Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Attenborough: Saying Boo to a Sloth! - BBC Earth

Classic David Attenborough moment :)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Of Forests and Men

In honour of the International Year Forests 2011
Save the Forests don't let 'The essential being destroyed to produce the superfluous'

  • a short film by: Directed by:Yann Arthus-Bertrand
  • written by: GoodPlanet and Isabelle Delannoy

  • Trees first appeared on Earth more than 380 million years ago.
  • But what do we know of them?
  • They have changed the face of continents.
  • From arid rock, they have brought forth the fertile lands we know today.
  • A tree never moves, but finds the food it needs where it's planted.
  • To live and grow, it takes in water, light, energy and carbon dioxide from the air.
  • The tree draws its raw materials from the environment
  • and turns them into leaves, branches and trunk.
  • At the same time, a tree gives off an abundance of the substance
  • that has allowed such a variety of life forms to proliferate.
  • Oxygen.
  • The planet's forests are home to more than half of its species.
  • Every year, we discover hitherto unknown insects, plants and genes.
  • Life, whose very existence we had not suspected.
  • Our food, our remedies and our scientific and technological research
  • depend on that biodiversity.
  • Man has always gained his livelihood from the forest,
  • which we transform and destroy.
  • Half of the forest that existed at the dawn of agriculture has since been destroyed.
  • Our model has been to strive for constant growth.
  • Since 1950 the world population has risen nearly threefold,
  • whereas our consumption of meat is up more than fivefold.
  • Paper, by sixfold.
  • Our tools are on a different scale.
  • We are cutting trees down by the million
  • to plant soybeans and to produce millions of tons of meat.
  • Forests are being replaced by stands of eucalyptus
  • more profitable for the paper industry.
  • And by oil palms, more profitable for the agro-food business.
  • Coastal mangrove forests have shrunk in the area by another 20% over the last 30 years.
  • One of the main culprits, is shrimp and fish farming.
  • However, deforestation can also be a matter of survival.
  • 2 billion people cut down forests to make charcoal,
  • and to feed their families through slash and burn agriculture.
  • Over the past 60 years, we have inflicted more rapid degradation on the planet
  • than in all of human history.
  • When forests are cleared it is not just animals that are endangered.
  • Is the essential being destroyed to produce the superfluous?
  • It doesn't have to be that way.
  • Woodlands still make up nearly 1/3 of the planet's total land area.
  • The world over - men and women - are fighting to protect it.
  • Villagers, scientists, associations, governments
  • are all sounding the alarm and proposing alternatives.
  • For other choices do exist.
  • Through understanding, education and information
  • we are finding that forests can continue to provide a livelihood
  • if only we alter our mindset.
  • Trees are living things.
  • And we are constantly learning more about them.
  • Half of our medications come from the plant kingdom.
  • The human body seems to recognize and be healed
  • by remedies derived from plants.
  • Our cells speak the same language.
  • We are of the same family.
  • Plants can detect the presence of parasites and predators,
  • their underground biomass.
  • Their roots may be equal to what we see above ground.
  • They create networks, exchange electrical and chemical signals
  • and enter into cooperative arrangements.
  • There is so much left to discover about plant intelligence.
  • Do we realize that water and forests are inseparable?
  • Forests filter, store or digest pollutants.
  • They are like sponges.
  • Absorbing water during floods, and giving it back during droughts.
  • Rainfall is born of forests.
  • Through transpiration the water absorbed by tree roots is given off as water vapor.
  • The trees also produce substances that seed the clouds.
  • And the vapor, condensing, becomes flowing, life-giving, water.
  • Plant life bonds water, air, earth and sunlight.
  • It forms the cornerstone of the whole living ecology we all depend on.
  • Forests are the guardians of climate.
  • They store more carbon than is contained in the earth's entire atmosphere.
  • 300 million people live in forests the world over.
  • 1.6 billion - or nearly 1 in every 4 humans -
  • are directly dependent on the forest for their daily livelihood.
  • And 7 billion people - in other words all of us -
  • rely on all the benefits the forests bestow.
  • They produce the food we eat, the water we drink,
  • the air we breathe,
  • and the medications that maintain our health.
  • Take a close look at the forests.
  • We and the forests are one.
  • We have always needed them,
  • and today, they need us.
  • Let us live in brotherhood like a forest, standing tall, like a mighty tree.

  • Free Educational Forest Posters at
  • Directed by:Yann Arthus-Bertrand

Monday, February 21, 2011

Nikela Needs You

A fairly recent organisation, only founded in 2010, with a great vision for the future of wildlife and conservation
To find out more about NIKELA and help their quest please visit or follow

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Last Lions

Narrated by Academy Award Winner Jeremy Irons
Watch The Last Lions trailer and make a difference!

Watch The Last Lions trailer - and make a difference for lions! For every trailer viewing on YouTube, National Geographic will contribute $.10* to lion and big cat conservation in Botswana. Watch as many times as you want, and share with your friends and family. Let's get to 1 million views together!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

CUBE reports: The unexpected Visitor

For the portuguese who did not read in ecosfera and for those who do not know portuguese, here's is a quick summary of what happened on February the16th at Casa Andresen (Andresen House)

So according to ecosfera, Casa Andresen will be as of 2012 the gallery of Biodiversity, and its first stage is already finished and waiting for visitors. One of those visitors was no less than Camilla Whitworth-Jones, also known as one of the great-great-granddaughters of Charles Darwin.

From February to July, the gallery is demonstrating "A Evolução de Darwin" (Dawin's Evolution) and Camilla, while on holidays in Oporto, did not hesitate on having a look at this man's work. While walking around the exhibit, Camilla observed the life and work of Charles Darwin, a man that the former arts advisor says had always had a strong presence in her family but did not by any means influenced her choice of career.

Camilla visiting the ZSL London zoo 16/02/2009

Her visit was a surprise to everyone involved in the project and certainly can only mean that greater things will knock on the door of the house that was inspired by the famous portuguese poet, Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen.

In one of her stories, named 'Saga', she wished the atrium of her house would have the assembled skeleton of a whale which for many years had remained packaged somewhere in one of the basements of the Faculdade de Ciências (Faculty of Sciences) because there was no place to put it.

The project, which is lead by the Universidade do Porto (University of Oporto), aims to create a tissue and DNA bank of all the species that can be found in the portuguese soil.

Casa Andresen

It is all very exciting news but surely there is still a long way to go. However, Camilla's approval certainly shines some positivism into the whole project, which will be a giant and important leap to the knowledge of all the living things that make up the country.

So if you're planning on visiting Portugal anytime soon, do not forget to have another great look into the life of Charles Darwin and while you're there, might as well check the beautiful city of Oporto and its surroundings :)

CUBE reports 17/02/2011 (Part 3/3)

This next slide showed that organisms living in more flexible temperature environments have greater ability to survive environmental changes, where as more thermally stable environments, such as the polar ecosystems, as they already live in close proximity to their limit temperature tolerance, have lower flexibility to environmental changes, which is another problem for our antarctic friends.

So off to solutions then, what can animals do to cope with the environmental changes? Unfortunately not much, two main possibilities come to play but none of them is suitable for the antarctic biodiversity.
One is physiological adaptations to the new environment, sounds reasonable but it is in fact complicated. According to Peck, we must consider that the Antarctic marine species are characterized by 4 things:
  • Long lifetime
  • Slow growth
  • Slow development rates
  • Delayed maturity
This leads to the production of fewer eggs and offspring which in turn, causes low production of new genetic material, thus there is a decrease capability for the species to survive adverse conditions, because few individuals will be capable of coping with such conditions.
Another solution is Migrations, which is a common trend in most animals around the world, cannot live in one area?Then move to another one!
But in the case of the Antarctic animals they cannot move because they are stranded by the southern ocean.
Hence we reached perhaps my favourite part of the talk, something that I had absolutely no idea. Did you know that the southern ocean circulates continuously around the whole of the Antarctic continent? Literally around it, I just found that amazing, specially when Peck said that a single wave can all way around the whole of the continent without being interr
upted by an obstacle- so called permanent fetch-! Regardless of how "cool" that might sound, in reality it is a burden for the marine animals that enjoy this ocean. Because of its cyclic nature, no other currents from other parts of the world can come into contact with it and thus animals have no where to go. So where do they go?
One way is to swim deeper where water are still nice and cold and the other way is to move to isolated patches in the Antarctica continent which are not were suitable for them particularly in terms of food supply.
Tragic right?
Sadly that is how the lecture ended, without any signs of hope or conservation measures, perhaps there was not enough time to fit it all in, perhaps that will be left for another time.

reporting from the University of Birmingham, UK

Earth Day: Give Earth a Hand

The font may be a bit terrible but the "hands" special effects are brilliant, worth having a look :)

Earth Day: 22nd of April 2011 (Friday)

Friday, February 18, 2011

CUBE reports 17/02/2011 (Part 2/3)

Sure all of these are interesting trivia facts, but now the real science comes in, the unique adaptations found in the Antarctica. Meet the Ice fish.
The Antarctic Ice fish is perhaps the most unique vertebrate in the planet because of one tiny detail:
It has no red blood cells. What? No red blood cells, then how does it transport oxygen if there is no haemoglobin, how is that of any advantage to the animal?
Well, Professor Lloyd Peck explains that in the Antarctic, the oxygen is more soluble because of the lower water temperatures and thus the oxygen can be easily transported by plasma. In that way there is less metabolic pressure to circulate blood around the body and so the Ice fish navigates happily in the Antarctica's frigid swimming pool. Another important adaptation in most antarctic fish is having antifreeze, which is self-explanatory really.
Another adaptati
on can be seen in our dear sea spiders: Gigantism
Abnormally big animals flourish in these areas due to the low temperatures and oxygen availability. For instance the some Sea Spong
es are ridiculously big in the Antarctic. The previously mentioned Sea spiders can have 8,10 or even 12 legs, which does not happen in other species of the same taxa

Another unique adaptation: Heat shock, or more correctly, the absence of heat shock. Yes it is true, fish in the Antarctica do not have heat shock response which can only be found in molluscs when heated up to 10ºC

So in this first part of Peck's lecture, it is possible to see the vast amount of diversity and uniqueness that can be found in this regularly overlooked ecosystem, pretty impressive no doubt.
In the second part of Peck's talk, he discussed the climate change predictions, mostly based on a current scientific paper that he conducted.
It seems that the fastest change due to climate occurs in the poles, thus being the regions with highest impact of global warming and such. It is then, the fastest changing environment in the planet!
The big question is then: How can organisms respond to this change?
A series of very colourful and clear graphs were shown which we will not get into much detail as this "little" summary is getting extensive enough as it is, but I'm sure that hopefully when the paper is published, those graphs will be found online and perhaps on text books.
Basically, small individuals survive to higher temperatures than bigger individuals also species with higher activity rates survive at higher temperatures than lower activity species, which causes a problem for most Antarctic animals as they are both big and rather slow.
Studies on the different rates of warming versus Temperature tolerance show that the slower the temperature increase, the lower the temperature the animals survives in. Confusing much? Perhaps, but to be honest I couldn't get my head around it too well and before I knew it we
were off to another slide.

Making Simply Beautiful Photographs by NatGeo

"never been published and really deserved to be seen"

CUBE quite likes the water buffalo photo

What is your favourite photo?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

WWF - We Are All Connected

CUBE reports 17/02/2011 (Part 1/3)

Today CUBE attended a talk about the Antarctica. The talk was conducted by Professor Lloyd Peck, from the British Antarctic Survey, so obviously you know that you are in good hands. Not much can be found in the internet,but as far as CUBE knows, Peck isa graduate from Cambridge, and got his PhD in Portsmouth, having been working with BAS for almost 26 years now, all positive indications of a talk not to be missed.
So CUBE was there, on time, sitting in the firsts rows, pen and paper in hand, determined not to miss a single thing. Pecks talking speed was hard to follow at times, but as there was an awful lot to be covered a vast amount of information was gathered.
The talk was centered on the adaptations of Antarctic marine animals and the impacts of climate change on this ecosystem and started off by making a general overview of the amount of biodiversity present in that area.
Contrary to popular belief, it turns out that besides penguins, seals, and whales, there are more than 4000 species described which is more than the Arctic. Moreover, the Antarctic sea bed has a greater diversity of phyla than the tropical coral reefs. This is an impressive fact, that perhaps not a lot of people are aware
of, mainly due to the lack of publicity on this particular
But Peck goes into more detail. For instance, apparently the Pycnogonids, or sea spiders, are two times more diverse in this polar region than in any other place on Earth, having 20% of the species.

This extreme marine environment have rather stable temperature, being the most thermally stable environments. These close to 25 million years of stability has allowed fine adaptations to evolve which are not found anywhere else in the planet.
However, the Antarctic also suffers huge seasonal variabilities, particularly ice extent. Ice coverage varies dramatically through the year, gaining and loosing 10 to 15 km sq of sea ice. This area is roughly twice the size of Australia and forms and disappears every year, a very astonishing fact indeed.
Ice bumping in the sea bed causes the polar regions to be one of the most disturbed
environments in the planet, thus one begins to wonder how animals found ways to survive such hostile environment.Well, for one thing, the stable annual range of only 2-3ºC helps.

But before going into the unique adaptations, another key facts about diversity in the Antarctica.
There is greater variety of phytoplankton in the polar regions, with the seasonal bloom in spring being one of the most intensive blooms in the planet, so intense that divers can hardly see their hands! This of course occurs near shore, which are the most "productive" areas in the polar regions.
Another important characteristic is the slow development rates found in most polar animals. It seems that development rates are 10 times longer in the Antarctic sea bed than anywhere else on Earth, which is greatly due to the stable temperatures found.
Also, Peck continues, oxygen consumption in bivalve molluscs is also lowest and the activity rates of many animals is 2 to 5 times slower than in other environments, that is, for instance burrowing the sand or a shell for shelther or feeding may take 28 days instead of 2-5 days.

to be continued tomorrow: Some unique adaptations

reporting from the University of Birmingham, UK

interesting to read:

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Earth Hour 2011: Beyond the Hour


So begins the "rebirth" of CUBE.
After a (too) long absence from this interconnected cyber-world, CUBE returns and it is stronger than ever.
So far there's a flickr group dedicated to urban biodiversity, and nature in general, and a twitter account. Feel free to join or follow.
Hopefully there is going to be a lot more action in the following times because there is a lot to talk about.

There's going to be news, photos and perhaps some videos as well :D
Stay tuned!