For centuries, humans have endeavoured to discover and describe the sum of Earth’s biological diversity. Scientists and naturalists have catalogued species from all continents and oceans, from the depths of Earth’s crust to the highest mountains, and from the most remote jungles to our most populated cities. This grand effort sheds light on the forms and behaviours that evolution has made possible, while serving as the foundation for understanding the common descent of life. Until recently, our planet was thought to be inhabited by nearly 10 million species (107). Though no small number, this estimate is based almost solely on species that can be seen with the naked eye.Continue reading There are more microbial species on Earth than stars in the galaxy
Rainforests are the oldest living ecosystems and without a shadow of a doubt, the most vital habitats on Earth. They cover only 6% of the Earth’s surface but yet they contain more than half of the world’s plant and animal species. According to the current estimates, around 40% to 75% of all biotic species are indigenous Notes 1 to the rainforests.
What’s more, there are probably millions of species of plants, insects, and microorganisms still undiscovered in tropical rainforests. They are responsible for 28% of the world’s oxygen turnover. More than 20% of the world’s oxygen is produced in the Amazon Rainforest only, that’s why it has been described as the “lungs of our planet”.
Unfortunately, rainforests are rapidly disappearing due to deforestation. The loss is huge, and probably hundreds or even thousands of undiscovered species going extinct every single day. We are losing them forever.Continue reading Rainforests of the World (Infographic)
When I hike up into the hills around Salt Lake City, above the Bonneville Shoreline Trail where the sagebrush gives way to the shade of the forest, mastodons are on my mind. Immense bones pulled from a sinkhole on the nearby Wasatch Plateau placed Mammut americanum in the area about 7,500 years ago – practically yesterday from the perspective of Deep Time. It might sound strange to say that I miss creatures I wasn’t around to see in the first place. But still, I mourn their loss as I plod through the woods, imagining their low rumbles and the splintering crashes as they browsed among the trees.
A small but growing number of scientists say that they could reverse that loss through de-extinction – genetic resuscitation in the style of the sci-fi yarn Jurassic Park. The idea is also now being marketed as conservation’s great hope to forestall the loss of biodiversity caused by humans. Biological Xeroxing was held up as one of the possibilities for species resuscitation at a National Geographic TEDx event on de-extinction in 2013. That same year, the discovery of a particularly juicy mammoth carcass, dripping with what appeared to be blood, sparked a flurry of reports assuring readers that the return of the mammoth is nigh. For if there’s blood, there’s DNA, and if there’s DNA, then we can have the Ice Age beast back, right?
An island or isle is any piece of sub-continental land that is surrounded by water. It is believed that there are over 100,000 islands in the world. It’s difficult to put a figure to the exact number as there are different kinds of them in various water bodies including oceans, seas, lakes, and rivers. There is even an island within a lake that is situated on an island located in a lake on an island. Only 322 of them are larger than 1000 km2 (386 sq mi). Here are the top 18 largest islands on Earth. Why 18? Because this is the number of islands that have a land area of greater than 100,000 square kilometers (38,610 square miles).
Continue reading Top 18 Largest Islands on Earth
You probably take bananas for granted. In the United Kingdom, one in four pieces of fruit consumed is a banana and, on average, each Briton eats 10 kg of bananas per year; in the United States, that’s 12 kg, or up to 100 bananas. When I ask people, most seem to think bananas grow on trees. But they don’t, in either the literal or the figurative sense: in fact, they’re in danger of extinction.
Continue reading Bananas have died out once before – don’t let it happen again
If we limit global warming to 1.5°C rather than 2°C above the pre-industrial levels by the year 2100, the impacts of climate change would be much less dramatic, a new study says. According to the researchers, for vertebrates and plants, the number of species losing more than half their geographic range by 2100 will be halved when warming is limited to 1.5°C, compared with projected losses at 2°C. It would be even better for insects, the most diverse group of animals on Earth: the number is reduced by two-thirds.
Continue reading Most species hold their geographic range if we limit global warming to 1.5°C, study says
In 1981, when I was nine years old, my father took me to see Raiders of the Lost Ark. Although I had to squint my eyes during some of the scary scenes, I loved it – in particular because I was fairly sure that Harrison Ford’s character was based on my dad. My father was a palaeontologist at the University of Chicago, and I’d gone on several field trips with him to the Rocky Mountains, where he seemed to transform into a rock-hammer-wielding superhero.
Continue reading What a fossil revolution reveals about the history of ‘big data’
I stumbled upon an amazing web page showing what did ancient Earth look like. On “Dinosaur Pictures and Facts” web page (dinosaurpictures.org), there’s also an interactive animation. On this page, you can either select the years (i.e. 600 million years ago) or jump to a particular event (i.e. first multicellular life) and see how ancient Earth did look like then. You can also remove the clouds and stop the Earth’s rotation if you want to.
Continue reading What did Ancient Earth Look Like
Iceland was extensively forested when it was first settled. When the Vikings first arrived in the 9th century, the Nordic island was covered in 25 to 40 percent forest, compared to 1% in the present day. In the late 12th century, Ari the Wise (Ari Thorgilsson, 1067–1148 AD), Iceland’s most prominent medieval chronicler, described it in the Íslendingabók (Book of IcelandersNotes 1) as “forested from mountain to sea shore”. Unfortunately, after the permanent human settlement, the forests were heavily exploited for firewood, timber and to make room for farming. Within a few centuries, almost all of Iceland’s trees were gone. This rapid deforestation has resulted in massive soil erosion that puts the island at risk for desertification. Today, many farms have been abandoned. Three-quarters of Iceland’s 100,000 km2is affected by soil erosion, 18,000 km2 (6,900 sq mi) serious enough to make the land useless.
Continue reading Watch: Iceland Is Growing New Forests for the First Time in 1,000 Years
A small boy hauls enthusiastically on his fishing rod. The line flies up and a needle-spined fish strikes him in the eye. Desperate to stay outdoors, he ignores the pain, but his sight deteriorates over the following months. He continues to pursue his love of nature but, now blind in one eye, he is confined to studying creatures that are easy to see: insects. He grows to become the global authority on ants, and in later life is given the moniker ‘the father of biodiversity’.
Continue reading Biodiversity isn’t just pretty: it future-proofs our world