June 12, 2013 9:54 am
Last February, Guatemala declared a state of national emergency. Coffee rust, a devastating fungal disease that parasitizes coffee plant leaves, had struck the Latin American nation. Soon, Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama and Costa Rica—all major coffee-producing countries—reported similar outbreaks at their plantations. At this point, Wired reports, the disease has reached epidemic proportions in the region.
Regional production fell by 15 percent last year, putting nearly 400,000 people out of work, and that’s just a taste of what’s to come. The next harvest season begins in October, and according to the International Coffee Organization, crop losses could hit 50 percent.
These crops tend to be a variety of coffee called Arabica, which is prized by coffee connoisseurs. It’s not the coffee snobs but the farmers and workers who will really suffer, however. After coffee rust takes hold, the disease is difficult to get under control. Many famers can’t afford expensive fungicides, and plants may take years to recover on their own, Wired reports.
Nobody knows precisely why the outbreak reached such extraordinary levels this year, though several factors are implicated. The most prominent is climate: In the past, environmental conditions at high Central American altitudes were not especially conducive to the fungus, which requires warm, humid air to thrive, said coffee rust specialist Cathy Aime of Purdue University.
Scientists first recorded the disease in Kenya in 1861, and it turned up in Sri Lanka a few years later. By the 1920s, it had spread throughout Africa and Asia by the 1920s. It wasn’t until the 1970s that it made its way to Central America. According to Wired, this trend will probably worsen: Thanks to climate change, coffee rust’s ideal habitat—warm, humid conditions—seems to be spreading as higher elevations and more northern areas warm up.
More from Smithsonian.com:
March 14, 2013 3:03 pm
Enjoy, for a moment, the soothing tones and the sound of beating wings in National Geographic‘s quirky mashup of indie rockers Temper Trap and some beautiful footage of one of the world’s greatest mass animal voyages, the annual migration of the monarch butterfly. Each year, says the World Wildlife Fund, monarch butterflies “embark on a marvelous migratory phenomenon.”
They travel between 1,200 and 2,800 miles or more from the United States and Canada to central Mexican forests. There the butterflies hibernate in the mountain forests, where a less extreme climate provides them a better chance to survive.
Relaxed and enthralled with the brilliance of the natural world? Good. Try to hold on that feeling as long as you can, because as the New York Times reports, the spectacle of the monarch migration is crashing: “The number of monarch butterflies that completed an annual migration to their winter home in a Mexican forest sank this year to its lowest level in at least two decades.” In just the past two years, the area of Mexican forest taken up by the monarchs shrank from 7.14 acres to 2.94 acres, both down from an earlier peak of 50 acres. The Associated Press:
It was the third straight year of declines for the orange-and-black butterflies that migrate from the United States and Canada to spend the winter sheltering in mountaintop fir forests in central Mexico. Six of the last seven years have shown drops, and there are now only one-fifteenth as many butterflies as there were in 1997.
The decline in the Monarch population now marks a statistical long-term trend and can no longer be seen as a combination of yearly or seasonal events, the experts said.
Mr. Taylor said a further decline could cross a tipping point at which the insects will be unusually vulnerable to outside events like a Mexican cold snap or more extreme heat that could put them in peril.
“Normally, there’s a surplus of butterflies and even if they take a big hit, they recover,” he said. But if their current 2.94-acre wintering ground drops below 2.5 acres, bouncing back could be difficult.
“This is one of the world’s great migrations,” he said. “It would be a shame to lose it.”
More from Smithsonian.com:
December 21, 2012 4:19 pm
In 1954, the painter Frida Kahlo died. When she did, her eccentric husband Diego Rivera—a famous painter in his own right—refused to let anyone open her closet. When he died, the couple’s patron, Dolores Olmedo, was put in charge of keeping the closet sealed. She did until 2002. Now, finally, Frida’s closet is on display for the world at the Frida Kahlo Museum on Mexico City. ABC News reports:
Eventually, museum personnel decided it was time to look inside. And what a discovery. Art historians and fashionistas already knew Frida was unique and ahead of her time. But, what the items in the exhibit show are that despite the disabilities, the monobrow, and the violent depictions of the female anatomy in some of her paintings, Frida Kahlo was a bit of a girlie girl who wore makeup, used perfume and dressed up her prosthetic leg with a red high-heeled boot. Her clothing aimed for style and self-protection but it also made a statement, both political and cultural.
The dresses that Kahlo was famous for—called Thuana dresses—are featured prominently in the collection. The PBS series “The Life and Times of Frida Kahlo” mentions them specifically:
No matter whether she was in Paris, New York or Coyoacán, she clothed herself elaborately in the Tehuana costumes of Indian maidens. As much as Frida’s country defined her, so, too, did her husband, the celebrated muralist, Diego Rivera. If Mexico was her parent, then Rivera – 20 years her senior – was her “big-child.” She often referred to him as her baby. She met him while still a schoolgirl and later, in 1929, became the third wife of a man who gaily accepted the diagnosis of his doctor that he was “unfit for monogamy.”
They were important to Kahlo, as they are to the museum curators like Circe Henestrosa today. She told USA TODAY, “This dress symbolizes a powerful woman. She wants to portray her Mexicanidad, or her political convictions, and it’s a dress that at the same time helps her distinguish herself as a female artist of the 40s. It’s a dress that helps her disguise physical imperfections.”
And the closet didn’t just have clothes in it either. The collection includes nail polish, medicine, jewelry and shoes. The curators plan on cycling through the whole collection over the course of five months, to show all the items.
More from Smithsonian.com:
November 23, 2012 3:15 pm
On October 4, 1824, Mexico ratified its first-ever constitution as an independent country, a document known as the “Federal Constitution of the United Mexican States.” Ever since that day, the country’s official name has not been Mexico, but rather, the United Mexican States. Like North or South Korea—The Democratic People’s Republic of Korean, or the Republic of Korea, respectively—Mexico almost never goes by its full and proper name. CNN:
[T]he reality is the official name is used only by Mexican officials who deal with diplomatic protocol and official documents pertaining to international relations. For the rest of Mexicans — and the world — the country is simply known as Mexico.
Apparently sick of living a double life, the Mexican (United Mexican Statesian?) President Felipe Calderon, “sent to the Mexican Congress a piece of legislation to change the country’s name officially to simply Mexico.”
President Calderon, however, is in the last leg of his term—the new President, Enrique Peña Nieto, takes over in a week. With time dwindling, says CNN, it’s not clear if Calderon’s re-naming proposal will go through.
November 23, 2012 10:30 am
Along the southern coast of the United States a mystery is deepening: mutilated dolphins keep washing up on the beach, and no one knows where they’re coming from. The victims are clearly offed by humans: they have, as the Associated Press explains, “bullet wounds, missing jaws and hacked off fins.”
So far, five victims have been found shot in Louisiana and Mississippi. A dolphin in Alabama was found with a screwdriver stuck in its head; another’s tail was cut off but it managed to survive. Whoever is doing this is not only depraved, but also skirting some pretty big fines. A federal agent is in charge of the investigation: Killing a dolphin can land you in prison for a year and comes with a $10,000 fine per violation. And this population in the Gulf is already struggling after the oil spill. The AP writes:
The gruesome discoveries are heartbreaking for Gulf Coast scientists, who follow the population. Fougeres said that two months before the 2010 oil spill disaster off the coast of Louisiana, dolphins began stranding themselves and that there were unusually high mortality rates — possibly due to a cold winter that year.
Since then, the spill and another cold winter in 2011 have contributed to several deaths within the Gulf’s dolphin population, experts say. Investigators have also found discolored teeth and lung infections within some of the dead dolphins.
Groups like the Animal Legal Defense Fund are offering rewards that total in the tens of thousands of dollars for information that might lead to whoever mutilated the dolphins, but so far there have been no leads. Some of these injuries could have been sustained after the animals died and washed onto shore, which might explain the fins or jaws missing. And, it’s probably not one dolphin hater. The cases are spread across the Gulf Coast, and don’t have a common thread other than the species of the victim.
More from Smithsonian.com: