Monday, June 23, 2014

Do the Rumble-Rump with Peacock Spiders

My latest blog piece is fluff, but still pretty and interesting.
http://blog.nature.org/science/2014/06/23/do-the-rumble-rump-with-peacock-spiders/
The highlight (other than pics and videos) is that the researchers of one study I refer to documented several key dance moves, including "crunch-rolls," "grind-revs", and "rumble-rumps." And yes, I already have worked out the human equivalent of each, and stand ready to shoot the video once we have critical mass.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Global Agriculture Trends: Are We Actually Using Less Land?

A colleague of mine recently alluded to the "rapidly accelerating conversion of natural habitat for agriculture," which got me curious how fast agricultural area was really growing globally. I was pretty surprised to find out that it is actually shrinking! This doesn't mean conversion isn't happening, but it still makes for a pretty interesting story (with a few pretty important caveats). Read about it here:
http://blog.nature.org/science/2014/06/18/global-agriculture-land-sustainability-deforestation-foodsecurity/

Here is the map showing where ag land is expanding and where it is contracting:
And for those hesitant to click, here are the other charts:


Some of the most important caveats are: the data has some known issues, we don't have data on how sustainable the increased productivity is, and projected supply is not expected to keep up with projected demand.

The book chapter can be cited as follows for now:
Fisher, J.R.B. and Kareiva, P. Ecosystem-service based metrics of sustainability as tools for promoting conservation and food security. 2014. In Gardner et al. (Eds), Agricultural Resilience: Perspectives from Ecology and Economics. Cambridge University Press. Manuscript submitted for publication.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Is pollen flammable?

A few weeks ago, there was a post on XCKD's "what if" asking what would happen if all of the pollen on earth was ignited: http://what-if.xkcd.com/97/

As evidence that pollen is actually flammable, the author pointed to youtube videos labeles "burning pollen" but which are actually not of pollen at all. Rather, they are the fluff from cottonwood seeds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aKra62IC-_w

This got me curious: is real pollen also flammable? It is denser so I figured it wouldn't naturally catch on fire to the same degree, but I still wanted to see for myself.

I gathered up a ton of pollen (from red flower carpet rose), and held a lit match against it.


 I did the same thing with sawdust as a reference, as I just had them in a little pile on top of concrete (rather than trying to ignite with a specific dispersal pattern in the air which would have been harder and more dangerous). The idea is that sawdust is accepted to be flammable (or inflammable if you like), even though it may not catch on fire the same way a piece of paper would depending on the conditions. But I figured this would be comparable to what is already online with cottonwood fluff, but for actual pollen (e.g. if a bunch of pollen fell from the flowers and accumulated on the ground). Note that oak catkins or other flower structures don't count as pollen either.

I found that pollen is roughly as flammable as sawdust, perhaps a bit more. Here are the videos:

Sawdust:

Pollen:

Here's what the pollen looked like at the end: