Unforced Variations: Dec 2017

Last open-thread of the year. Tips for new books for people to read over the holidays? Highlights of Fall AGU (Dec 11-15, New Orleans)? Requests for what should be in the end of year updates? Try to be nice.

Forest Digest: December 3, 2017

December 3rd, 2017|Tags: , , , , , , |0 Comments

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Credit: Adam Roades

Find out what’s happened this past week in the world of forestry!

On Florida Coasts, Ghost Forests Serve As Stark Sign of Sea Level Rise – WLRN Public Radio

In Florida, rising sea levels disrupt the delicate salinity balance found among many coastal forests. Among coastal wetlands, there is often a careful balance of fresh and saltwater, resulting in an ideal mixture that many tree groves become acclimated to. As sea levels rise, the ratio of seawater to freshwater tips, resulting in higher levels of salinity that kill coastal trees, resulting in “ghost forests.”

Old Growth Forests Show Us the Intricate Natural Relationship Between Fire and WaterHuffington Post

An exploration of how deforestation due to wildfire can result in flash-flooding and erosion of the land. As root systems decay, soil rapidly erodes under water pressure, resulting in “braided streams.”

Trees are covering more of the land in rich countriesThe Economist

A new study by The Economist identifies the trend of forests naturally increasing in size among affluent nations. It’s theorized that this growth is due to a rise in food importation, leading to land previously used for agriculture being converted to natural woodland. Paired with regulations and taxation policy that encourages landowners to grow trees, this had led to a growth in forest cover among the world’s wealthier countries.

Fungus serves as federal sidekick in fight to save forestsNational Observer

A Canadian research agency is looking towards an unorthodox ally in the fight against the invasive emerald ash borer: fungi. A specific Canadian fungus has been submitted for approval at the Canadian Pest Management Regulatory Agency. The fungus would be set in traps, infecting the ash borer when it came in contact. Eighty percent of ash borers infected with the fungus die, but there is a five-day incubation period where the insect is able to spread and infect its peers. The researchers hope the fungus will become a vital tool in the fight to save ash trees against the invasive insect.

A new species of blue tarantula treats trees like high-rise apartments – Quartz

Wandering through the forests of Guyana, herpetologist Andrew Snyder was able to catch a glimpse of a previously-unseen type of tarantula. It’s unclear the specific species or subspecies of spider the arachnid belongs to, but what makes the spider unique is its brilliant blue color and tendency to occupy a habitat inside a tree stump, as opposed to making a home underground or on the outside of trees.

Radar satellites able to measure water stress in treesPhys.org

New research is able to use satellite data to measure the “thirstiness” of crops and plants, allowing researchers to study the relationship between precipitation and water usage. By measuring the movement of trees using accelerometers, combined with data on precipitation, an estimation is able to be made of the water usage of the tree. It’s hoped that this method will allow researchers to observe water stress more efficiently in hard-to-reach areas.

Hard-to-find redwood grove no longer so elusive, and trees are sufferingSan Francisco Chronicle

With geotagging and smartphone usage, the Grove of Titans in California’s Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park is being overwhelmed with visitors. Previously, the location of the grove of eight redwoods was a well-kept secret, with hikers having to follow a series of clues left by tree hunters. However, in 2011 someone uploaded the location of the grove online, and the number of visitors skyrocketed to approximately 50 a day. By bushwhacking through forest and trampling bases of trees, irreparable damage is being done to the ecosystem. A nonprofit paired with the state park is trying to crowdfund money for an elevated walkway, but they have only raised $14,000 out of their $1.4 million goal.

Abalone Collapse with Kelp ForestsEast Bay Express

A disruption in the delicate balance of the underwater ecosystem off the coast of California has resulted in the collapse of the abalone population. The giant sea snails are slowly being starved out as kelp forests around the area dwindle. Several years ago, sea stars were struck by a disease, wiping out most of the population. The sea stars’ main diet subsists of purple sea urchins, and without predators to keep them in check the urchin population exploded. Urchins mainly feed on seaweed and kelp, wiping out most of the kelp forests. This ecological collapse has had the largest effect on the abalone population, with researchers describing it as a population in “freefall” with no end in sight.

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Busy Bees

November 29th, 2017|Tags: , |0 Comments

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By Dylan Stuntz, American Forests

Bees are often appreciated from afar for their pollination and honey, but if they get up close, those compliments often dissolve into shrieks of terror. Yes, bees sting, but they also are capable of so much more than that.


While in the hive, bees will cluster together, constantly caring for larvae, cultivating honey and communicating potential food sources to their comrades.

These little striped insects have incredibly intricate social structures and forms of communication, and the behavior of bees holds some mysteries that researchers are still trying to solve.

Individual bees may be small, but they contribute an outsize role to the ecosystems they inhabit. Honeybees pollinate 85 percent of all flowering plants and 35 percent of all edible crops, while contributing more than $15 billion to the U.S. economy. For many fruits, vegetables and nuts, bees serve an integral function in their reproductive cycle. How do these insects manage to stay so busy? It’s largely thanks to highly organized social structure of the hive and the communication between the bees inside.

Bees live in complex societies, with strict hierarchies between drones, workers and queens. Fun fact: Queens and workers are genetically identical. What makes the queen so imperial is that while she’s in her larval stage, she feeds solely on a substance called royal jelly, instead of the usual diet of pollen and honey. Worker bees will feed all larvae royal jelly for the first three days, then switch to a diet of pollen and honey for larvae destined to be workers, while larvae designated as queens will continue to exclusively eat royal jelly. Previously, researchers had hypothesized that the royal jelly activated certain genes, resulting in the larvae becoming a queen, but new research has found that it may be the lack of pollen and honey in the diet of the queen-to-be that activates the necessary genes.

Inside the hive, bees are able to communicate the location of patches of flowers to others through what researchers have dubbed a “waggle dance.” The bee moves in a unique figure-eight pattern, with a “waggle” in the center. The vertical angle that the bee starts the dance denotes the angle of the flower in relation to the sun, the distance of the waggle is related to the distance of the flower from the hive, and the speed of the waggling demonstrates the excitement of the bee. Bees actually measure distance through amount of energy expended, so flying against a strong headwind could cause a bee to lengthen the amount of time spent in the waggle. This is the most complex form of communication ever discovered in invertebrates.

The figure-eight pattern the bee engages in allows vital information about potential pollen sources to be communicated to the hive. Credit: (Figure design: J. Tautz and M. Kleinhenz, Beegroup Würzburg.) – Chittka L: Dances as Windows into Insect Perception.

Not only are bees capable of orienting themselves directionally based on the location of the sun, on days where the sun is obscured, they can also use the polarization pattern of a blue sky, or Earth’s magnetic field. Bees also have an internal clock capable of tracking the changes of the sun, so if a bee visits a location in the morning, it is able to revisit it in the afternoon even after the sun has changed positions. All of this will affect the waggle dance of a bee — researchers have identified that even after spending hours inside a dark hive, a bee will still be able to properly convey the location of the sun through its waggle dance.

Social structures within hives and the forms of communication between bees allow them to occupy a vital niche in in the life cycles of many flora, giving plants the opportunity to cross-pollinate genetic material that otherwise would not be spread.

So the next time you see a honeybee bumbling along, don’t shriek. Stop and appreciate everything that little insect does.

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Support American Forests This #GivingTuesday

November 28th, 2017|0 Comments

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By Ellie Parrish, American Forests

#GivingTuesday is a movement that’s sweeping the nation.

Observed the Tuesday following Thanksgiving and based on bringing people together to give back to their communities, it was originally organized by the Belfer Center for Innovation & Social Impact as a way to include the charitable sector in the season of giving. #GivingTuesday kicks off the end-of-year fundraising initiatives that are crucial to fund charitable organizations, including American Forests, all year long.

In honor of #GivingTuesday and the season of giving, all gifts to American Forests through Dec. 31, including this #GivingTuesday, will be matched dollar-for-dollar — up to $35,000! — by American Forests Board Chair Bruce Lisman. By supporting American Forests this season, your gift will have double the impact on all the things we love about forests.

Your gift of $35 will have the impact of $70, which could provide a seedling to a community tree nursery we sponsor in Detroit, providing economic opportunity and local tree stock to re-green the city.

Your gift of $50 will have the impact of $100, which could help prevent 100,000 gallons of runoff from fire devastated landscapes in California from polluting vital sources of potable water. Forests are essential for providing clean and reliable drinking water to cities by filtering it as it flows to rivers. Restoring forests that are unable to regenerate on their own after wildfire helps preserve our critical water resources.

Your gift of $100 will have the impact of $200, which could provide an urban tree to a neighborhood in need, providing shade and beauty for decades to come. Trees planted on the west and south side of buildings can reduce summertime electric bills by as much as 30 percent!

And if we reach our goal of raising $35,000, matched to $70,000, we could help rehabilitate degraded mine land in West Virginia for an entire year.

This #GivingTuesday, we invite you to join the movement. Donate to American Forests and support preservation of all the things we love about forests — and your impact will be doubled!

The post Support American Forests This #GivingTuesday appeared first on American Forests.

Book Review: “And Again” by John Hirsch

November 27th, 2017|Tags: , |0 Comments

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By Dylan Stuntz, American Forests

The grey cover of “And Again: Photographs from the Harvard Forest” is adorned with a simple ink drawing of a small pine branch with cones, but much like the subject of the book, there is a hidden treasure found inside. There is both beauty and science found within the woods of the Harvard Forest, and John Hirsch works to uncover both, while demonstrating how each feeds into the other.

Map of sawmill site for 1938 hurricane salvage. Credit: John Hirsh

“And Again” is a deceptively complex volume, both in terms of the photos and essays inside, as well as the composition and design choices. The essays, written by David Foster, Clarisse Hart and Margot Anne Kelley, offer contextual background on the forest’s history and work.

Hemlock tree adjacent to Hemlock Eddy Flux Tower with sampling tubes. Credit: John Hirsch

The subject of the book is the Harvard Forest, a 3,750-acre plot of woodland used for scientific experimentation, research and study found in Petersham, Mass.

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“It is a place where technology and nature are so viscerally and overtly entwined that cables and wires emerge from the ground and descend from the sky. Trees are wrapped in plastic and metal, and the growth and movement of all things are tracked with unending precision.”

As other essays explain, the Harvard Forest is made up of so much more than simply the trees inside it. It is a place that has been cared for and observed for decades, making it a metaphor for most modern forests, as humanity traipses through and leaves impacts both intended and unintended.

Growth rings. Credit: John Hirsch

The boldest design choice throughout the story is the deliberate decision to leave almost a third of the pages blank. Opening the book to a random spread will most likely result in a photograph on the right-hand page, with the leftmost page remaining empty. However, this vacancy serves to emphasize pages that do feature a double spread, whether they be essays paired with photos or two photos placed together.

Oak transplant study. Credit: John Hirsch

The pairings initially seem random, however, after a moment, a larger design starts to emerge. Two photos placed side-by-side on pages 88 and 89 are titled “Relief Map of Petersham and the Harvard Forest” and “Air Sampling Tubes and Electrical Wires.” Both feature strong man-made lines in different contexts, with a relief map featuring the changes in elevation in one picture, while wires hang from trees and run through the air in the other. It creates a sense of artistic continuity between the pages, connecting two photos that seem to simply share a photographer and a location, expanding into so much more. The word “story” legitimately applies to this book of photos, because a sense of connection grows stronger the deeper one gets into the volume.

Transplanted pitcher plants. Credit: John Hirsch

Almost every photo featured shows humanity’s relationship with this piece of woodland, whether it be the shadow of a fire tower or punch cards from the archives. Some tell a more subtle story of the people, juxtaposing a tree stand titled “Clear-Cut” with a second stand, simply titled “Shelterwood.” People are featured in some photos, but they are never focused on the camera, either lost in a specific task or deep in thought, caught in a perfectly candid moment, as much a part of the environment as the trees they study. One photo, titled “Julian in the Hemlock Tower Shed,” features a figure (presumably Julian) standing in a moment of clarity, eyes closed and hand placed over his chest. It is a uniquely intimate moment that demonstrates the exceptional relationship between the forest and its stewards.

Audrey surveying understory of herbaceous plant with Harvard Forest Summer Ecology Program students. Credit: John Hirsch

The volume opens with a quote by Hugh M. Raup, who studied the previous owners of the land, farmers who cared for it from 1763 to 1845: “And again the land did not change, except in terms of the human values at the time.” Hirsch’s story shows that certain people are trying to maintain a reverence for this forest that remains as unchanging as the land.

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