This is not a spider. Nor is it a spit wad target or a child’s miscalculated attempt at a paper mâché skeleton. This spider-shaped mass is actually a clever decoy. The inch-long assemblage of leaves, twigs, and dead bugs was meticulously arranged by a spider less than a quarter its size. The arachnid artist created this body double on his web in the Peruvian Amazon, and lurks on the strands above it, pulling strings to make the puppet move.
Ulva Island rain forest in New Zealand.
It’s clear that cutting down rain forests to plant crops, however fulfilling in the short-term for a farmer, is a disaster for the millions of species living there. But it could also, in the long term, be a disaster for the farmer. A recent study in Nature combines rainfall data, satellite images showing tree cover, and atmospheric modeling to show that air that has passed over tropical forests often carries at least twice as much water as air that’s passed over less leafy land. That means that large-scale cutting of rain forests can result in catastrophic drought for hundreds of miles around.
Logging in Brazil
When the chief of one Amazonian tribe counseled his people to fight back against illegal logging of their land, the loggers wasted no time in retaliating: they put a $100,000 bounty on his head.
Natural resources are growing scarcer and more valuable, and murders of people attempting to protect them are growing. According to a report by Global Witness, an organization that investigates and counters resource-related conflict and human rights abuses, killings motivated by forests and land have more than doubled over the past three years. In the last decade, 711 people—among them journalists, activists, and locals—have been killed, totaling more than one person per week. Most of the killers are not prosecuted, and information about such murders is hard to come by, but most of the killings are reported to be in Brazil, Colombia, the Phillipines, and Peru.
What’s the News: Along with a whole passel of new Kindles, Amazon yesterday announced a new browser to accompany them, named Silk. And it’s got some unusual characteristics that have some crowing about the next big thing in mobile browsing and others wondering about privacy implications.
What’s the News: Adults and school-age children may understand some basic principles of geometry even without formal math training at all, according to a study published online yesterday by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Thirty members of the Mundurucú, an indigenous Amazonian group, could intuitively grasp geometric concepts about angles, lines, and points, the researchers found.
What’s the News: Amazon has launched a fully working music locker and playback system this week. The cloud system allows users to upload digital music to the Web and play it on their computers and Android phones, giving Amazon a decided edge over its rivals. “Amazon has won the race of the big three to deliver a fully cloud-supported music option,” writes Tech Crunch’s MG Siegler.
Why the Hype:
What’s the Context:
Not So Fast:
Next Up: Amazon may be first, but it’s not going to be the only major company with cloud music storage for long: Both Apple and Google are expected to launch their own locker systems soon.
What’s the News: Despite Apple’s recent lawsuit against Amazon’s use of the term “Appstore,” Amazon successfully began selling applications for the Google Android smart phone yesterday. The launch unveiled two previously unmentioned perks: a free-app-of-the-day promotion and a feature called Test Drive that allows users to try apps on Amazon’s website before buying them.
What’s the Context:
Not So Fast: As some tech gurus note, Amazon’s app-purchasing process is confusing for some people, and involves bypassing the Android Market and allowing “third-party apps to be installed from outside sources.” Confusion aside, this process could make you vulnerable to viruses as well.
The Future Holds: Amazon says it will soon integrate its apps into its recommendation engine, allowing you to see apps that may be relevant to you just like you can see suggested books. There’s still no official news as to whether Amazon’s Kindle will eventually be able to run the Android operation system.
Villagers living in Ecuador’s remote rainforests won a victory in one of the longest-running, most complex environmental lawsuits ever this week. A judge in Ecuador awarded $8.6 billion—with the possibility of another $10 billion or so on top of that—to plaintiffs suing Chevron for polluting the Amazon region during decades of energy exploration. But in a turn of events befitting the tangled web of international environmental law and fights over who should pay for pollution, there’s no guarantee the plaintiffs will actually see that money.
Judge Nicolas Zambrano awarded the $8.6 billion to pay for cleanup and for health care for Ecuadorians made sick by the pollution, plus 10 percent of that total added on top as reparations to the Amazon Defense Coalition. If Chevron doesn’t publicly apologize within 15 days of the ruling—and it isn’t going to—the ruling tacks on another $8.6 billion in punitive damages.
The pollution case itself is full of weird twists and turns. The first thing to know about this mess is that “Chevron” didn’t pollute the region—at least, not under that name.
Chevron does not, in fact, operate in Ecuador today; the American company acquired the lawsuit when it bought Texaco in 2001. Texaco started oil exploration activities with Ecuador’s state oil company Petroecuador back in 1964, and for the next three decades, the 47 plaintiffs say, the company contributed to dumping billions of gallons of waste oil in the region, causing loss of livelihood, widespread health problems and up to 1400 deaths. [TIME]
What does it take to make a wellspring of biodiversity like the Amazon rainforest? A huge mountain range, a blast of heat, and a little time.
A pair of studies in this week’s edition of Science attempt to sort through tropical natural history and reach the root causes of Amazonia’s embarrassment of biological riches. The first, led by palaeoecologist Carina Hoorn, points to the influence of the Andes Mountains, the spine of South America that runs up its western coast. Sometime between about 35 and 65 million years ago, colliding tectonic plates sent the Andes bulging up. According to the researchers, the birth of a mountain range set of an ecological chain reaction.
The rising mountains that resulted from the uplift blocked humid air from the Atlantic, eventually increasing rainfall along the eastern flank of what became the Andes that eroded nutrient-loaded soils off the mountains. The Andes also kept water from draining into the Pacific, helping form vast wetlands about 23 million years ago that were home to a wide range of mollusks and reptiles. [LiveScience]
North Americans may remember 2005 as the year of Hurricane Katrina, but below the equator another fearsome tempest wrought its own devastation that year. From January 16th to 18th a line of thunderstorms tore through the Amazon basin, and researchers who conducted a botanical “body count” after the storm estimate that it laid low between 441 and 663 million trees.
Over the course of two days, a squall line measuring 620 miles (1,000 km) long and 124 miles (200 km) wide raged across the region from southwest to northeast, with buzzsaw-like winds of 90 mph (146 km/hr) causing widespread damage to property and a handful of deaths [Time].
Jeffrey Chambers, a forest ecologist at Tulane University, wanted to assess the damage caused throughout the massive Amazon basin, so he turned to satellites.