tagged w/ symbiosis
Margaret Hiza Redsteer has long known the Navajo Nation. Of Crow descent, she grew up near the Montana-Wyoming border, and in the 1970s moved to an area of Arizona then shared by the Navajo and Hopi tribes. She married a Navajo man and they had three children. While living on the reservation, she often heard people talk about how much the land's vegetation had changed. "But at that point," she says, "it hadn’t really clicked what that meant – that it indicated climate change."
In 1986 the 29-year-old Hiza Redsteer and her family resettled in Flagstaff, where she began to study geology at the university. After 14 years of schooling, she returned to the Navajo Nation with a Ph.D., as an employee of the U.S. Geological Survey in the early 2000s. Her research specialty was studying volcanic deposits near Yellowstone. But, as she grew convinced of the harmful effects of climate change on reservation livelihoods, she decided to switch focus. Her pioneering work using aerial photographs, GPS maps and remote laser sensing data to track landscape level changes on the Navajo Nation was written about in "Shifting sands in Navajoland," (HCN story; 6/23/08).
Now, Hiza Redsteer is pushing to find out even more about ecological changes her original data could not track by incorporating a rarely-used form of climate data into her research -- the accounts of Indian elders. She has extensively interviewed many elders, and now their perspective is illuminating new aspects of the region's environmental history.
High Country News If I was a Navajo child, what would I hear about the weather and climate growing up?
Margaret Hiza Redsteer The elders often talk about the difference in grass, how tall, how thick, how much of it there used to be. Some people say when they were young and herding sheep they had to stay right with the herd. If they didn’t the sheep would get lost in the grass. It's not like that now.
HCN What have you learned from these oral histories?
Hiza Redsteer The elders' memories can give us information that the physical records can’t. They give a much better picture of what the ecological changes have been. For example, people talk about how, in the winter, the snow was chest high on the horses. They talk about using particular streams for irrigation of crops, but many of those aren’t even flowing now,
It helps us fill in gaps too. There are huge time gaps in some of the earlier photography. We have a photo set from 1936, for instance, but then the next photo set we have from the area is from 1954. That’s a huge gap in time when you’re trying to unravel how the landscape changed and what caused it.
HCN Is there a difference between the kind of information you can get through oral and analytical methods?
MHR We can model evapotranspiration rates based on temperature; we can make observations of soil moisture. But one thing that we can't do very easily is project back to what those conditions were like when there was more snow. One of the things we’ve learned (from oral accounts) is that soil moisture conditions were much different. In the Southwest we expect precipitation during two distinct periods: winter rains, followed by a dry windy spring, then the summer monsoons. Springs have become much warmer; we can see that in the meteorological record.
We've learned from the elders that the soil stayed moist all through the spring until the summer monsoon arrived. Now, if you were to go out in the springtime during the dry windy season, you could dig a very big trench and not run into any wet sand or soil. The ecological effects are huge because shallow rooted plants aren't going to do as well.
It's also hard to reconstruct where plants and animals were in the past. The elders have told us that when there were cottonwoods in the Little Colorado river there were lots of beavers. They used to see cranes migrate through the area in the spring, stopping in the marshes around lakes that aren't there now.
by Danielle Venton
More at the linkMargaret Hiza Redsteer has long known the Navajo Nation. Of Crow descent, she grew up... more
John Broder had this remarkable sentence in his Sunday New York Times dispatch from Durban:
Effectively addressing climate change will require over the coming decades a fundamental remaking of energy production, transportation and agriculture around the world — the sinews of modern life.
This is uncharacteristically blunt for the Times. It reflects a worldview that is generally not reflected in their overall coverage, as I discussed in “The New York Times Abandons the Story of the Century and Joins the Energy and Climate Ignorati.”
Broder’s point is that the UN process is simply not up to the task of addressing the climate problem:
It is simply too big a job for those who have gathered for these talks under the 1992 United Nations treaty that began this grinding process.
“There is a fundamental disconnect in having environment ministers negotiating geopolitics and macroeconomics,” said Nick Robins, an energy and climate change analyst at HSBC, the London-based global bank.
Unfortunately, most economics ministers are pretty clueless about the subject. That said, I’ve never been a big fan of the current process, which requires near-unanimous consent by nearly 200 countries.
What’s most blocking action, from my perspective, isn’t the process so much as the failure of the media and policymakers here and around the globe to realize that failing to address climate change will lead to an even bigger remaking of what’s left of modern life in a world of 10°F warming (see An Illustrated Guide to the Science of Global Warming Impacts: How We Know Inaction Is the Gravest Threat Humanity Faces“).
Inaction will create the almost impossible task of feeding 9+ billion in “the face of a rapidly worsening climate.” And avoiding mass starvation and general chaos will certainly require a fundamental remaking of the world. The NYT‘s science reporter Justin Gillis gets this, as you see in articles like “Food Supply Under Strain on a Warming Planet” and “Global Warming Hinders Crop Yields, Study Finds.”
We cannot escape fundamentally remaking the sinews of modern life over the coming decades — in a sustainable way if we act on climate and in a catastrophic way if we don’t. Now is the time for major media outlets like the New York Times to remake their coverage to inform the public of this far more clearly and unambiguously.
More at the linkJohn Broder had this remarkable sentence in his Sunday New York Times dispatch from... more
Higher temperatures and water stress are expected to diminish rice yields by 15% in the coming years. But scientists hope to fight back with a tiny fungus that helps increase rice harvests with less water. Host Bruce Gellerman asks University of Washington biology and forestry researcher Dr. Regina Redman about the hearty rice plant that can grow more with less water.
GELLERMAN: Here’s a potential recipe for feeding a planet stressed by climate change: Take some rice plants, add some potato sugar, a bit of antibiotics and – here’s the secret ingredient – a tiny fungus and voila! You get a new experimental strategy for growing food crops that can survive and thrive in a world growing warmer. It’s called symbiogenics: the study of fungi bonding with plants to create a mutually beneficial relationship. Scientists at the University of Washington, where the work is being done, are calling it: “a breakthrough”. Biologist and forests researcher Regina Redman is a member of the team.
REDMAN: The approach we're taking is actually quite a very simple one. Plants and natural ecosystems have associations with various microbes. And, the class of microbes that we’re interested in we call Class Two fungal endophytes. So it’s a microscopic fungus. It resides within the native plants that are able to, because of the presence of that fungus, thrive in very high stress habitats. And, we’re able to confer salt tolerance, temperature tolerance, drought resistance, simply by colonizing plants that are of interest.
GELLERMAN: So, you take these fungi and stick them on the rice or the plant and voila?
REDMAN: Yes. They get colonized and then you start seeing the positive benefits immediately. In rice, for instance, you get the growth response where you get roots and shoots coming out much larger and longer than the non-symbiotic counterpart.
GELLERMAN: So what is it in the fungus that is helping the rice plant survive and thrive?
REDMAN: Well, we don’t know the exact mechanism, but we do know that when plants are symbiotic, they seem to be much more metabolically efficient. That is they seem to grow larger, use less water.
GELLERMAN: How much faster can rice with fungi grow?
REDMAN: Well, in the seedling stage, within 24 hours, you’re looking at a three-fold increase in size. Applying this into a field situation would really be beneficial, because if a rice seed can put down its roots very quickly, and then it puts up a shoot, it is able to, under that paddy condition, anchor itself in the soil where it can photosynthesize and, you know, really get going and take off.
GELLERMAN: And so, does it affect the food value of the plant? Do you get rice that is as rich and nutritious?
REDMAN: Well, the unique property also of this class of endophytes is it only colonizes the vegetative tissue, so it’s not in the embryo, it’s not in the seed. So it doesn’t impact the crop.
GELLERMAN: It’s just regular rice.
REDMAN: It’s regular rice. We’ve been able to repeat the process in other agricultural plants as well - wheat, tomatoes and turf grass.
GELLERMAN: Well, the plant is benefiting, so what does the fungus get out of this relationship?
REDMAN: Well, this type of fungus is rather sensitive - it really cannot survive outside of the plant. You’ll find that the fungal endophyte is almost non-existent in the surrounding soil.
GELLERMAN: So somehow the plant is getting a benefit from the fungus, but it’s not genetic, it’s not altering the plant’s structure.
REDMAN: What’s happening if you’re really thinking about it is you’re taking two separate genomes and putting them together, doing their communication back and forth that it allows for this type of beneficial effects that we see. We know that on a molecular level, symbiotic plants turn on a lot of different genes, and turn off a lot of different genes, if it’s under stress or not, compared to the non-symbiotic counterparts.
GELLERMAN: How long has this symbiosis, this symbiotic relationship, been going on between fungus and plants?
REDMAN: Well, we think this communication is quite old. Plants have been symbiotic for around 400 million years, and may have been important for the movement of plants onto land.
GELLERMAN: Wow! You know, we’re seeing this awful, disastrous drought in East Africa; millions of people are starving. Could your research help them?
REDMAN: Yes, I think our research would do exactly that. This is a very simple technology. It doesn’t require a bunch of chemicals. There’s no GMO component of it, and really we can see the results within a growing season.
GELLERMAN: Well, how far off are we from taking this out of a greenhouse and into a field are you?
REDMAN: Well, we’re right there, we’re good to go. We worked for several years, generating the technology to be able to effectively colonize, in this case, rice, on an industrial level.
More at the linkHigher temperatures and water stress are expected to diminish rice yields by 15% in... more
Honeybees have been mysteriously disappearing across the planet, literally vanishing from their hives.
Known as Colony Collapse Disorder, this phenomenon has brought beekeepers to crisis in an industry responsible for producing apples, broccoli, watermelon, onions, cherries and a hundred other fruits and vegetables. Commercial honeybee operations pollinate crops that make up one out of every three bites of food on our tables.
Vanishing of the Bees follows commercial beekeepers David Hackenberg and Dave Mendes as they strive to keep their bees healthy and fulfill pollination contracts across the U.S. The film explores the struggles they face as the two friends plead their case on Capital Hill and travel across the Pacific Ocean in the quest to protect their honeybees.
Filming across the US, in Europe, Australia and Asia, this documentary examines the alarming disappearance of honeybees and the greater meaning it holds about the relationship between mankind and mother earth. As scientists puzzle over the cause, organic beekeepers indicate alternative reasons for this tragic loss. Conflicting options abound and after years of research, a definitive answer has not been found to this harrowing mystery.Honeybees have been mysteriously disappearing across the planet, literally vanishing... more
NAGOYA, Japan -- Delegates to the world summit on biodiversity here are calling for a moratorium on climate engineering research, like the idea of putting huge mirrors in outer space to reflect some of the sun's heating rays away from the planet.
Geo-engineering fixes for climate change include placing mirrors in space that reflect sunlight from the Earth. Photograph: Blue Line PicturesClimate engineering or geoengineering refers to any large-scale, human- made effort to manipulate the planet to adapt to climate change.
Representatives from Africa and Asia expressed concern about the negative impacts of geoengineering during the opening week of the 10th Conference of Parties (COP 10) to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), Oct. 18-29. They were joined by civil society organizations in calling for a moratorium on geoengineering experiments.
The geoengineering proposals include installing giant vertical pipes in the ocean to bring cold water to the surface, pumping vast amounts of sulphates into the stratosphere to block sunlight, or blowing ocean salt spray into clouds to increase their reflectivity.
Broadly speaking, there are two main geoengineering approaches: solar radiation management and carbon sequestration, in other words, absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to reduce the concentration of this greenhouse-effect gas.
To manage the sun's rays, there are ideas like releasing sulphates into the atmosphere or placing giant mirrors in outer space. For absorbing carbon, the possible approaches include ocean fertilization, in which iron or nitrogen is added to seawater to stimulate the growth of phytoplankton to sequester the carbon deep in the ocean.
"Some of the proponents of these technologies think it's easier to 'manage the sun' than get people to take a bus" to reduce carbon in the atmosphere, said Pat Mooney, executive director of the ETC Group, an international environmental organization headquartered in Canada.
"Politicians in rich countries see geoengineering as 'Plan B' so they don't have to make the hard choices of reducing emissions causing climate change," Mooney told Tierramérica.
"It's a political strategy aimed at letting industrialized countries off the hook for their climate debt," he said.
No longer the realm of crackpots, geoengineering is fast becoming the subject of serious scientific discussion and commercial interest.
In 2007, Tierramérica broke a story that a U.S. company, Planktos Inc., was going to dump 100 tonnes of iron dust into the ocean near Ecuador's Galápagos Islands -- a sanctuary for studying unique species and their evolution -- without the consent of the Ecuadorian government.
If it was able to prove that the technique absorbed carbon dioxide, Planktos hoped to sell carbon credits for the carbon it sequestered. The project was stopped and the company soon ended its research in this area.
The following year the CBD agreed to a moratorium on further ocean fertilization attempts.
Earlier this year, the CBD's scientific body proposed a ban on all climate- related geoengineering activities.
However, given the ongoing failure to reach an international agreement to curb emissions of the gases causing climate change, there has been renewed scientific and political interest in these experiments.
Britain's Royal Society, a highly respected global network that includes the world's most eminent scientists, now defends geoengineering research.
"We oppose a moratorium because we don't want to restrict scientific research into geoengineering," said John Shepherd, a climate scientist at the National Oceanography Center of the University of Southampton, and Royal Society fellow.
"Climate change could get to the point of 'desperate times requiring desperate measures' and therefore we should be ready with some good research on what might help," said Shepherd, author of the 2009 Royal Society report on geoengineering.
That report concluded that such technologies may well be necessary to cool the planet if efforts to reduce carbon emissions fail.
Research is needed to determine the hazards and effectiveness of any geoengineering idea, he told Tierramérica in an interview.
"Deployment of any geoengineering now would be incredibly premature," he said, and noted that this is the current opinion of the Royal Society as well.
In November, the Royal Society will hold a symposium in London entitled "Geoengineering: Taking Control of Our Planet's Climate."
Injecting sulphates into the atmosphere is attractive to policy-makers because its costs are much lower than reducing carbon emissions, writes Clive Hamilton, of the Center for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at Australian National University.
While acknowledging that no country advocates geoengineering, these schemes "avoid the need to raise petrol taxes, permit yet more unrestrained growth, and pose no threat to consumer lifestyles," stated Hamilton, the author of a new book on climate change titled "Requiem for a Species."
The ETC Group documents progress on various ideas to control the climate in its report, "Geopiracy: The Case Against Geoengineering," presented Oct. 19 in Nagoya. The report asks, "Who has the right to set the global thermostat?"
"Developing countries understand that they can't trust the rich countries that have failed to reduce their emissions to control the global thermostat," said Mooney.
The potential impacts on the global weather system of such attempts to cool the planet are impossible to assess, he added.
In his opinion, what is needed is a moratorium on open-air experiments in geoengineering to allow time for an international discussion about the potential biodiversity, social, and economic impacts.
Delegates in Nagoya are hotly debating the wording of a moratorium. A representative from Brazil told Tierramérica that it has become a big issue for countries like Canada that are firmly opposed to any ban or moratorium on geoengineering experiments.
Stumping for the moratorium is the ETC Group's Silvia Ribeiro, who asserted in a Tierramérica interview: "Geoengineering is not a solution to the problem of climate change. It could only be considered in an emergency and therefore can never be for-profit or part of any carbon market."NAGOYA, Japan -- Delegates to the world summit on biodiversity here are calling for a... more
The cost of this ecocide goes way beyond dollars.
We will never get this back. That is the greatest tragedy of all. You can't put a price on that. There must be justice for those who have taken this from us.The cost of this ecocide goes way beyond dollars. We will never get this back. That... more
"Machines aren't the ones in charge. The catch? Neither are we."
~ Katherine Hayles, author of "How We Became Posthuman."
Actually, we have become symbionts. Just as a lichen is the marriage of a fungus and an algae, we now live in full partnership with digital technology, which we rely on for the infrastructure of our lives. "If every computer were to crash tomorrow, it would be catastrophic," she says. "Millions or billions of people would die. That's the condition of being a symbiont."
Hayles is among a number of intellectuals who see this dependence as not necessarily bad, but as advancing civilization and, above all, just inevitable. "From Thoreau on, we have had this dream we can withdraw from our technologies and live closer to the natural world, and yet that's not the cultural trajectory that we have followed," says Hayles, a professor of literature at Duke University. "You could say when humans started to walk upright, we lost touch with the natural world. We lost an olfactory sense of the world, but obviously bipedalism paid big dividends."
In the Computer Age, "we are making our environments more responsive to humans' needs and desires than ever before."
Adriana de Souza e Silva, assistant professor of communication at North Carolina State University, says the widespread acceptance of public phoning, texting, surfing and tweeting on mobile devices has changed our lives so that we exist in a duality of the physical and electronic worlds.
"What we are witnessing now is a different kind of public space composed of people who are physically there [but talking to] people who are remote," she says.
She argues that this has actually made us more aware of our surroundings because so many devices are driven by their location and the user's awareness of place. "The BlackBerry might be looking for a local restaurant and a person two blocks away, not overseas. If you're walking downtown and you can access information that's been tagged there, that information suddenly becomes part of that location."
The difficulty, is that we are losing something profoundly human, the capacity to connect deeply to our environment.
A garden truly reveals itself only when its own depths and those of the beholder flow together. But that takes time. "For the gardens to become fully visible in space, they require a temporal horizon that the age makes less and less room for."
He is captivated by the Czech writer Karel Capek, who gave the world the robot in his play "R.U.R." and in it warned that technology would be our ruination. But Capek was also a passionate gardener who wrote "The Gardener's Year," published in 1929. "No one knew better than Capek that the cultivation of the soil and cultivation of the spirit are connatural." He believes gardens hold the key in leading us back into the visible world, because they are three-dimensional and made of living plants that speak to our "biophilia."
"Gardens are the best place to begin this reeducation," he says. Without it, he fears that the prophecy of the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke, in his Duino Elegies, will become so. "Earth, isn't this what you want; invisibly to arise in us? Is it not your dream to be someday invisible? Earth! Invisible!"
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/12/14/AR2009121403347.html"Machines aren't the ones in charge. The catch? Neither are we." ~... more
Brian Hare, assistant professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke University, holds out a dog biscuit.
"Henry!" he says. Henry is a big black schnauzer-poodle mix--a schnoodle, in the words of his owner, Tracy Kivell, another Duke anthropologist. Kivell holds on to Henry's collar so that he can only gaze at the biscuit.
"You got it?" Hare asks Henry. Hare then steps back until he's standing between a pair of inverted plastic cups on the floor. He quickly puts the hand holding the biscuit under one cup, then the other, and holds up both empty hands. Hare could run a very profitable shell game. No one in the room--neither dog nor human--can tell which cup hides the biscuit.
Henry could find the biscuit by sniffing the cups or knocking them over. But Hare does not plan to let him have it so easy. Instead, he simply points at the cup on the right. Henry looks at Hare's hand and follows the pointed finger. Kivell then releases the leash, and Henry walks over to the cup that Hare is pointing to. Hare lifts it to reveal the biscuit reward.
Henry the schnoodle just did a remarkable thing. Understanding a pointed finger may seem easy, but consider this: while humans and canines can do it naturally, no other known species in the animal kingdom can. Consider too all the mental work that goes into figuring out what a pointed finger means: paying close attention to a person, recognizing that a gesture reflects a thought, that another animal can even have a thought. Henry, as Kivell affectionately admits, may not be "the sharpest knife in the drawer," but compared to other animals, he's a true scholar.
It's no coincidence that the two species that pass Hare's pointing test also share a profound cross-species bond. Many animals have some level of social intelligence, allowing them to coexist and cooperate with other members of their species. Wolves, for example--the probable ancestors of dogs--live in packs that hunt together and have a complex hierarchy. But dogs have evolved an extraordinarily rich social intelligence as they've adapted to life with us. All the things we love about our dogs--the joy they seem to take in our presence, the many ways they integrate themselves into our lives--spring from those social skills. Hare and others are trying to figure out how the intimate coexistence of humans and dogs has shaped the animal's remarkable abilities.
Trying to plumb the canine mind is a favorite pastime of dog owners. "Everyone feels like an expert on their dog," says Alexandra Horowitz, a cognitive scientist at Barnard College and author of the new book Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know. But scientists had carried out few studies to test those beliefs--until now.
This fall, Hare is opening the Duke Canine Cognition Center, where he is going to test hundreds of dogs brought in by willing owners. Marc Hauser, a cognitive psychologist at Harvard University, recently opened his own such research lab and has 1,000 dogs lined up as subjects. Other facilities are operating in the U.S. and Europe.
The work of these researchers won't just satisfy the curiosity of the millions of people who love their dogs; it may also lead to more effective ways to train ordinary dogs or--more important--working dogs that can sniff out bombs and guide the blind. At a deeper level, it may even tell us something about ourselves.Brian Hare, assistant professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke University, holds... more