Scientists at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center have teamed up with researchers at Willamette University, a liberal arts college in Salem Oregon, to develop genetic tools that could save the Joshua tree from extinction. Together with scientists from The University of Georgia and the University of British Columbia, and with the support of several Mojave Desert conservation organizations, researchers are inviting members of the public to help get the project off the ground by making donations at the crowdfunding site Experiment.com. In the past two weeks, more than 100 backers have donated more than $4,000 to The Joshua Tree Genome Project. The project aims to raise $8,500 by March 24th. Joshua trees are the iconic species of the Mojave Desert, the hottest and driest desert region of North America. This keystone species provides food and habitat for many other species, and numerous State and National Parks are dedicated to their conservation. However, emerging research suggests that Joshua trees are disappearing across much of the Mojave Desert, perhaps because of ongoing global warming. Some scientists predict that the trees may go extinct within the next 100 years. The project, one of 17 projects that are participating in Experiment.com's Liberal Arts College Pilot Program. The pilot program at Experiment.com aims to bring the power of crowdfunding to research labs at small undergraduate institutions. To help support colleges participating in the program, Experiment will contribute an extra $2,000 to the project that receives the most donors by March 16th. "Understanding the genome will help us make conservation plans that allow Joshua tree to adapt to changing climates and environments," said project scientist Christopher Irwin Smith, a biologist at Willamette University. "The genome could also answer many important questions about the evolutionary history of this iconic desert species." "The data will provide our first detailed look into the Joshua tree genome," said Michael McKain, an evolutionary biologist working on the project and a post-doctoral associate at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center. "It will allow us to untangle Joshua trees' diversity at the most basic level, and identify how major evolutionary events contributed to its unique form." Ensuring that Joshua trees will flourish into the future means preserving the plants themselves and the genetic variation that will allow them to evolve in response to environmental changes. "Sequencing the Joshua tree genome is the first step to revealing the genetic basis of climate adaptations," said Jeremy Yoder, a post-doctoral fellow studying evolutionary biology at the University of British Columbia. "And from there we can identify gene variants that may allow Joshua trees to survive rising global temperatures." Explore further: New findings suggest species' interactions don't always promote diversity
News Article | September 13, 2016
The layered geologic past of Mars is revealed in stunning detail in new color images returned by NASA's Curiosity Mars rover, which is currently exploring the "Murray Buttes" region of lower Mount Sharp. The new images arguably rival photos taken in U.S. National Parks.
"2016 marks the centennial of the National Park Service, the mission of which is to preserve 'unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations. The Park Service cooperates with partners to extend the benefits of natural and cultural resource conservation and outdoor recreation throughout this country and the world.' And though we’re celebrating 100 years of the National Park System this year, from Maine to Hawaii, Florida to Alaska, and everywhere in between, not to mention American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, it may come as a surprise to learn that the first National Park was designated in 1871, 45 years before the National Park Service as we know it came into existence in 1916. According to The National Parks: Shaping the System, published by the National Park Service, the idea of land being preserved for everyone to enjoy was first expressed in 1832 (that’s just 56 years after the birth of United States of America in 1776) and is credited to artist George Catlin. During a trip to the Dakota region in 1832, Catlin, best known for his paintings of Native Americans, pondered the impact the western expansion would have upon these civilizations, the wildlife and the wilderness. He wrote that they might be preserved “by some great protecting policy of government…in a magnificent park…a nation’s park, containing man and beast, in all the wild(ness) and freshness of their nature’s beauty.”" "On Its 100th Anniversary, The National Park Service Plans For The Future" (NPR) "The Political Crusades Targeting National Parks For Drilling And Exploitation" (Guardian) "National Park Service Turns 100, And Some Sites Are Showing Their Age" (Washington Post) "Science in the Wild: The Legacy Of the U.S. National Park System" (Yale Environment 360) Opinion: "We Must Recommit To National Parks, America’S Cathedrals" (Washington Post/NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis)
This is almost becoming a regular TreeHugger feature, the wanton destruction of (pick one) trees, natural monuments, air quality, whatever, just because some people think that it is fun. The latest is an iconic sandstone formation known as "the duckbill" at Cape Kiwanda in Oregon: The state park people initially thought that it was natural erosion that took it down, noting that "The rubble serves as a sobering reminder of the ever present dangers of our fragile coastal rocks and cliffs." Then a video turned up: (warning: swear word in sound track) The guy behind the camera phone, David Kalas, asked them why they did it: The first thing that came out of his mouth was that, oh his buddy broke his leg on it and it was a safety hazard and they were doing everybody a favor by knocking it down, you know which frustrated me because nobody forced them to climb on top of the rock. He says what’s disappointing is how significant that one rock is to so many people. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people have taken their picture on it over the years. “People got married on top of the rock, got their engagement photos on top of the rock,” Kalas said. "They can’t share that moment any more with their future children or their grandchildren or anyone like that, it will always just now be a memory," he added. Oregon State Police is now on the case, as is the recreation department. "The department takes vandalism of a state park's natural features seriously." The maximum fine? $435. In an earlier post on vandalism in National Parks, Jaymi wrote that social media might be part of the problem: Is showing off on social media part of the problem behind a recent and serious rise in vandalism of wildspace? Many state parks have been hit much harder than usual with graffiti and destruction, and some wonder if the ability to show off one's "work" via platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram could be adding fuel to the fire. But I cannot help but think that the opposite is true, now that people like David Kalas are using phones and social media to record the vandals. These days, if you do something stupid, everybody is going to know.
Traffic said that in one case last year, a wildlife smuggler was arrested in Indonesia after selling rare species including hornbills (pictured) using Facebook and BlackBerry Messenger (AFP Photo/Romeo Gacad) More Social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram are increasingly being used in Asia as platforms for the illegal trade in threatened species ranging from rare birds to orangutan and sun bears, conservation groups said Thursday. The trend poses a new and worrying threat in a tech-savvy region where products derived from endangered species are sought for traditional medicines and exotic animals are prized as pets, said wildlife-trade monitor Traffic and conservation group WWF. "Traders are clearly moving to non-conventional methods of sale such as utilising online portals and social media in order to evade detection, reach a broader audience and increase transaction efficiency and convenience," Traffic said in a report released to coincide with Thursday's World Wildlife Day. Growing numbers of traders are using Instagram, closed groups on Facebook and password-protected online forums to reach Asian customers, it added. Traffic said in a single month in China last year, thousands of ivory products, 77 whole rhino horns and large numbers of endangered birds were found advertised for sale on sites such as QQ and WeChat, which are popular in China. "The wildlife trade network is getting smarter and more sophisticated," WWF Malaysia director Dionysius Sharma told AFP. "We need to be one step ahead and come up with creative solutions to eradicate this problem." Traffic's report focused heavily on Malaysia, where Facebook use is high. Over a 50-hour period last year, it monitored 14 Facebook wildlife-trading groups catering to customers in Malaysia, counting more than 67,500 active members of the groups. During the observation period, scores of traders put up more than 200 individual posts offering to sell live wild animals ranging from rare birds to orangutans and sun bears, it said. Often, photos of for-sale animals were uploaded to Facebook, Instagram, and other sites, while bargaining took place over platforms like WhatsApp in Malaysia and BlackBerry Messenger in Indonesia. "Trading appears to be very relaxed and traders will happily provide their contact details and will sometimes offer to deliver the animal to the buyer's home address," said the report. Facebook groups can quickly change their names or shut down and pop up in another guise, highlighting the challenges facing law enforcement. A trade in exotic pets also was growing, said Elizabeth John, a Traffic spokeswoman. "Having a dog or cat isn't enough for people anymore. They want unusual and exotic pets now," she said, adding that the slow loris, an endangered Southeast Asian primate, was among hot favourites in Malaysia. Traffic said it was working with enforcement agencies in many countries on the issue and also was in contact with Facebook. It called for "closer collaboration between law enforcement agencies and Facebook". But Traffic's report quoted a Facebook spokesperson saying the social media giant does not allow such activities on its site and was "committed to working with Traffic to help tackle" the problem. A spokeswoman for Malaysia's Department of Wildlife and National Parks said the agency was addressing the issue. "From 2014, we have conducted special operations and have arrested several masterminds and rescued wildlife species as well," she said, providing no specifics. Traffic said that in one case last year, a wildlife smuggler was arrested in Indonesia after trying to sell a young Sumatran orangutan, one of the world's most endangered primates, using Facebook and BlackBerry Messenger. He had also sold other rare species such as slow lorises and hornbills.