Fairy Circles in the Namib

BBC News – Termites ‘engineer fairy circles’.

At 2 to 10m across, these previously unexplained formations were attributed to ‘fairies.’  Now we know the truth – they are created by termites to conserve water in the desert.

[the] invertebrates (Psammotermes allocerus) first clear a patch of ground by eating the roots of short-lived, annual grasses.

This bare, sandy earth then becomes an effective rain trap – with no vegetation, water cannot be lost through transpiration (the evaporation of water from plants).

Instead, it collects, oasis-like, just below the surface where it can sustain the termites and a supply of perennial grasses at the margins of the circles. These are available to eat even in the driest seasons.

Of course this permits and encourages even wider benefits  – lizards, geckos, moles, and other animals up the food chain rely on the termites.

…their occurrence hugs the isohyet of 100mm mean annual precipitation.

“It’s very pronounced; they’re really adapted to that amount of annual precipitation,” he told BBC News. “If the climate changed [to wetter conditions], this belt of occurrence would shift to a more arid part of the desert. If the climate got drier in general, they would shift towards the east, inland.”

These engineers allow the desert to increase productivity, much like the beavers in mountain environs.

The Hamburg scientist argues that the termites’ behaviour surpasses the accomplishments of that other great ecosystem engineer – the beaver.

“We all admire the beaver for the way it can turn a linear river into a lake with a dam, but the termites turning the desert into a pattern of oases that allow permanent life even in drought periods for hundreds of years – that’s much more fascinating,” he told BBC News.

How will climate change affect these animals and the ecosystem that relies on them?


Monarch Butterflies Struggle

Geography in the News: Monarch Butterflies Struggle – News Watch.

Near the end of February each year, scientists studying monarch butterflies at their overwintering sites in Central Mexico witness signs that the butterfly colonies were “breaking up.” This separation of tens of thousands of butterflies clustered together on single trees indicate that the populations are preparing for their lengthy spring migration from Mexico to the United States and Southern Canada. This year’s colony numbers were depressed by 59 percent and scientists are worried.

Monarchs have migrated to Mexico for thousands of years, one generation going south, and different generations heading north.  No one knows how they do it.  But we may not have the chance to study these mass migrations much longer, as the species are currently declining at an alarming rate.

One particularly disturbing conclusion is the effect of the decline in milkweed along the migration paths owing to the use of herbicides and perhaps some genetically engineered corn in U.S. agriculture. Milkweed is particularly susceptible to pre-emergent and defoliant herbicides.

Since all Monarch caterpillars live on milkweed, a decline in that species would be devastating.

How will we protect the butterflies?  What will happen if we don’t?

The Shrinking of China


How the Harlem Shake is being used to push for change in Egypt – World News

How the Harlem Shake is being used to push for change in Egypt – World News.

How does the Harlem Shake phenomenon reflect the diffusion of cultural norms?  Well, it’s now representing in Egypt, where the younger generation is using it to protest against culturally repressive government.

“It’s a funny way to protest how [the Muslim Brotherhood] have taken control of the country,” said law student Tarek Badr, 22, who was one of more than 100 thrusting their hips in front of the political movement’s Cairo headquarters on Thursday. “People won’t be silent. They will protest in all ways and this is a peaceful way.”

and from Time.com comes this:

“The people in the video are insisting that there is still a Harlem culture within the geographic boundaries, that it’s a lived experience,” he says. “Clearly they’re right that it’s not the original, but the [commenters] responding to the video have a very different reading of culture. It’s a controversy we’ll keep having, about ownership of culture, which is very hard in the YouTube era.”

What do you think?  Will all the world share one culture in the future? or will local cultures still reflect local peoples and their unique history?
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