy a large canopy of leaves above those of the host tree, competing aggressively with their hosts for sunlight, water and nutrients."
Intense competition from lianas for above- and below-ground resources limits tropical tree growth and survival.
Increasing liana abundance and biomass may have far-reaching consequences for tropical forest community composition, says Sanford.
For example, in a tropical moist forest on Barro Colorado Island, Panama, researchers found that the proportion of liana infestation in the crowns of trees changed from 32 percent in 1967-68 to 47 percent in 1979, to nearly 75 percent in 2007.
The number of trees with severe liana infestation (more than 75 percent of a tree's canopy covered by lianas) increased by 65 percent between 1996 and 2007.
In this forest, liana leaf litter and flower production, compared with that of host trees, increased substantially from 1986 to 2002, says Schnitzer.
Lianas have also overgrown other tropical forests.
In an old-growth forest surrounding the Nouragues Biological Research Station in French Guiana, scientists found that over the decade from 1992 to 2002, the number of lianas shot up while that of trees fell.
In a forest in the central Amazon, biologists discovered that over the six-year-period from 1993 to 1999, new liana seedlings were 500 percent higher than estimates from previous periods whereas tree seedling recruitment decreased.
But a tree need not live in the tropics to fall victim to lianas.
More than 80 non-native liana species have invaded North America.
Kudzu is joined by English ivy, Japanese honeysuckle and oriental bittersweet, to name a few. Oriental bittersweet is expanding in North American forests, where it has reduced native tree survival.
After hurricane damage in a Florida forest, invasive lianas rapidly colonized the damaged trees and persisted for many years afterward, reducing numbers of native trees, shrubs and herbs.
In 50-year-old forests in the Piedmont region of New Jersey, lianas are now abundant.
"A major factor limiting liana abundance in temperate forests is freezing temperatures," says Schnitzer. "Both native and invasive lianas are likely to increase most rapidly in forests that don't have long, cold winters."
So, after a long litany of the spread of lianas in the tropics, where it never freezes, the spread in temperate forests is blamed exclusively on warming temperatures.  Could it be that because trees live longer than vines they have been exposed to collectively more seasons of ozone, and are dying out faster, so aggressive fast-growing vines are (temporarily) replacing them?  I don't worry about invasive species anymore, although I spent years trying to clear the woods of multiflora around Wit's End, because they have to photosynthesize and will inevitably succumb to ozone.  I shouldn't have bothered.  Think of all the fun things I could have done instead of being scratched to ribbons by their thorns!

Here's yet another inadvertent example of forest dieback.  A new study concludes that the boreal forest is "migrating north."  Well, what's actually happening is that a large portion of the boreal forest is disappearing.  Just look at the picture chosen to illustrate the situation!
Somehow, that hardly looks like a "shift" to me!  It looks like death.  It makes me wonder if "shift" is just another professional forestery euphemism, like "decline."  Let's see what is reported:

Change underway in northern forests as a result of climate change creates feedback loop that prompts more warming, scientists say.

Boreal forests across the Northern hemisphere are undergoing rapid, transformative shifts as a result of a warming climate that, in some cases, is triggering feedback loops producing even more regional warming, according to several new studies.


Russia's boreal forest - the largest continuous expanse of forest in the world - has seen a transformation in recent years from larch to conifer trees, according to new research by University of Virginia researchers. 
In Alaska, where the larch were largely devastated by a disease outbreak in the late '90s, vast swathes of forest are becoming inhospitable to the dominant white and black spruce.
"The climate has shifted. It's done, it's clear, and the climate has become unsuitable for the growth of the boreal forest across most of the area that it currently occupies," said Glenn Juday, a forestry professor at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.
Biome change isn't the only climate-change-related concern, either.
As warmer temperatures make the northern latitudes more accessible to development, the region's vast and pristine wetlands and peat lands are increasingly vulnerable. 
Last week the Pew Environment Group released a report calling for greater controls on development - oil and gas extraction, logging, mining, hydroelectric dams - in Canada's boreal wilderness, which contains 25 percent of the world's wetlands.
The Pew report cited a 2009 study that found Canada's boreal, if left untouched, provides $700 billion in "services" to the world annually, chiefly in carbon storage and subsistence value to First Nation peoples.
Canada is in the midst of an unprecedented drive to set aside large tracks of its boreal, but Pew's analysts said it wasn't enough. "Only a fraction has been protected to date - far less than the amount scientifically recognized as necessary to sustain the ecosystem over time," the group said in a statement.

Feedback loop

In Russia, the progression from larch to conifer is particularly troublesome, researchers say, because it will promote additional warming and vegetation change in the region.
Larch trees drop their needles in the fall, allowing the vast, snow-covered ground in winter to reflect sunlight and heat back into space and helping to keep temperatures in the region very cold. But conifers such as spruce and fir retain their needles, which absorb sunlight and increase the forest's ground-level heat retention.
This, researchers say, creates ideal conditions for the proliferation of evergreens to the detriment of larch. "What we're seeing is the system kicking into overdrive," said University of Virginia environmental sciences professor Hank Shugart in a statement. "Warming creates more warming."
Shugart is co-author of a study assessing this feedback, to be published in the journal Global Change Biology.
The researchers used a climate model to assess the impact if evergreens continued their march northward at the expense of leaf-dropping larch. The Russian boreal forest sits over a tremendous repository of carbon-rich but frozen soil. As the forest cover changes, the permafrost begins to thaw, potentially releasing huge quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the scientist said.
"Such changes in that vast region have the potential to affect areas outside that region," said Jacquelyn Shuman, a post-doctoral researcher at the university and the study's lead author.

Devastating ice storm

In Alaska, similarly transformative changes are already underway. Shorter, drier winters and severe weather are taking a toll on the forest, Juday said. In late November, in what should be the depth of winter, Fairbanks had three days of rain that later froze, snapping limbs and downing trees. 
"You talk to people down in Canada, where the temperate forest meets the southern limit of the boreal forest, and they say that's nothing new," Juday said. "But the boreal forest is not adapted to that. (Trees) just get devastated when that happens."
[This strikes me as a highly dubious claim.  It's more likely the trees are weakened by ozone and that is why they lost branches and fell over in a freezing rain.]
Juday and co-authors at Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts and the University of Paris compared growth rings from trees across boreal Alaska with satellite-based estimates of forest productivity. Their study was published in the April edition of the journal Ecology Letters.
They concluded a biome shift is already underway in Alaska as higher temperatures limit forest productivity in Interior Alaska. Meanwhile in Western Alaska, where temperatures previously had been marginal for tree survival, tree growth is up, they found.
The pattern, Juday said, is "one of the first conclusively demonstrated examples of a biome shift" in response to climate change.
"It's just collapsing where it exists now and a new place exists where it can thrive," he added. 
The problem, he cautioned, is that the new region is much smaller than the old.
Here is a link to the report from the Pew Memorial Trust referred to above, which discusses in detail the importance of Canada's boreal forest, and the vast wetlands and numerous lakes and rivers, exploring ways to protect this enormous resource of fresh water and the vegetation and animal life it supports.
It discusses impacts of climate change expected to affect the forest, and other anthropogenic activities such as mining, timber collection, and dams.  But it never once mentions acid rain, or air pollution!
I guess they just don't think they have that problem there.  But the conifers and deciduous trees in these two photographs from the report don't look a whole lot better than trees in New Jersey.

It has long been a subject of speculation here at Wit's End as to whether the mandated addition of ethanol to gasoline is playing some pivotal role in the recent rapid decimation of forests and other vegetation.  It is very difficult to find any research on the emissions of biofuels.  However, new research from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and others has at last taken a closer look at the emissions of biofuels.  The headline of their press release reads:

Biofuel combustion chemistry more complex than petroleum-based fuels
But first a quick view of the lovely hellebores at the nursery.
I fell in love with hellebores when I once saw them blooming in masses, in England, and planted quite a few as soon as I returned home.  They are perennials and should have robust mounds of leaves under the flowers, but in these pots the older foliage has been removed.
I kneeled under the bench to get a shot of the underside of a leaf, where the stomates are located.
It's pretty obvious why the nursery had to take away almost all of the leaves, leaving just the youngest.
LIVERMORE, Calif. — Understanding the key elements of biofuel combustion is an important step toward insightful selection of next-generation alternative fuels.

And that’s exactly what Lawrence Livermore and Sandia national laboratories researchers intend to do.
In a new paper on the cover of the May 10 edition of the journalAngewandte Chemie, Sandia researcher Nils Hansen and Lawrence Livermore scientist Charles Westbrook take a look at the vastly diverse and complex chemical reaction networks of biofuel combustion. 

The paper, “Biofuel Combustion Chemistry: From Ethanol to Biodiesel,” examines the combustion chemistry of those compounds that constitute typical biofuels, including alcohols, ethers and esters.

Biofuels such as bioethanol, biobutanol and biodiesel are of increasing interest as alternatives to petroleum-based transportation fuels. According to Hansen and Westbrook, however, little research has been done on the vastly diverse and complex chemical reaction networks of biofuel combustion.
In general, the term biofuel is associated with only a few select chemical compounds, especially ethanol (used exclusively as a gasoline replacement in spark-ignition engines) and very large methyl esters in biodiesel (used as a diesel fuel replacement in diesel engines). The biofuels are oxygenated fuels, which distinguishes them from hydrocarbons in conventional petroleum-based fuels.

While much discussion surrounding biofuels has emphasized the process to make these alternative fuels and fuel additives, Hansen and Westbrook for the first time examined the characteristic aspects of the chemical pathways in the combustion of potential biofuels.

In collaboration with an international research team representing Germany, China and the United States, Westbrook, Hansen and former Sandia post-doctoral student Tina Kasper used a unique combination of laser spectroscopy, mass spectrometry and flame chemistry modeling to explore the decomposition and oxidation mechanisms of certain biofuels and the formation of harmful or toxic emissions.

“To understand the associated combustion reactions and to identify recurring reaction patterns, it is important to study prototypical variants of potential biofuels,” Westbrook said.

I haven't been able to access the original paper yet, so here for another perspective is analysis of the study, from Climate Central, titled, Study Raises New Questions About Biofuels, with the following passages:


The use of biofuels to supplement gasoline is on the rise in the US, thanks in part to US EPA guidelines that promote the biofuel content of transport fuels — especially from corn and cellulosic ethanol. The increasing use of biofuels has come under close scrutiny in recent years from researchers who say these alternatives don’t provide the environmental benefits of displacing fossil fuel use, thereby reducing emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2).
Now scientists are raising another concern about the surge in biofuel consumption, this time centering on how each type of biofuel — from liquid ethanol to solid biomass — breaks down while burning.

Biofuel combustion processes are not well understood, and researchers are trying to determine how toxins released during combustion compare to those coming from fossil fuel burning. In the May 10 issue of the German journal Angewandte Chemie, chemists from Sandia and Lawrence Livermore National Labs in Livermore, CA, along with German and Chinese collaborators, summarize a series of recent studies examining what exactly is coming out a biofuel tailpipe. They found that while biofuel combustion produces many of the same chemicals released during fossil fuel burning, it also generates a complicated mixture of additional chemicals that are potentially harmful to humans and the environment.
Since every biofuel has a unique chemical makeup, each one will give off a different combination of combustion products. In order to better understand which crops will make the best and safest choice for large-scale deployment, researchers have been trying to track the combustion pathways of them all. “Intimate knowledge of the chemical reaction network involved is a prerequisite to determin[ing] the value of a biofuel with respect to emissions,” the study states.
Identifying the products of biofuel combustion helps analysts assemble another piece of the complicated puzzle of how alternative fuels should best be incorporated into our energy supply. Yes, it appears that a car run on a blend of biofuels is going to emit less soot and fewer harmful particulates than a vehicle burning pure gasoline or diesel. But the alternative fuels have their own emissions signatures, each with their own implications for human health and climate change.
Biofuels, such as ethanol, contain oxygen in addition to the hydrocarbon core found in traditional fossil fuels. So, while gasoline and ethanol combustion both give off energy by tearing apart carbon-hydrogen bonds, biofuels also generate a number of other combustion products that gasoline and diesel don’t. Furthermore, nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizers, which are used to grow biofuel crops, can remain in biofuels. The study found that the presence of these chemicals introduce an even broader spectrum of possible chemicals into the burning process.
For example, burning corn ethanol — currently the most widely used biofuel in North America — produces CO2 and small quantities of carbon monoxide, soot and other so-called “particulates,” which are also given off by fossil fuel combustion. According to recent research the amount of these chemicals coming from burning ethanol is less than from fossil fuels.
On the other hand, the presence of oxygen in ethanol opens a pathway for a myriad other combustion products, including formaldehyde and acetaldehyde. If inhaled in small quantities, these chemicals can irritate the eyes and lungs, whereas more significant exposure to these and other particulates is associated with asthma, allergies and even some cancers.
In the case of heavier biodiesel made from vegetable and soybean oils, the higher oxygen content and residual nitrogen from fertilizers further increases the complexity of combustion products. The study notes that burning biodiesel produces less of the noxious particulates associated with fossil fuels, but any advantage is lost because it also generates a mix of other toxins that don’t form from burning pure petroleum.
It remains to be seen how these new factors will be considered alongside other biofuels policy considerations — such as how affordable they are, which types offer a true carbon advantage, and how much agricultural land will be sacrificed to keep our cars running — but they should help inform which of the many alternative fuel options is going to be the safest.
In light of this, Obama's new policy to vastly increase the production and use of ethanol as a means to reduce America's reliance on foreign oil and perpetuate the American proclivity to burn baby burn looks, um, short-sighted and expedient at best, and murderous at worst.  "...it also generates a complicated mixture of additional chemicals that are potentially harmful to humans and the environment."

And then there are various desperate projects going on around the world to create new biofuels from algae with equal disregard for effects from emissions.





Getting back to impossibility of the boreal forest "shifting," I often think about the subtle complexity of nature, and was reminded of it when commenter Morocco Bama referenced the lines in the poem Testimony: "...I still believe we are capable of attention, that anyone who notices the world must want to save it."

I gave up on the climate change ghetto of Dot Earth at the NYT long ago, when Andy Revkin predicted that human civilization will continue to exist, only reconciled to a hermitic existence - by which he meant, an insulated population utterly divorced from and devoid of any connection with nature, which will have by and large ceased to exist from our pollution...because I will NOT be reconciled to a life without a devout and profound connection to the rest of nature.  I would rather go down kicking and screaming in protest along with the other species we are so quickly destroying.


We are hubristically stupid to think we can exist without it - or as some idiotically suggest, replicate it.


Along those lines, here's a fun exploration into the world of plant communication, a much under-appreciated topic, with a gallery of vivid photographs illustrating the poorly understood dynamics of plant interrelationships, between each other, insects, other animals, soil microbes, fungi, and more.  It's called "Plants that Act Like People," a typically anthropomorphic insult to plants, which appear to act far better and in mutually beneficial ways, but here is part of the article:

Heard it on the grapevine:  The secret society of plants
The botanical underground is a social network of powerful alliances and nepotism. Decoding its messages could lead to radical change in farms and forests
Every autumn swarms of dusty grey moths engulf the mountainside birch forests of northern Scandinavia, laying their eggs on twigs so that, come springtime, the newly hatched larvae can feast upon budding leaves. It looks like a battle that the trees, with no natural defences, are doomed to lose, but some have a secret weapon. They form an alliance with a neighbouring plant, a kind of rhododendron, borrowing wafts of its volatile insecticides as a sort of olfactory camouflage. "This kind of interaction has never been observed in the field before," says Jarmo Holopainen at the University of Eastern Finland in Kuopio, who made the discovery ( New Phytologist, vol 186, p 722). His study is one of the latest to demonstrate the unexpectedly complex relationships between plants.




Choosing a mate:  Many plants avoid pollen from other species by forming special relationships with particular pollinators, such as birds, ants and insects. But tobacco plants (from the Solanaceaefamily) are even more choosy.  Their self-incompatibility system allows them to reject the pollen of close relatives, which would produce weaker inbred plants. Exactly how this works is still unknown. 
We've known for some time that plants respond to one another, but only now are we realising how subtle and sophisticated their interactions can be. Plants continually eavesdrop on each other's chemical chatter - sometimes sympathetically, sometimes selfishly. Some plants, like the Scandinavian rhododendron, assist their neighbours by sharing resources. Others recognise close relatives and favour them over strangers. And at least one parasitic plant homes in on its host's telltale chemical scent (see "Scent of a victim").
False lure:  To improve its chances of pollination, the fly orchid (Ophrys insectifera) tricks male flies into mating with it. As well as looking like an insect, the orchid releases a scent that mimics the sexual pheromones of female flies. Then, when the hapless male attempts to mate with the flower, it pollinates the orchid. 


"Plants don't go out to parties or to watch the movies, but they do have a social network," says Suzanne Simard, a forest ecologist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. "They support each other and they fight with each other. The more we look at plant signalling and communication, the more we learn. It's really incredible."
Phoney war:  The passion fruit plant (Passiflora) uses deception to deter Heliconiusbutterflies from laying their eggs on its leaves. This isn't done simply out of spite: the eggs hatch into caterpillars that can severely damage or even kill the plant.  Its sophisticated defence mechanism involves producing growths called stipules that mimic mature butterfly eggs. The deception works because, to give their offspring the best possible chance of survival, butterflies tend to avoid laying their eggs on a leaf that already has eggs on it. 

Since the development of time-lapse photography, it has been possible to document the dances and scuffles in densely populated plant communities: saplings on the forest floor compete for space to stretch their roots and shoots; fallen trees provide young ones with nourishment; vines lash around desperately searching for a trunk they can climb to reach the light; and wildflowers race each other to open their blooms in springtime and compete for the attention of pollinators. To truly understand the secret social life of plants, however, you must look and listen more closely.
Faking illness:  The elephant's ear Caladium steudneriifolium is prone to infestations of mining moth larvae: once hatched, the caterpillars eat their way through its leaves. To prevent this, plants can feign illness, displaying a white variegation pattern on their leaves which resembles recent larval damage. Preferring to exploit a healthy plant, the moths lay their eggs elsewhere.  The leaf on the left shows real predation, whereas the one on the right has been variegated by the plant to mimic it. 

A good place to start is underground in the rhizosphere - the ecosystem in and around plant roots. Beneath the forest floor, each spoonful of dirt contains millions of tiny organisms. These bacteria and fungi form a symbiotic relationship with plant roots, helping their hosts absorb water and vital elements like nitrogen in return for a steady supply of nutrients.

Timidity:  The appropriately named touch-me-not plant (Mimosa pudicashies away from any physical interaction. A gentle touch is all it takes for the narrow fern-like leaves of the plant to instantly fold together, making the whole leaf stalk droop.  The touch-induced movement is thought to be a defence mechanism: the plant gradually returns to normal after about half an hour, when the coast should be clear. 

Now closer inspection has revealed that fungal threads physically unite the roots of dozens of trees, often of different species, into a single mycorrhizal network. These webs sprawled beneath our feet are genuine social networks. By tracing the movement of radioactive carbon isotopes through them, Simard has found that water and nutrients tend to flow from trees that make excess food to ones that don't have enough. One study published in 2009, for example, showed that older Douglas firs transferred molecules containing carbon and nitrogen to saplings of the same species via their mycorrhizal networks. The saplings with the greatest access to these networks were the healthiest (Ecology, vol 90, p 2808).
Cry for help:  Lima bean plants (Phaseolus lunatus) respond to attacks by calling in their bodyguards.  When attacked by spider mites of the family Tetranychidae, the bean plant responds by producing a blend of chemicals that attract predatory mites to feed on the unwelcome spider mite population.

As well as sharing food, mycorrhizal associations may also allow plants to share information. Biologists have known for a while that plants can respond to airborne defence signals from others that are under attack. When a caterpillar starts to munch on a tomato plant, for example, the leaves produce noxious compounds that both repel the attacker and stimulate neighbouring plants to ready their own defenses.
Neighbourhood watch:  When leaves of the sagebrushArtemisia tridentata are clipped and damaged by insects, they release a chemical SOS alerting their neighbours to danger. Nearby tobacco plants then pick up the warning and in response they release their own chemicals to prevent insect attacks.


There are many more amazing examples in that article, but too many to post them all, so I'll end this section with the conclusion:
The idea that plants have complex relationships may require a shift in mindset. "For the longest time people thought that plants were just there," says Biedrzycki. "But they can defend themselves more than we thought and they can create the environment around them. It turns out they have some control over what is going on through this chemical communication." Passive and silent though plants may seem, their abilities to interact and communicate should not come as such a shock. "Some incredibly simple organisms - even one-celled organisms - can recognise and respond to each other," says Broz. "Why is it so bizarre to think that plants could have this same kind of ability?"

Let's investigate an intentionally secret society.  I'm not sure how but I wound up reading about the Bohemian Retreat.  I had heard of it before but ignored it as some tin-foil-hat raving conspiracy theory.  But you know what??  There actually is evidence to conclude that the world is being run by a bunch of profoundly dumb frat boys who have pissing contests in the woods.  Seriously!

It all sounds ludicrously improbable - a two week bash every July, continuing uninterrupted for over a century, held on a 2,712 acre retreat in the California redwood forest, restricted to old white men who are the most powerful leaders from around the world, where they put on costumes and have mock ritualistic child sacrifice ceremonies in front of a fake stone statue, with flames and chants...?  Inconceivable I know but...apparently it's true!  Here's a description of participants according to wikipedia:

The membership list has included every Republican U.S. president since 1923 (as well as some Democrats), many cabinet officials, directors and CEOs of large corporations including major financial institutions. Major military contractors, oil companies, banks (including the Federal Reserve), utilities (including nuclear power) and national media (broadcast and print) have high-ranking officials as club members or guests.

Important political and business deals have been developed at the Grove.[6] The Grove is particularly famous for a Manhattan Project planning meeting that took place there in September 1942, which subsequently led to the atomic bomb. Those attending this meeting, apart from Ernest Lawrence and military officials, have included the president of Harvard and representatives of Standard Oil and General Electric. Grove members take particular pride in this event and often relate the story to new attendees.

You really have to read the entire description at wiki to get a sense of the infantile behavior that prevails.  There are a number of books and films readily found at wiki and on youtube about outrageous behavior and sinister connections but for now, let this quote from Richard Nixon suffice:

"The Bohemian Grove, that I attend from time to time—the Easterners and the others come there—but it is the most faggy goddamn thing you could ever imagine, that San Francisco crowd that goes in there; it's just terrible! I mean I won't shake hands with anybody from San Francisco."—President Richard M. Nixon on the Watergate tapes, Bohemian Club member starting in 1953.
It's okay!  It's a joke!

See, this is why I am grumpy.  The world didn't have to come to an ignominious end.  We have been lied to and duped by greedy, selfish, and pathetically short-sighted pathological demagogues who have enriched themselves while stopping at nothing to compound their profits - including every form of subterfuge, criminal and immoral and surreptitious warmongering and plundering.  Sure, everyone shares some blame for participating in an unsustainable system, including me.  But it's no accident that the income divide has become obscene.  There are fiendish people deliberately making this happen, for their own benefit - like the execrable Koch brothers. - in full knowledge and disregard for the public good, along with all other forms of life on the planet.


Speaking of grown-ups acting like overgrown demons out of "Lord in the Flies," I believe every American should be aware of this article in Rolling Stone exposing our "Kill Team" in Afghanistan.  Yes, it's repugnant.  But those are OUR guys out there, and OUR scurrilous military hierarchy routinely covering up despicable assassinations and mutilations.

Lastly, for a spectacular moving graph of how radiation spreads (I think this one is legitimate!) click on this link, and anyone who thinks the air over the Western US and Canada is clean might want to ponder the jet stream, emissions from China, and the fact that ozone is, generally speaking, invisible.

1 comment:

  1. Money = Power, Not Intelligence.

    I've wondering about the nature of the phrase 'tin foil hats'.

    I think they may be some protection against THIS sort of thing:
    Using magnets to control our mind and how we make moral decisions. NOVA segment
    Magnet Mind Control.
    http://video.pbs.org/video/1757258624/

    ReplyDelete

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