Where People First Started Eating Chickens

While chicken is the leading meat of choice among most Americans, and second only to pork globally, consuming them is actually a fairly recent practice in human history. Hence why the discovery of chicken bones that appeared to have been prepared for food was somewhat groundbreaking.

As NPR reports, the emergence of chickens as a food source seems to be marked by an over 2,000-year-old site in present-day Israel. Called Meresha, the former trade city presents a turning point in our relationship with the now universally-domesticated poultry. Continue reading

Less Than a Minute of Nature Can Boost Health

The Atlantic reports on yet another study confirming the benefits of exposure oneself to nature, even for literally a glimpse.

A nice walk through a city park can do wonders for a work-weary brain, reducing mental fatigue and improving attention. But if you’re trapped on the high floors of an office tower all day, you can’t exactly break for a long stroll and a picnic. Well, fear not. If you have a view of a nearby green space, like say a green roof, and even just a minute to spare, you can reap some of the same refreshing benefits of urban nature.

That’s the upshot of a new paper from an Australia-based research team set for publication in the Journal of Environmental Psychology. Their work has found that even taking just 40 seconds to focus on a view of nature can boost “multiple networks of attention”—sharpening your mind to handle the next task dealt by the work day. They call it a “micro-break,” and it turns out your brain loves it:

You can read the details and methodology of the study in the article, but it is certainly not the only research to confirm the importance of nature to human well-being:

The findings certainly fit with all that social science has found in recent years about the restorative power of nature. Whether it’s a walk through a park, a stand of trees out the window, or a mere desk plant, natural views give the working brain a breather—to varying degrees—by engaging our involuntary attention centers. The new conclusion that greenery might work its magic in mere minutes is an especially intriguing prospect in a fast-paced work world. And if green roof simulations were replaced with the real thing, the performance outcomes in the current study might even have been stronger.

I can certainly vouch for this by personal experience. From my regular bouts of anxiety and depression, to good old fashioned work-related stress, pausing for just a moment to focus on my desk plant, visit my garden, or take a stroll through a nearby park has done wonders.

I am glad to work just blocks away from a beautiful public park (and more glad that my job lets me take regular walk breaks). Since I have incorporated this practice into my daily routine, I have seen a notable decline in both the frequency and severity of stress, fatigue, and sadness (although other lifestyle and dietary changes have continued to that as well).

But a few minutes is all it takes to try this out and see the difference.

One-Sixth of Life Threatened With Extinction

From The Straits Times:

Climate change could drive up to a sixth of animals and plants on Earth to extinction unless governments cut rising greenhouse gas emissions, according to a US study published on Thursday.

Species in South America, Australia and New Zealand are most at risk, since many live in small areas or cannot easily move away to adapt to heatwaves, droughts, floods or rising seas, said the report in the journal Science.

The study averaged out 131 previous studies of climate change, whose projections of the number of species that could be lost to climate change ranged from zero to 54 per cent of species worldwide – too wide to be useful in designing conservation policies.

Overall, it found that one in six species could be driven to extinction if greenhouse gas emissions are unchecked and temperatures rise by 4.3 deg C above pre-industrial times by 2100, in line with one scenario from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

As another study reported in the The Washington Post found, large herbivores, which remain mostly in Africa, are especially vulnerable:

Large herbivores — elephants, hippos, rhinos and gorillas among them — are vanishing from the globe at a startling rate, with some 60 percent threatened with extinction, a team of scientists reports.

The situation is so dire, according to a new study, that it threatens an “empty landscape” in some ecosystems “across much of the planet Earth”. The authors were clear: This is a big problem — and it’s a problem with us, not them.

“Growing human populations, unsustainable hunting, high densities of livestock, and habitat loss have devastating consequences for large, long-lived, slow-breeding, and, therefore, vulnerable herbivore species”, reads “Collapse of the world’s largest herbivores” in Science Advances, a publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science…

…Between 2002 and 2011 alone, the number of forest elephants in central Africa declined by 62 percent. Some 100,000 African elephants were poached between 2010 and 2012. And the western black rhinoceros in Africa was declared extinct in 2011.

“This slaughter is driven by the high retail price of rhinoceros horn, which exceeds, per unit weight, that of gold, diamonds, or cocaine”, according to the study.

Vox.com provides a chilling picture at what the world will look like one out of six species gone:

“This paper is only about extinction risk, which is the most extreme of the biotic risks of climate change,” he says. “But that’s also just the tip of the iceberg. We’re also seeing substantial changes in abundances and ranges. So even if we didn’t have a single extinction, we’d be looking at a substantial reorganization of biodiversity around the world. And that will have many effects, some detrimental to other species and human interests.”

Even so, extinction tends to grab the most attention — and often for good reason. “The world is more colorful place with this diversity of species,” he says. “And it’s hard to imagine a world where we’ve lost a significant portion of these species. You think about losing one in six species. It’s like telling an artist they can no longer paint in one color.”

Not to mention the practical everyday impacts. “Global biodiversity is really the foundation of our natural economy, our food security, and our health,” he adds. “These are species that are integrally interwoven into our economic and personal life. When you get to these high extinction risks, you’re talking about a dramatic effect on world.”

Global Spotlight: Socotra, Yemen

Socotra (also spelled Soqotra) is an archipelago of four islands in the Indian Ocean that is part of Yemen. Evidence of human settlement go back to antiquity, where the island served as a stopover for various trade routes that passed by. However, there are signs of a pre-human presence going back over a million years. Ancient inscriptions have been found written in everything from Aramaic and Greek, to pro-Arabic and ancient Indian scripts.

Today, only around 50,000 people live on Socotra, most of them eking out a living as subsistence farmers and fishers. A product of the area’s isolation, they continue to speak a nearly extinct language alongside their own distinct Arabic dialect.

Socotra’s long geographic isolation, combined with its unforgiving heat and dryness, have created a distinct and spectacular ecosystem comprised of flora and fauna found nowhere else in the world; nearly 700 species are unique to the area (only Hawaii, New Caledonia, and the Galapagos Islands surpass it in terms of sheer biodiversity). For this it has been recognized as a world heritage site and nicknamed the Jewel of the Arabian Sea. 

Among the most famous occupant is the dragon blood tree, so named for its crimson red sap, which was highly valued for centuries as a dye, medicine, glue, lipstick, and even breath-freshener. Because it was believed to be dragon’s blood — a fact that could not be unverified in ancient times given the island’s seclusion — the sap was also valued in alchemy, and even today many inhabitants of the island and nearby areas allegedly regard it as a miracle cure for all sorts of ailments.

Socotra, Yemen IV

Socotra continues to retain its centuries-long mystique and character, offering an often alien landscape that is found nowhere else in the world.

The Sixth Mass Extinction

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which compiles and manages the most extensive list of organisms, has determined that nearly 20,000 plant and animal species are at risk. Unsurprisingly, human activity — from direct ecosystem destruction to pollution — is the main culprit.

Even more distressing, the organization’s Red List of threatened and endangered species represents just a small fraction of the world’s total life: less than four percent of the roughly 1.7 million species known to exist have been evaluated, meaning many more could be on their way out — if not already extinct — without our knowledge.

The following infographics from the New York Times paint a very grim picture:

Read more about this dire situation here. Not only is the loss of biodiversity problematic in itself, but it bodes ill for the future of our species, given the vital role that ecosystems play in everything from climate regulation to food supply.

Keep orcas in the wild, not in aquaria

Eupraxsophy:

I wholeheartedly agree.

Originally posted on Why Evolution Is True:

Blackfish is a 2013 documentary movie about captive orcas (killer whales) at SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida. It centers on Tilikum, the infamous orca who killed three people (including two trainers) and is still at SeaWorld.  The documentary, directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, premiered at Sundance in Utah, and has received a lot of critical acclaim. It gets a 97% from the critics on the Rotten Tomatoes site, and Wikipedia says this:

Critical reception for the documentary has been mostly positive, with the Deseret News calling it “a gripping example of documentary filmmaking at its finest”. Twitch Film and The Hollywood Reporter both praised Blackfish, with both review sites arguing that the film gave “a persuasive case against keeping the species – and by extension any wild animal – in captivity for the purposes of human entertainment”. Film School Rejects gave the documentary a rating of B-, writing that…

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A snake mimics a spider

Originally posted on Why Evolution Is True:

If you like evolution and natural history, you should already be reading Ed Yong’s terrific site Not Exactly Rocket Science at National Geographic. In his short post “This snake has a tail that looks like a spider,” he describes a remarkable and newly found type of mimicry.

The snake is, appropriately, the spider-tailed viper (Pseudocerastes urarachnoides), first described formally only 7 years ago from Iran.  It was known since the sixties, but the one specimen’s tail was dismissed as a tumor or deformity. We now know from other specimens that this is indeed a species-specific trait. As Yong notes:

The tail is bizarre. If you saw a close-up photo of it, you’d struggle to believe that there was a snake at the other end. There’s a large orange or grey bulb at the tip, and the scales just before that are bizarrely long and thin…

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Eupraxsophy:

As I’ve said before, nature is as beautiful as any work of art. These pictures are amazing. It’s hard to believe the insects I encounter without a passing thought (other than perhaps annoyance or revulsion) harbor this much beauty deep down.

Originally posted on Why Evolution Is True:

Linden Gledhill’s Flickr page contains 32 sets of photographs, half of them devoted to biology or physical phenomena in nature. You could spend hours looking at them, for they include insects, plants, insect eggs, insect parts, fungi, as well as paint splashes, astronomy shots, and travel photographs.  Linden has given me permission to put up a few of his insect pictures, but be aware that they’re “copyright Linden Gledhill” and can’t be further reproduced without his permission.

I believe it was the stalwart Matthew Cobb who called my attention to Gledhill’s close-up photos of butterfly wings. The entire album is here (it’s two pages), and on that album you can click on each of the images to enlarge it. This array of thumbnails from the first page (screenshot below) looks like a wonderful patchwork quilt:

Picture 1

Photographers will be interested in Linden’s extensive technical notes about how he made the photos.

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