April 16, 2013 2:30 pm
It’s easy to dismiss trees as inanimate features of the landscape, but these living, breathing organisms aren’t as stoic as they appear. Trees, it turns out, make all kinds of noises as they grow and respond to their environment. Happy, regularly growing trees sound different from drought stressed trees. Now, a team of researchers from Grenoble University in France is trying to pick out these cries for help amidst all the normal tree white noise in order to provide better, more targeted aid to trees suffering from drought, according to National Geographic.
In the case of drought, trees undergoing stress form tiny bubbles inside their trunks, NatGeo explains, which causes a unique ultrasonic noise.
Imagine using a straw to slurp the last few drops from the bottom of your glass: You have to increase the pressure even more. In drought-stricken trees, this increased pressure can cause the water column to break, allowing dissolved air to form bubbles that block water flow.
These breaks are called cavitations, and they can eventually lead to a tree’s demise, so researchers and managers are interested in identifying warning signs that indicate that a tree needs emergency watering.
Eventually, the researchers think this finding may lead to handheld microphones that specialize in diagnosing tree distress signals. Other contraptions could be permanently strapped to a tree, providing constant updates on the trees health and perhaps even trigger automatic watering systems in times of drought, a bit like a sprinkler system in a building releases its water when licked by flames.
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April 4, 2013 9:05 am
Count Pierre François Marie Auguste Dejean was a peculiar fellow. Born in 1780 just north of Paris, by the time the young Frenchman turned 13 he already displayed a conspicuous interest in insects. He started with butterflies and moths but soon matured into a love for all things beetle. At the age of 15, he decided to devote his life to collecting and studying these insects. But that plan was interrupted. Dejean enrolled in Napoleon’s army.
Dejean quickly rose to the rank of Lieutenant General and aide-de-camp to Napoleon. Yet his love for beetles never waned. On the battlefield, Dejean took advantage of the opportunity to collect new and exciting specimens from all over Europe, including at the battlefield at Waterloo. His youngest daughter once described her father’s obsession: ”He recounted himself that during the battle he stopped his horse to attach a small insect to his helmet and then carried on forward to combat.”
In 1818, Dejean finally returned to Paris, made rich by his status as a general. He took advantage of that fortune by financing beetle-collecting expeditions. He also bought others’ collections to add to his own. All told, he amassed 24,643 species and more than 118,000 specimens. When he died in 1845, he owned the largest personal beetle collection in the world.
Now, two Canadian entomologists have decided to update Dejean’s famous catalogues. They republished two of Dejean’s catalogues from 1833 and 1836 and undertook a detailed review of his nomenclature and taxonomic recordings. The modern scientists’ task is to clear up any confusion regarding Dejean’s beetle names in the scientific literature by provided a detailed nomenclature summary of all the generic names since used for his species.
Dejean himself may have introduced some of this confusion intentionally. He once said: “I have made it a rule always to preserve the name most generally used , and not the oldest one, because it seems to me that general usage should always be followed and that it is harmful to change what has already been established.”
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April 2, 2013 9:04 am
Thieves are plundering Europe’s museums of their rhino horns and elephant tusks. First it was Haslemere Educational Museum and Norwich Castle Museum in England, then the Florence Museum of Natural History. Overall, the Guardian reports, more than twenty museums and auction houses in Britain, Germany, Sweden, Italy and Belgium have lost tusks and horns to poachers looking to turn a quick profit. Last weekend, Paris’ Museum of Natural History came close to becoming the latest member to join this growing list. The Guardian reports:
Police were called to the museum in the early hours of Saturday morning where they found a chainsaw still whirring after a man in his 20s escaped over a wall with a tusk over his shoulder.
The thief, startled by the museum’s alarm system, tried to make a quick break for it but wound up fracturing his ankle.
The elephant in question once belonged to King Louis XIV. The animal was a gift from the Portuguese king in 1668 and was much beloved by Louis XIV and his visitors.
It lived for 13 years in the royal menagerie in the grounds of the opulent palace of Versailles where it became the star attraction. When it died, its skeleton was transferred to the natural history collection in Paris, one of the biggest in the world alongside London’s Natural History Museum.
The tusks, in fact, were added to the skeleton in the 19th century. The wildlife black market isn’t paying for historical value, though; buyers are purportedly interested in the value of animal parts in traditional Chinese medicinal. Elephant tusks currently fetch hundreds of dollars per pound while rhino horns go for much higher prices.
The Parisien museum curators say they’ll restore the sawed off horn to its rightful place. Curators at other institutions, such as London’s Natural History Museum, are not taking any chances, however. They replaced their horns two years ago with fakes.
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March 29, 2013 9:30 am
This week, the Supreme Court of the United States has been hearing arguments for and against the legalization of gay marriage, and the hearings have rekindled the debate among American people, outside the courthouse, in the news, on Facebook. But the U.S. isn’t the only nation struggling with the gay marriage issue. Here are where the debate stands in other countries around the world:
There are a few places where gay marriage is legal. Denmark began allowing couples to marry last year. Argentina did three years ago. It’s also legal in Belgium, Canada, Iceland, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Sweden and the Netherlands.
Spain legalized gay marriage eight years ago and ever since has been hearing counterarguments in court. It wasn’t until November of last year that the highest court in Spain rejected an appeal presented by conservatives, perhaps closing the case for good.
Other places are debating the issue much like we are. France in many ways seems like a mirror to the United States. The senate there will make a final vote on a bill that would legalize marriage and adoption for gay couples in April. Riot police were called to an anti-gay marriage protest on Sunday, where most estimate there were about 300,000 protestors (although conservatives who organized it claim there were 1.4 million). France’s president, much like our own, supports the bill.
Colombia is debating the issue now, and Uruguay will vote in April. Taiwan started hearing arguments on gay marriage this year, and if they legalize it they’d become the first nation in Asia to do so. India decriminalized homosexuality in 2009 but has yet to broach the marriage subject.
In China, the gay marriage question is a little different. The Los Angeles Times explains:
Women who unwittingly married gay men, dubbed “gay wives,” have pleaded to be able to annull their unions and then be labeled as “single” rather than “divorced,” the official Xinhua News Agency reported in January. Gay rights advocates countered the real solution was to allow same-sex marriage.
Sixty percent of U.N. countries have abolished laws that ban same-sex couples, but two-thirds of African countries still have laws banning homosexuality. Five countries still punish homosexuality with death: Sudan, Mauritiania, Nigeria, Somaliland and Afghanistan. In Russia, a huge proportion of the citizens are opposed to gay marriage—85 percent according to one poll. Five percent of the people polled said that gays should be “eradicated.”
The tides are turning elsewhere. In Uganda, an anti-homosexuality bill has been in the works since 2009, but protests against it have kept it from becoming law. Malawi no longer enforces its anti-gay laws. And even in Russia, things might be changing. The country’s first lesbian-only magazine was just published earlier this month.
So the U.S. isn’t alone in tackling the gay marriage question, and they’re certainly not the only citizenry up in arms on either side.
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February 25, 2013 11:19 am
Ikea’s delectable little meatballs have been found to contain horse meat, in addition to the advertised pork and beef—at least in the Czech Republic, reports the Guardian. In the past few weeks, traces of horse meat have shown up in beef products across Europe, in supermarkets and fast-food restaurants. But with Ikea now involved, these findings take on a whole new import. “Given the chain’s international reach,” says Quartz’s Christopher Mims, “this might be the point at which Europe’s horse meat scandal becomes global.”
Though the news may rankle some modern sensibilities, people have been debating the merits of eating horse meat for a surprisingly long time. Under siege in the 19th century, with rations running low, Paris’ population turn to horse. Though initially hesitant, some Frenchmen went on to develop a fondness for the taste, says a December 1, 1870 story in The Food Journal:
The almost impossibility of obtaining beef and mutton naturally forced the use of horse-meat upon the people, and, after a little hesitation, it has been most cheerfully accepted. Some persons prefer it to beef, from the gamey flavour which it possesses, and compare it to chevreuil—the small doe venison of France—which certainly scarcely deserves the name; others particularly dislike it for the same reason. This is, however, simple a matter of taste. As good wholesome food it has been universally eaten, and the soup made from it is declared by everyone to be superior to that from beef.
The end of the siege did not bring the end of horse meat, and over time, the idea spread. Scientific American‘s volume XXXIII, published on July 3, 1875, included a piece making the case for horse meat as economic stimulus.
We have spoken from time to time of the progress of hippophagy in Paris, regarding the same as an experiment which there was no particular need of putting into practice here. It may nevertheless be demonstrated that, in not utilizing horse flesh as food, we are throwing away a valuable and palatable meat, of which there is sufficient quantity largely to augment our existing aggregate food supply. Supposing that the horse came into use here as food, it can be easily shown that the absolute wealth in the country would thereby be materially increased.
The downside, of course, is that a horse cut up for food is not a horse doing valuable work. But even here, Scientific American thinks that the good of dining on horse far outweighs the bad.
Moreover, in order that the horses should be available to the butcher, they must not be diseased or worn out. By this the owners are directly benefited, since, while on one hand they are obliged to sell their horses in fair condition, they are saved the expense of keeping the animals when the latter become used up and are unable to do but light work, though requiring more attention and more feed. So also with colts, which, whether they become good or bad horses, cost about the same to raise. If the animal bids fair to turn our poorly, he can be disposed of at once and at a remunerative price. The result of this weeding out in youth and destroying when old, coupled with the facilities which the former afford of selection of the best types, will naturally conduce to the improvement of breeds and a general benefit to the entire equine population of the country.
Nineteenth century horse eugenics aside, the case for eating horse in the 1800s are roughly the same as now, says the New York Times: it all comes down to price.
But from whence came the modern hesitation to dine on horse? The September 1886 edition of Popular Science may have the answer:
The origin of the use of horse-flesh as food is lost in the night of the past. The ancients held the meat in high esteem, and a number of modern peoples use it unhesitatingly. Several Latin and Green authors mention it. Virgil, in the third book of the “Georgics,” speaks of peoples who live on the milk, blood, and meat of their horses.
… While horse-flesh was generally eaten among the Germans till they were converted to Christianity, or till the days of Charlemagne, it was regarded with aversion by the early Christians as a relic of idolatry. Gregory III, in the eighth century, advised St. Boniface, Archbishop of Mayence, to order the German clergy to preach against horse-eating as unclean and execrable. This prohibition being ineffective, Pope Zachary I launched a new anathema against the unfaithful “who eat the meat of the horse, hare, and other unclean animals.” This crusade was potent over the defectively informed minds of the people of the middle ages, and they, believing the meat to be unwholesome and not fit to eat, abstained from it except in times of extreme scarcity. Nevertheless, it continued to be eaten in particular localities down to a very recent period. The present revival in the use of horse-flesh, concerning which the French papers have had much to say, is the result of a concerted movement among a number of prominent men, the principal object of which was to add to the food resources of the world.
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