Wolves return to Rome’s periphery for the first time in 100 years

September 26, 2017 by  
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The wolf , an animal that has served as a symbol of Rome since ancient times, has returned to the historic Italian city for the first time in a century. The alpha predators were recently sighted in a nature preserve at Castel di Guido, only a short distance from Leonardo DiVinci international airport and the perimeter highway encircling the capital of Italy. Scientists estimate that there are at least four wolves, two cubs and two adults, that reside in the area. According to Roman mythology, Romulus, Rome’s founder, and his brother Remus were suckled by a female wolf in a cave after being abandoned on the Tiber River. This episode is represented throughout Roman iconography, including the seal for Rome’s soccer club, AS Roma. The return of this iconic species to Rome is welcomed by the locals. “We’re very pleased that they are back,” said Alessia De Lorenzis, a professor whose work involves tracking and documenting the wolf pack. Related: American Coywolf is a fascinating hybrid species with supercharged adaptation Wolves were originally hunted in Europe and North America, nearly to extinction, in part due to their predation of livestock animals. The modern wolves of Rome seem to pose little threat to livestock as an analysis of their feces has demonstrated that they rely almost entirely on a diet of wild boar, a plentiful animal in the region. In Italy, the killing of wolves was promoted until the 1970s, a time when the Italian wolf population had fallen to about 100 animals. Wolves received protected status in 1971 and the population has since recovered to about 1,500-2,000 individuals, with a particularly robust population in the mountainous region on the border of France . Via The Telegraph Images via  the Italian League for Bird Protection

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Wolves return to Rome’s periphery for the first time in 100 years

London scientists want to revive plants buried in ‘ghost ponds’

July 24, 2017 by  
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Life will find a way, even if that way is winding and submerged under layers of organic matter and water . According to a recent study by a scientific team at University College London , uncovering hidden habitats buried under so-called “ghost ponds,” ponds that have been filled in with soil and vegetation but not fully drained, could prove decisive in restoring ecosystems and may even hold the key to reviving extinct plant species. “We have shown that ghost ponds can be resurrected, and remarkably wetland plants lost for centuries can be brought back to life from preserved seeds,” declared lead researcher Emily Alderton. To the untrained eye, a potential treasure trove of ecological richness that is a ghost pond may go unnoticed. They manifest as damp areas of land, on which plants have difficulty growing and the soil may appear discolored in contrast to the ground around it. Ghost ponds are usually created by farmers who apply plants and soil to small ponds as they seek to create more arable land. “Small ponds were not drained, but were filled in while they were still wet. We think this is likely to have contributed to the survival of the seeds buried within the historic pond sediments,” said Alderton. Related: Scientists Bring Extinct Mouth-Brooding Frog Back to Life After 30 Years Researchers at UCL analyzed survey maps and historical records in order to track down nondescript ghost ponds of interest. “We also suspected that ghost was the right word as it hints at some form of life still hanging on and this is exactly what we have,” said Carl Sayer, study co-author and director of the UCL Pond Restoration Research Group. “The species that lived in the past pond are still alive, dormant and waiting!” From three sites in the UK, the team has so far recovered and revived eight different plant species. Researchers are now urging conservation groups and policymakers to place greater emphasis on ghost ponds and their role in ecological restoration. “For plants to grow back after being buried for over 150 years is remarkable,” said Christopher Hassall of the University of Leeds, who was not involved in the study. “Ponds are often neglected compared to lakes and rivers because of their small size, but they punch above their weight in terms of the number of species that they contain.” Via ScienceAlert Images via University College London/Carl Sayer and Felix Neumann

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London scientists want to revive plants buried in ‘ghost ponds’

Doughnut Economics: the long-sought alternative to endless growth

April 13, 2017 by  
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Finding a healthy alternative to the prevailing growth model that has strained the planet to bursting is the holy grail of environmental economics. And it looks like maybe we’ve found it. George Monbiot, the most dynamic environmental journalist I know, wrote about Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist , which “redraws the economy” in such a way that the planet and its inhabitants can thrive, with or without growth. It’s so similar to the kind of closed-loop thinking we see frequently on Inhabitat, whether in permaculture design or William McDonough’s new approach to integrating the carbon cycle , it seemed important to share. I’ll point out a few excerpts below, but please do read Monbiot’s longer analysis . It starts with what he says is the most important question: “So what are we going to do about it?” Monbiot writes: Raworth points out that economics in the 20th century “lost the desire to articulate its goals”. It aspired to be a science of human behaviour: a science based on a deeply flawed portrait of humanity. The dominant model – “rational economic man”, self-interested, isolated, calculating – says more about the nature of economists than it does about other humans. The loss of an explicit objective allowed the discipline to be captured by a proxy goal: endless growth. In her book, Raworth emphasizes that economics should provide a model that doesn’t require growth in order to meet “the needs of all within the means of the planet.” And, she offers one. As Monbiot points out, we have a messy situation where power rests in the hands of a few who really don’t seem terribly concerned to acknowledge the planet’s limits, or, therefore, the limits to economic growth, so mustering political might not be so easy. Here’s how our current economic system works, in a nutshell, according to Monbiot: The central image in mainstream economics is the circular flow diagram. It depicts a closed flow of income cycling between households, businesses, banks, government and trade, operating in a social and ecological vacuum. Energy, materials, the natural world, human society, power, the wealth we hold in common … all are missing from the model. The unpaid work of carers – principally women – is ignored, though no economy could function without them. Like rational economic man, this representation of economic activity bears little relationship to reality. Raworth’s model “embeds” economics into existing natural and social systems, “showing how it depends on the flow of materials and energy , and reminding us that we are more than just workers, consumers and owners of capital.” Again from Monbiot, writing for The Guardian : The diagram consists of two rings. The inner ring of the doughnut represents a sufficiency of the resources we need to lead a good life: food, clean water, housing, sanitation, energy, education, healthcare, democracy. Anyone living within that ring, in the hole in the middle of the doughnut, is in a state of deprivation. The outer ring of the doughnut consists of the Earth’s environmental limits, beyond which we inflict dangerous levels of climate change, ozone depletion, water pollution, loss of species and other assaults on the living world. The area between the two rings – the doughnut itself – is the “ecologically safe and socially just space” in which humanity should strive to live. The purpose of economics should be to help us enter that space and stay there. It’s hard to understate how exciting this revelation is for those of us thinking of a way out of our current predicament. We need an economic system that works with the Earth, instead of against it, to provide for all of us – rather than too much for too few. Images via George Monbiot, Kate Raworth, Pixabay

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Doughnut Economics: the long-sought alternative to endless growth

50% of Earth’s species face extinction by 2100

February 27, 2017 by  
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Biologists, economists, and ecologists have gathered at the Vatican to discuss what actions humanity can take to preserve Earth’s biosphere . Attending the Biological Extinction conference, these researchers say one in five species are currently threatened with extinction , but that statistic could skyrocket to 50 percent of all species on Earth by 2100 if we do nothing to stem the preventable carnage. The conference organizers said endangered species like the rhinoceros or tiger may make headlines now and again, but we’re largely overlooking the peril other living things face. In case we think otherwise, Earth’s animals and plants are vital for the planet and for us: they provide food and medicine, absorb carbon emissions , purify the air and water, and regenerate soil, to name a few functions. The organizers said, “The living fabric of the world is slipping through our fingers without our showing much sign of caring.” Related: First mammal species succumbs to climate change Paul Ehrlich, a biologist from Stanford University , blamed the destruction of the environment on the lifestyles of rich Western countries. He said, “Rich Western countries are now siphoning up the planet’s resources and destroying its ecosystems at an unprecedented rate. We want to build highways across the Serengeti to get more rare earth minerals for our cellphones. We grab all the fish from the sea, wreck the coral reefs , and put carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. We have triggered a major extinction event. The question is: how do we stop it?” Researchers will be at the Vatican today talking about economic and social changes we could take to try and save the planet’s species. The Pontifical Academy of Sciences and Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences are sponsoring the workshop, which continues until March 1 to explore several ecological issues. Ehrlich said, “If you look at the figures, it is clear that to support today’s world population sustainably – and I emphasize the word sustainably – you would require another half a planet to provide us with those resources. However, if everyone consumed resources at the U.S. level – which is what the world aspires to – you will need another four or five Earths.” Via The Guardian Images via Pixabay and Pexels

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50% of Earth’s species face extinction by 2100

The mystery of Namibia’s desert fairy circles may have been solved

January 19, 2017 by  
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The truth is out there… in Namibia .  Inhabitat previously reported on the mysterious “fairy circles” that have appeared without explanation in the Namib Desert for millennia. Over the past several decades, scientists have sought to uncover what exactly is causing this mysterious phenomenon. Although recent theories have centered on local termites, scientists had been unable to determine how exactly these creatures created the fairy circles over such a wide range range. The most recent explanation points to aggressive desert plants that fill ecological gaps left by colonizing termites. The fairy circles appear as patches of barren land between seven and 50 feet in diameter that are defined as circular by a ring of prominent grass growth around the edge. Until recently, this was thought to be a uniquely African phenomenon. However, similar examples have been found in the Pilbara region in Western Australia . According to myths of the local Himba people, the fairy circles were created by Mukuru, their original ancestor, or are footprints of the gods. Some local tour guides also promote the legend that the circles are created by a dragon , whose poisonous breath kills the central vegetation. Related: How one researcher is hoping to tap into the life-saving secrets of fog and dew Ecologists at Princeton University used computer models to test the termite hypothesis, which posits that sand termites eat the roots of low-laying vegetation and allow for more moisture below the surface and barrenness above. In the computer simulations, the mounds only formed where termite colonies of similar size confronted each other and settled on a border. “The termites start with their own mound and go out and forage,” said Princeton researcher Corina Tarnita. “If they find a smaller colony, they simply kill it and expand their own territory. But if they run into a colony that is about the same size, they cannot do that, and end up with a boundary where there’s permanent conflict, but not a full-blown war.” Tarnita’s updated computer model took into account the natural competition that exists between desert plants. While rooted desert plants can initially provide shade and moisture for other plants, they eventually spread, pulling more water for themselves and away from more distant plants. “You find a much smaller scale pattern that’s driven by the plants self-organising in response to water,” Tarnita said. Although the researchers do not claim to have a definitive explanation of the fairy circles, their computer models seem to provide the most likely explanation. “We get a much more complete description of the patterns.” The fairy circles may appear to be supernatural, but their existence is a result of identifiable natural forces. “One of the most striking things about nature is that despite the complexity of all of its interactions and the many processes that act simultaneously, sometimes, and more often than we expected, you find these amazing regularities.” Via the Guardian Images via  Vernon Swanepoel/Flickr   (1)

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The mystery of Namibia’s desert fairy circles may have been solved

Eco-friendly Syrian refugee housing that anyone would love to call home

January 19, 2017 by  
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Building refugee housing often means fast construction at the expense of beauty and quality, but that doesn’t have to be the case if we take German architect Werner Sobek’s work as any indication. Sobek and the company Aktivhaus recently completed a modular development for 200 Syrian refugees in the German town of Winnenden. Prefabricated in a factory and swiftly assembled on site like Legos, the bright and airy homes are attractive enough for anyone to want to call home. Faced with an influx of refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war , the German town of Winnenden turned to Sobek for a quick way to set up a housing estate for around 200 people in the Schelmenholz district. The development also needed to be flexible enough to be converted for different uses in the future and to be easily expanded on or deconstructed. To minimize costs, construction time, and waste, Sobek installed 38 prefabricated modules from Aktivhaus’ 700 Series. Each 60-square-meter module is constructed using timber frame construction and is stacked to create two stories. The airtight walls, clad in larch , are made with high levels insulation—consisting of hemp and wood fibers—to minimize energy demands. Most materials used are resource conserving and recyclable, with minimal concrete used. The windows are sealed with rubber strips instead of toxic polyurethane foam. Related: Sobek’s Activhaus produces enough green power to light up the house next door Sobek estimates that the modules could last hundreds of years if they are well cared for. The Winnenden development is intended as refugee housing for three years, after which they will be converted into social housing. The development also includes a technology module, two community rooms, and a multifunctional space with washing machines and dryers. The project was initiated and completed last year. + Werner Sobek Via Treehugger , zvw.de Images © Zooey Braun

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Eco-friendly Syrian refugee housing that anyone would love to call home

Mother trees recognize kin and send them "messages of wisdom"

August 2, 2016 by  
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More information continues to surface that trees may be far more connected than we thought. Forest ecologist Suzanne Simard of The University of British Colombia gave a TED talk in June, during which she detailed research that shows mother trees recognize their kin. At a time when an increasing number of people are disconnected from the natural world, Simard hoped to persuade the audience to think differently about forests . In the talk Simard said, “…we set about an experiment, and we grew mother trees with kin and stranger’s seedlings. And it turns out they do recognize their own kin. Mother trees colonize their kin with bigger mycorrhizal networks. They send them more carbon below ground. They even reduce their own root competition to make elbow room for their kids. When mother trees are injured or dying, they also send messages of wisdom on to the next generation of seedlings…so trees talk.” Related: Researchers believe trees may have their own living Internet Trees send each other carbon through mycelium , or fungal threads, and it looks like the sending process isn’t simply random. According to Simard’s research, mother trees prioritize their offspring when it comes to providing them with key nutrients and other resources. Trees can send not only carbon through mycorrhizal networks, but also nitrogen, water, defense signals, phosphorous, and allele chemicals. Simard says mycorrhizal networks have “nodes and links.” Fungi act as links, and trees as the nodes. The busiest nodes she calls mother trees. Mother trees can sometimes be connected to hundreds of trees, and the carbon they pass to those trees is said to increase seedling survival by four times. Her findings are incredibly relevant for conservation . If too many mother trees are cut down, “the whole system collapses.” Simard thinks we’d be more careful about cutting down trees if we were aware of the deep connections between their “families”. You can watch her whole TED talk here . Via Treehugger Images via Pixabay ( 1 , 2 )

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Mother trees recognize kin and send them "messages of wisdom"

Dangerously low biodiversity levels could trigger ecological recession, researcher warns

July 15, 2016 by  
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Biodiversity has dropped dangerously low across more than half of the world’s land surface, according to a new report published in the journal Science . The study, led by researchers from University College London, the Natural History Museum, London, and the United Nations Environment Programme’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), found that 58 percent of the Earth’s land, which is home to 71 percent of the human population, has surpassed a safe limit for biodiversity loss, threatening long-term sustainable development efforts. “It’s worrying that land use has already pushed biodiversity below the level proposed as a safe limit,” said Professor Andy Purvis of the Natural History Museum, London, one of the study’s authors. “Decision-makers worry a lot about economic recessions, but an ecological recession could have even worse consequences — and the biodiversity damage we’ve had means we’re at risk of that happening. Until and unless we can bring biodiversity back up, we’re playing ecological roulette.” Related: One in five plants on Earth are at risk for extinction The authors of the report analyzed 2.38 million records for 39,123 plant and animal species at 18,659 sites across the planet, finding that grasslands, savannas and shrublands have experienced the most biodiversity loss, followed by forests and woodlands. The safe limit is defined as a 10 percent reduction in the Biodiversity Intactness Index (BII), a measure put forward last year by ecological experts updating the planetary boundaries framework. Dr Tim Newbold, the study’s lead author and a research associate at University College London, suggested that ecological restoration efforts might be needed because if ecosystem functions begin to break down, it could impact the ability of agriculture to sustain human societies. “The greatest changes have happened in those places where most people live, which might affect physical and psychological wellbeing,” said Newbold. “To address this, we would have to preserve the remaining areas of natural vegetation and restore human-used lands.” + Report: Has land use pushed terrestrial biodiversity beyond the planetary boundary? A global assessment Via Science Daily Images via Wikimedia

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Dangerously low biodiversity levels could trigger ecological recession, researcher warns

Solar Cabin: modular refugee housing with an energy-generating solar field

July 15, 2016 by  
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With prefabricated gypsum walls and a western red cedar facade, Solar Cabin is an aesthetically-pleasing design that offers profound environmental and social benefits. Comprised of a modular kit of parts that allows for a variety of configurations, the cabins can be stacked together or stand alone. The roof is comprised of a rooftop solar array , or solar field, that provides energy for the home itself and neighboring buildings. In this way, the housing serves two essential functions – sheltering displaced people while also increasing the overall clean energy share in any given city. Related: Transitional Liina Shelter requires zero tools for assembly The design also incorporates rainwater harvesting and a constructed wetland that helps to filter blackwater. The architects point out that because of its various green components, potential investors will qualify for various government subsidies, including the Energy Investment Allowance. Albeit designed for refugees as part of the Home Away From Home design competition, this project is equally suitable for students, graduates and other low-income residents, offering housing for up to 10 years. Along with the other five winners, Solar Cabin is currently on display at the White Nights Festival in Rotterdam until 17 July, 2016, and prototypes of the buildings will be on display in Eindhoven later this year during Dutch Design Week . The Solar Cabin crew notes that their design will enlist various sectors of society to work together to address the tragic increase in asylum applications – as a result of wars across the Middle East. dNA writes, “Investing in Solar Cabin is an investment in the environmental objective of the Dutch government in 2020 and a preview of Dutch Design with added value to other countries.” Of course it also offers a more dignified alternative to the shabby tents far too many people around the world currently call home, and we hope to see its widespread implementation soon – in the Netherlands and beyond. + Solar Cabin + dNArchitectuur

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Solar Cabin: modular refugee housing with an energy-generating solar field

Architect team weaves the Mississippi River’s only waterfall into Minneapolis’ urban fabric

December 5, 2014 by  
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Read the rest of Architect team weaves the Mississippi River’s only waterfall into Minneapolis’ urban fabric Permalink | Add to del.icio.us | digg Post tags: ecology , Landscape Architecture , Minneapolis , Mississippi River , riverfront park , Rogers Partners , SCAPE , St anthony’s falls , Water Works , Waterfront Park

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Architect team weaves the Mississippi River’s only waterfall into Minneapolis’ urban fabric

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