Friday, November 10, 2006

walking in the footsteps of giants

This New York Times article has beautiful ecology notebooks from 1930s California in its Multimedia section. Ecologists at UC Berkeley are retracing the steps of the first director of the UC Berkeley Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, Joseph Grinnell, who knew that one day, one hundred years from then, we would not have the same California. He knew that we would want to know what has changed, so starting in 1904 he and his team took over 2,000 photographs from all over California, and some 13,000 pages of notes.

His work has begun to move ecology from a descriptive science to a predictive one, and it's not a second too early. According to David Tilman, the McKnight presidential chair in ecology at the University of Minnesota, “The world faces immense environmental challenges that we will only resolve if we can forecast how ecosystems respond to alternative practices and policies.” New data and old will be celebrated when the UC Berkeley has its centennial celebration.

Grinnell's vision for the collection is posted on a plaque outside the library. “I wish to emphasize what I believe will ultimately prove to be the greatest purpose of our museum,” he wrote in 1910, “and this is that the student of the future will have access to the original record of faunal conditions in California and the West, wherever we now work.”

Talk about a visionary.

Amazon grows more during the dry season

The green color in this image of South America shows vegetation that is growing during during the dry season. Reddish areas "brown down" in the dry season. The black line marks the boundary of the Amazon rainforest -- red areas within the boundary indicate areas where the primary forest has been disturbed. Image courtesy of the Terrestrial Biophysics and Remote Sensing Lab, The University of Arizona.

The Amazon rainforest has been photographed from satellites, the 'greenness' been made into an algorithm, and they've found that old-growth rainforests grow more during the dry season than the wet. It is surmised that older trees have deep roots that can still reach water even during dry seasons when the sky is clear more often and thus more photosynthesis can take place.

This information is a clue in the puzzle about the global cycle of carbon, and has implications for fire regimes in the Amazon, where during El Niño years even tropical forests succumb to fire. This also provides valuable perspective on the ecological cycle of the forests and why old-growth forests are more for sustainable and promote biodiversity.

More at: Monga Bay