Nature Blog Network Future Earth: March 2009

Monday 30 March 2009

Axolotl Anxieties

Altogether now...... "Ahhhhhhhh" for the Mexican Axolotl. As with Bambi's big baby head and saucer eyes, it is the retained larval features of the Axolotl that deliver our response.

Endangered by degraded habitat and invasive predators, it was at least a comfort to learn that the Durrell Institute of Conservation & Ecology, the Darwin Initiative and the Zoological Society of London, are amongst those who have taken up international cudgels to support Mexico to retain this appealing neotenic amphibian.
Move over Bambi, the Mexican Axolotl is surely the flagship species for our times (and just as cute).

(Thanks Biomes Blog for the alert)

Friday 27 March 2009

Death by palm oil

Elephants from the "Conservation Response Units" are called upon by farmers in the Indonesian island of Sumatra, when their crops are being raided by wild elephants from nearby forest. The captive ones patrol the forest edge and warn the raiders away. Sounds apocryphal but I've seen it working - and the balance between conserved forests and local agriculture is maintained.

Enter the commercial oil palm companies - even one that should know better, a subsidiary of the UK-registered company Anglo Eastern Plantations that is a member of the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil. Not only is the company clearing protected lowland rainforest illegally in an area that has not been zoned for conversion to agriculture, but it has built a road through an elephant sanctuary. This opens up general access and last Tuesday two of the elephants were shot.

Something to ponder as you eat your ice-cream, spreads and other goodies loaded with palm oil - also recently shown to be suspect in terms of saturated fats. There are some sustainable plantations and some efforts by the food industry to comply. Good, balanced, recent info is supplied by Mongabay and the Rainforest Action Network. But basically the uncontrolled expansion of plantations across the globe is destroying biodiverse forests and peatlands, ecosystem services, orang utans, elephants and more. Leaves a rather bad taste in your mouth, don't you think?

Friday 13 March 2009

Thursday 12 March 2009

Malice of forethought?

Motherly monkeys and aggressive apes in the news again this week. Why are researchers still surprised when they find that other primates have complex minds and even more complex behaviours?

Much is being made of zoo chimp Santino demonstrating an ability to plan and prepare - collecting and fashioning stones to later hurl at visitors. This thoughtful planning for a future state is apparently "human-like" -
"Forward planning like this is supposed to be uniquely human; it implies a consciousness that is very special, that you can close your eyes and see this inner world" says cognitive scientist Mathias Osvath.

Sitting under fruiting figs in tropical forests you can't help but wonder whether modern-day humans could move deliberately through tropical forest in a straight line for many kilometres to arrive at a fruit-bearing tree at the exact moment in a multi-year cycle that it comes through with forage. Hmm. I'd suggest you tap into the inner world of a superior ape to achieve this feat.

And if you want to avoid attacks on the way, take a baby primate for a spot of agonistic buffering. I would also recommend this technique if you are moving across border posts with far too many landrover spare parts.

Sad postscript for Santino - maybe he qualifies for a version of the Darwin award as this behaviour has taken him out of the gene pool:

"They have castrated the poor guy. They hope that his hormone levels will decrease and that will make him less prone to throw stones. He's already getting fatter and he likes to play much more now than before. Being agitated isn't good for him," said Osvath.

Monday 9 March 2009

Be afraid, be very afraid....

Step back Hitchcock, stand aside Bird Flu. This is the real horror of our time - scream more loudly. What do you think it is?

Sunday 8 March 2009

Saturday 7 March 2009

Voyage in a Beagle

As light (night) relief to a serious post, thanks to Dan Stewart for this less-than-seaworthy beagle from Idaho (but Dan, its not just a dog, it's a Beagle).

Hotel run by Messrs Darwin and Fitzroy?

Darwin's Initiative

The words
Darwin and Initiative have a certain symmetrical resonance don't you think? This is a good news story - something of which the British Government can be justly proud. Something that rises above the competitive thrust of party politics. A generator of positive action on behalf of the planet that joins UK institutions in collaborative action with others around the world.

"The Darwin Initiative assists countries that are rich in biodiversity but poor in financial resources to implement the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) through the funding of collaborative projects which draw on UK biodiversity expertise".

Set up in the aftermath of the Rio summit as a response to the dawning realisation of what we were doing to the planet's biodiversity, the Darwin Initiative has now invested £65,350,757 in 602 projects in 145 countries since 1992. And the good news is that the more you dig into those projects the more you realise what an extremely cost-effective initiative this is. While millions, billions, trillions are being thrown around to maintain a leaky global financial infrastructure, these few millions are massaging the beating heart of the biodiversity goose that delivers diverse "ecosystem service" golden global eggs.

While apologising for that laboured metaphor, I cannot apologise for this unfettered admiration for the Darwin Initiative. Actually I have a couple of criticisms. Firstly, they spent so little on administration that the fund "over programmed" and is still catching up after a couple of lean award years. Secondly, the web site is informative but glitchy and rather governmentally boring - although if you delve into the project news you will feed your soul (I mean, of course, rational brain...!) and if you can get the Google link to work you can follow Darwin around the world this 21st Century.

Finally, its not enough. Appeal to the British Government - stop pouring multi-millions into the World Bank and other failing, greedy multi-laterals. This one works. Double, treble the funding. The good projects are there and the scheme is leanly well managed. Every pound you can spare from development or environmental budgets will return a fantastic investment in our future. Where else would you put it? How about transferring to the Darwin Initiative anything you can recoup from inflated pension funds of failed bankers?

Meanwhile, join the floating classroom in Ha Long Bay...

Friday 6 March 2009


Spot the dogs, spot the bitches. Too much time, too little sense? Is this creativity or cruelty?