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Posts Tagged ‘living on earth’

BIRDNOTE_European-Starling-flowers-Josh-Levinson-C2A9

Photo: Josh Levinson
The European Starling is thought to adorn its nest with flowers to ward off pests.

One of my favorite shows is Living on Earth, an environmental program recorded in Greater Boston and produced by Public Radio International (PRI). One of the show’s regular features is called BirdNote, and you can learn a lot about individual species just from that.

The Living on Earth website recently posted this:

“STEVE CURWOOD: European Starlings can often be found scrounging through the grass of a backyard or a nearby park for tasty treats. But now and then, they’ll also pluck a marigold or other bright flower to bring back to the nest. These flowers aren’t just for decoration, as Michael Stein explains in this week’s BirdNote. It appears to bring health benefits to their young.

“It’s Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.

curwood

“European Starlings famously travel in massive flocks, up to one hundred thousand birds strong at times. They can almost resemble a school of fish moving together in a squeaky symphony. And, BirdNote’s Michael Stein reports that when starlings are paired up and raising chicks they have an unusual way to keep their nest clean and healthy. …

“MICHAEL STEIN: Watch long enough, though, and you may see a starling pause in the hunt to neatly pluck a marigold or other bright flower – and then fly up to deposit the bloom in the nest.

“How romantic. But there’s more to it. Ornithologists have found that starlings regularly adorn their twig nests with fresh vegetation – the more fragrant the better. Marigolds, of course, but also elderberry flowers, yarrow leaves, and even willow bark.

“All of which – as your nose will tell you – are full of aromatic chemicals. The starlings are actually fumigating their nests. Why? The chemicals have been thought to help discourage pests and parasites. Scientists have discovered that the smelly plants may offer an even more direct benefit to nestlings – by stimulating their immune systems.
It turns out that starlings hatched in well-fumigated nests tend to weigh more and live longer than those raised without benefit of fragrant herbs.” More.

For another Living on Earth BirdNote, click here. This one is about a Laysan Albatross called Wisdom who was still producing chicks in 2018, despite the fact her 67 years made her quite old for her species. Who knew the Albatross could live so long?

This might be a good time to remind you how Coleridge used an Albatross in the Rime of the Ancient Mariner to send a message — not just to the stunned and speechless wedding guest but to us all:

Farewell, farewell! but this I tell
To thee, thou Wedding-Guest!
He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast.

Photo: Kiah Walker, USFWS, CC
Wisdom the Laysan Albatross was still producing chicks at age 67. She doesn’t even look tired.
BIRNOTE_ALBTROSS_FLYING

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Wouldn’t it be strange if China, the smog capital of the world, started assuming leadership on environmental causes like global warming, clean air, and … sustainable fish farming.

The PRI radio show Living on Earth recently explained how China was tackling the latter challenge.

“Consumer demand in both the U.S. and China for safe and healthy farmed fish is shaping aquaculture practices in the world’s most populous country. And fish farmers are using traditional Chinese medicine as well as high-tech monitoring systems as they strive to keep their fish healthy and their farming practices transparent. Jocelyn Ford reports from the Hainan Province. …

“HAN HAN: With such a huge population in China, if we didn’t have aquaculture, if we totally relied on the wild fishery. I guess we would already running out of all these wild fish, maybe 10 or 20 years ago.

“FORD: That’s Han Han, the founder of the China Blue Sustainability Institute, China’s first non-governmental, environmental organization focused on sustainable fishing and aquaculture. Today, aquaculture accounts for one of every two fish that land on the dinner table worldwide, and it’s growing faster than other sources of animal protein. China is the global aquaculture leader, and because of its expertise here, it wants to help other countries. …

“Aquaculture is expanding globally at about five percent a year, and that’s a plus for some of the Earth’s most pressing environmental issues. For example, compared to a pound of beef, a pound of fish has only about one-seventh of the carbon footprint. But large-scale aquaculture has created new problems. Naturally, farmed fish need to eat. And gone are the days when Chinese fish farms were all organic. Qi Genliu is a professor at Shanghai Ocean University.

“QI: Traditionally we used grass to culture grass carp.

“FORD: That changed with the growth of the fish feed industry and the need to feed carnivorous marine fish [and keep them disease free with antibiotics]. …

“The founder and president of The Fishin’ Company, Manish Kumar, started coming to Hainan to build a coalition for a safer, more environmentally sound and sustainable tilapia industry [using traditional herbal medicine instead of antibiotics]. His company is sponsoring trainings, and offering financial incentives to a few model farms that invest in improvements. The idea is, others will follow suit if they see it makes financial sense. …

“FORD: His ideas include increasing omega-3 levels in the tilapia, the fish oil that may help lower risk of heart disease, cancer and arthritis. To help reassure customers who are nervous about what their fish are eating, next year he’s planning a state of the art oversight system that involves cameras, QR codes, and consumer monitoring.

“KUMAR: We will now proceed to do something no one in the industry has done before. Put a camera system into the farm area. A customer buys a bag of fish. You have a QR code on the bag. Run your smartphone through our QR code on the bag, and you will have a chance to see the actual farm that raised this fish in your bag. And how it’s being raised.

“FORD: Customers can see the type of feed, and the plant where the feed was made, and the insomniacs can watch the fish grow 24/7. Manish Kumar says the extra cost will be negligible. As the largest supplier of tilapia, he expects to be able to take advantage of economies of scale.”

More at Living on Earth, here, where you can learn more about the use of Chinese herbal medicine to ensure the fish stay healthy.

Photo: Jocelyn Ford
Harvesting tilapia for export on an internationally certified farm in China.

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How many times lately have I read “in these uncertain times” and “now more than ever”? Crises bring these phrases out.

So how do we inject the words with extra special urgency? I find myself thinking like Charlie Brown (or was it Lucy?) trying to fill up a book report: Now more than ever ever ever really and truly and I’m not kidding, programs about the environment such as Living on Earth are important.

Some of the Living on Earth shows — about melting ice and rising seas, for example — are crucial to our understanding of what we face. Others, like the one about a certain pig in Haiti, underline the interconnectedness of the environment and local economies. You can’t wipe out an animal people rely on and expect everything to be fine.

From Living on Earth: “In Haiti, the creole pig was a staple of the peasant economy, bringing families economic stability, devouring food waste and occasionally becoming an religious sacrifice. But as Allison Griner reports, disease killed many creole pigs and American efforts to control the swine flu took the rest. Efforts to replace the pig failed, but now peasant farmers are slowly rebuilding the creole pig herd.

“GRINER: To reverse the trend, [2015 presidential candidate Jean-Baptiste] Chavannes and his colleagues in the peasant movement decided to reintroduce the creole pig — or at least a hybrid that could fill its place.

“CHAVANNES: We want the return of the creole pig. So we led a fight, and over the years, the minister of agriculture finally started a program for the repopulation of the pigs. …

“GRINER: But just as the new pig herd was starting to grow, once again disease intervened. This time, the culprit was teschen, a virus that can kill a pig within days. Six years ago, it started to spread. And decades of work were lost. …

“Still, the fight is not yet over for the creole pig. Vaccines for teschen are already being tested in Haiti, and Chavannes hopes partnerships with international NGOs will help fight this latest disease. Part of Chavannes’ mission is to rebuild the peasant economy. But to reach that goal, bringing back the creole pig is a necessity, he says.

“CHAVANNES: We must. [Laughs] We must, and like I said, pig farming is indispensable for reestablishing the peasant economy. …

“GRINER: Already, the race to save Haiti’s pigs is well underway. This past spring, an official from the ministry of agriculture announced that the 500,000 doses of the teschen vaccine had been produced. The official says they are currently available for farmers to use.”

At Living on Earth, you can read what the pigs meant to the farmers, why they got killed off, why American pigs were a terrible replacement, and what kind of livestock peasants decided to raise while they are waiting for the creole pigs to come back.

Photo: Allison Griner
Pig in Delmas, Port au Prince, Haiti

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The humble horseshoe crab is a reminder of prehistoric times. Public Radio International’s Living on Earth recently devoted a segment to this curious character.

From the transcript of the show …

Steve Curwood: “For healthy oceans, it’s not enough to protect just the top of the food chain – the cod or halibut or swordfish we eat. The bottom of the food chain is vital too. That could be the plankton or the tiny forage fish eaten by many species – or it could be the extraordinary prehistoric-looking horseshoe crab.

“These helmet-shaped arthropods have been around for millions of years, and up and down the east coast of the US, volunteers come out to count them as the females come ashore to spawn. On Cape Cod, as Karen Zusi reports, scientists and volunteers are tagging and labeling the crabs to help conserve them.”

Karen Zusi: “There are a lot of reasons why someone might appreciate the lowly horseshoe crab. Eel and conch fishermen use them as bait, and medical companies draw blood from the animals. Horseshoe crab blood will clot in the presence of bacteria, so these companies can use the crab’s blood to make sure vaccines and medical implants are free of germs. Their blood is worth sixty thousand dollars a gallon.

“But horseshoe crab populations are dropping. To preserve them, scientists and volunteers on Cape Cod are wading into the water to count and tag the animals.

“Special labels help them keep track [says] Mark Faherty, the science coordinator at Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Sanctuary. …

“The Massachusetts Audubon Society just recruited graduate student Michael Long to lead their newest horseshoe crab study. With researchers from the University of Massachusetts, he will be tagging the crabs this summer with a telemetry [label], glued onto the crab’s shell.”

Faherty: “My acoustic study is going to be putting on acoustic receivers out in the bay, and acoustic markers on the crabs. The receivers have about a 600-meter detection radius so anytime a crab that’s marked with an acoustic receiver comes within 600 meters of that receiver, it will mark where it is. So based on where each crab pings, you can kind of track its movements around the bay.”

Zusi: “None of this would be possible without the Audubon Society’s volunteers. They come from all walks of life.

“At an Audubon horseshoe crab conference, Long organizes new volunteers to help him count horseshoe crabs on the beach, and Faherty trains them in the basic survey procedures. …

“Once they got down to business, the volunteers were trained to divide the beach into small sections, count the horseshoe crabs, and record all of their information. The volunteers go out to survey when female crabs are coming to lay their eggs in the sand. Males follow to fertilize the eggs after they’re laid.”

Faherty: “The male crabs you quickly learn to recognize because they’re by themselves. They will mate with a model, if you make a model of a horseshoe crab — the males will congregate around it. They’ll spawn. They’ll spawn with your boot. These are just hormonally-charged animals that are ready to mate with anything. Females are not lonely for long in the horseshoe crab world.”

More here on the effort to study and protect horseshoe crabs.

Photo: Peter Massas, Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0
A horseshoe crab floats by the shore on Union Beach in New Jersey. The species is listed as Near Threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

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There’s always something fun over at PRI’s environmental radio show Living on Earth. Here’s a story that ran in March about the unique bird species isolated in Northeastern Australian rainforests.

Bob Sundstrom wrote up the audio report of BirdNote‘s Mary McCann: “The Eastern Whipbird hangs out in the dense understory. It’s dark, crested … nearly a foot long and emerald-green with white spots. … The large, pigeon-like Wompoo Fruit-Dove … feathered in a stunning combination of green, purple, and yellow, [is] clearly named for its voice.

“Pig-like grunting on the forest floor tells us we’re in the company of the largest bird on the continent – the Southern Cassowary. On average, the female weighs 130 pounds and stands around 5 feet tall, looking like a giant, lush, black hairpiece on thick legs. A helmet called a casque makes it look as much like a dinosaur as any living bird.” Five feet tall? I think I know a one-year-old who would like to try riding it.

The bird sounds on the radio show were provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Hear them all here, where you can also enjoy the equally far-out pictures.

Photo: Jan Anne
Southern Cassowary

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Radio show Living on Earth did a segment in February on new technology to store and release solar heat. Here is host Steve Curwood on his outing to MIT to learn about the breakthrough.

“A team of researchers at MIT has come up with a chemical that would let windshield glass directly store solar energy and then release it on demand as heat to melt the ice. … The same chemical could be woven into clothing fibers to capture the sun’s energy and then give you some added warmth when you ask for it, even days later.

“I paid a visit to the lab where the MIT team has been working on this breakthrough and met up with researchers David Zhitomirsky and Eugene Cho, who work in the lab of professor Jeffrey Grossman.”

To Curwood’s question about the difference between the familiar electrical, battery-enabled solar technology and the MIT lab’s chemical version, Zhitomirsky replies,”We use these molecules that can absorb UV light and instead of generating charges, what they do is that they change shape, and by changing shape, they can store chemical energy …

“CURWOOD: OK, so sunlight hits this molecule, it changes shape and can storage its energy. And how do you get the energy out?

“ZHITOMIRSKY: So you can figure the material in several ways. One way is to add a small amount of heat, and the material will release more heat than you add in. The other methods are triggering it with light or you can apply an electrical field to the material. …

“The way we envision using it is to integrate into fibers that you then make clothing out of.” More here.

Release solar heat from my coat in a blizzard? Where do I sign up?

Photo: Helen Palmer
Living on Earth host Steve Curwood, right, in the MIT lab with Eugene Cho and David Zhitomirsky.

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I’m hearing more and more these days about “good bacteria,” including in a song by singer-composer Will McMillan on the friendly bacteria we humans carry around.

Now, it seems, bacteria found in soil may help to save amphibians from dangerous fungal epidemics. Public Radio International’s environmental news program, Living on Earth, has the story.

“Around the world, fungal diseases have been killing millions of frogs and bats and snakes. And a newly emerging disease in salamanders in Europe is scaring biologists here, so the US Fish and Wildlife Service has introduced a ban on their import to try to protect amphibians in the US.

“But now scientists see some hope in soil bacteria that get onto the salamanders and frogs and apparently protect them. Doug Woodhams is an assistant professor of biology at UMass Boston, who’s been working with amphibians in Panama – and he explained what his team has found to Living on Earth’s Helen Palmer.

“WOODHAMS: Some of the amphibians have beneficial bacteria that live on their skin and these have antifungal properties.

“PALMER: This is kind of like having good bacteria in your gut, for instance, that stop you from getting sick. … Is there any evidence that  good bacteria actually work against devastating funguses?

“WOODHAMS: Yeah, there’s quite a bit of evidence. Many of the bacteria that we can culture from some amphibian species are able to inhibit the fungus in culture. We also have some population-level data that shows populations that tend to have these antifungal bacteria can persist with Bd in the environment and survive. …

“Bd is the chytrid fungus that’s been spreading around the world and devastating amphibian populations. So salamanders, frogs, toads. Populations that tend to have more of these beneficial bacteria seem to be surviving, and populations that don’t have as many of the individuals that have these bacteria seem to disappear. …

“The next thing we want to try is adding some of these bacteria, not just to petri dishes, but to soil and see if infected amphibians can be cleared of their infection by being housed on soil that’s been inoculated with these bacteria. …

“There are other fungal pathogens, so it could be something that you could apply in a cave that could reduce White-nosed syndrome [in bats]. Also, rattlesnakes have been recently affected by fungal disease during hibernation, so it could be applied into a rattlesnake den.”

More on the science here.

Photo: Matt Becker
The Appalachian Mountains are home to this Cow Knob Salamander, Plethodon punctatus, from George Washington National Forest, Virginia.

 

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