The man who planted a forest in Kerala

Abdul Kareem, 66, of Parappa, Kasargod, Kerala had a liking to ‘Kavu’, the sacred forests of Kerala, right from his childhood. He would frequently visit his wife’s house in Puliyankulam village and it was during such visits that he noticed the barren hillside land nearby. In 1977, as if on an impulse, he bought five acres of the land for Rs 3750. The people nearby and even his family were not able to comprehend his action, and he became a laughing stock in the locality. The property had only a single well that remained almost dry throughout the year. Since it could not provide enough to water the saplings that he planted, he would carry water in cans from outside sources on his two-wheeler. This continued for three years, at the end of which, nature started responding to his unrelenting efforts and the trees actually started growing.

The change was now to be seen – birds came in flocks and helped Kareem by bringing seeds of umpteen varieties and started setting their nests in this new haven. Soon other forms of life also appeared. The ecosystem was developing at a good pace. In the meanwhile, Kareem bought another 27 acres of land and planted trees all over the place with the new-found vigour, motivated by the fruits of his efforts.

One notable feature of Kareem’s forest (that is what the Department of Tourism, Kerala Government, calls this place) which makes it a forest in the true sense is that Kareem never tried to interfere in its natural development once it started sustaining itself, rather he gamely prevented anything and everything that would interfere with the natural growth of his forest. He has never weeded the forest; neither does he sweep away the fallen leaves. There is no effort for intervention of any kind.

The forest has brought about amazing changes to the surroundings. The once dry well in the plot is now brimming with pure, fresh water. The underground water table in an area of about 10 kilometers has risen, it is said. The temperature inside the forest is markedly cooler than outside. Kareem has been living inside the forest since 1986, keeping constant vigil on his creation, which is dearer to him than anything. Visitors are allowed inside, even to stay as paying guests for a few days, provided they comply with Kareem’s regulations. Plastic is banned inside the forest; so is the use of automobiles. Wild partying, loud noises – all are a strict no-no.

Kareem has resisted various offers to commercialize the forest and to turn it into a theme park…For those who know him, the man who was once a laughing stock, has now grown colossal in stature, along with his creation – one that generations will cherish.

Inspiring.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

Importance of tiny creatures in grassland ecology

A newly published study reveals the importance of earthworms, beetles, and other tiny creatures to the structure of grasslands and the valuable ecosystem services they provide.

When asked to describe a forest or a meadow, most people would probably begin with the plants, the species diversity, or the color of the foliage. They probably wouldn’t pay much attention to the animals living in the soil.

But a new Yale-led study shows the critical importance of earthworms, beetles, and other tiny creatures to the structure of grasslands and the valuable ecosystem services they provide.

During a 3-year study, researchers found that removing these small animals from the soil of a replicated Scottish sheep meadow altered the plant species that grew in the ecosystem, reduced overall productivity, and produced plants that were less responsive to common agricultural management, such as fertilization.

The results reflect the long-term ecological impacts of land use changes, such as the conversion of forests to agricultural land…

“We know these soil animals are important controls on processes which cause nutrients and carbon to cycle in ecosystems, but there was little evidence that human-induced loss of these animals has effects at the level of the whole ecosystem, on services such as agricultural yield,” said Mark Bradford…lead author of the study…

“Yet that’s exactly what we found.”

RTFA for the details of approach, method, discovery. The Yale School of Forestry has been around a couple thousand years – it feels like, sometimes. They never stop pressing for more and better understanding of the environment.

Thanks, Mike

Fossil forest dating back 380 million years unearthed in upstate NY

One of the earliest forests in the world was home to towering palmlike trees and woody plants that crept along the ground like vines, a new fossil find reveals. The forest, which stood in what is now Gilboa, N.Y., was first unearthed in a quarry in the 1920s. But now, a new construction project has revealed for the first time the forest floor as it stood 380 million years ago in the Devonian period.

“For the first time, we actually have a map of about 1,200 square meters of a Devonian forest,” said study researcher Chris Berry, a scientist at Cardiff University in the United Kingdom. “We know which plants were growing where in this forest, and how they were interacting.”

The fossilized forest floor contained three types of enormous plants. The first, known as the Gilboa tree or Eospermatopteris, was once thought to be the only type of tree in the forest; quarry workers have been carting specimens out of the area since the fossil plants were first discovered. This tree was tall and looked like today’s palm trees, with a crown of branches at the very top.

But an even stranger specimen lurked in this ancient forest. Amid the towering Gilboa trees were woody creeping plants with branches about 15 centimeters in diameter. These giant plants, known as progymnosperms, seemed to lean against the Gilboa trees for support, perhaps even climbing into them occasionally, Berry said…

The researchers also found a fragment of a third type of tree, lycopsids, which would later dominate the Carboniferous period from about 360 million to about 300 million years ago…

The new view of the ancient forest is changing paleontologists’ understanding of what the landscape looked like. The earliest researchers thought the forest was in a swamp, but Berry and his colleagues, including study leader William Stein of Binghamton University in New York, now believe the forest stood in a flat coastal plain near an ancient shoreline. It was probably buried and preserved when a river channel shifted, bringing in loads of sand to cover the forest floor…

“I’ve spent 20 years trying to imagine what these plants were like as individuals, and yet I really had no conception of them as an ecosystem,” Berry said. “Going to Gilboa and sitting in the middle of the forest floor, you could almost see them growing out of the ground. … The fossil forest came to life in front of my eyes in a way that has never happened before.”

More broadly, a deeper understanding of the forest helps paleontologists piece together the ecology of the very earliest forests on Earth. The Devonian period marks a time when plant life began to shift from small, scattered vegetation to large-scale forests, Berry said. Plants remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and during the Devonian forest boom, carbon dioxide levels may have dropped from 15 times that of today to modern levels…

We’ve gone from knowing about plants to knowing about a forest,” Berry said. “That’s really been the breakthrough for me.”

Bravo! I know the area fairly well. Hiked the region a lot – seems like a few centuries ago. 🙂

Brazil cattle ranching changes slow Amazon deforestation

Cassio Carvalho do Val is about to invest nearly $2 million to add 10,000 cattle to his ranch on the edge of the Amazon. But instead of burning down forest for his growing herd to graze freely he will break with tradition, reducing his pastureland and adding grain to their diet.

Val is one of a growing number of farmers betting on so-called integrated farming by diversifying production and revenue. His move epitomizes a quiet and fragile revolution that marks a departure from Brazil’s slash-and-burn past.

It is a trend that may also help ease the felling of the world’s largest rain forest.

Soy growers are rotating fields with more corn and cotton, planting forest and raising cattle. Ranchers are planting corn to supplement their herd’s traditional diet of grasses.

This tends toward greater and more efficient output while easing pressure for expanding area, and bodes well for the consumers struggling worldwide with higher food prices, as well as conservationists who see Brazil as a crucial battlefield…

Val, a Sao Paulo University-educated sociologist, is one of a growing number of farmers taking a more scientific view of production. He has hired consultants to help acquire a whole new set of skills in grain farming…

The keystone to large-scale integrated farming in Brazil is cattle, especially as far as preservation of the Amazon and other tropical biomes are concerned…

Inevitably, leaders in Brazilian agriculture and ranching will throw out numbers about the 137,000 square miles of pasture in Brazil that can be easily converted into farmland “without having to cut a single tree.” Brazil currently plants 66,875 square miles to crops and commercial forest.

But converting pasture into planted area is not simple. It raises the question of where the cattle will graze.

Brazil’s beef production is grass-fed, unlike in the United States and Europe where grain on feedlots is used mostly. Brazil could double or triple the cattle per hectare from the present average of nearly 1 head/ha simply by introducing grain to their diet, better breeding practices and fertilizing and replanting grasses in pastures, beef analysts say.

Then, there is the question of which sort of beef actually is healthiest for consumers? Grain-fed or grass-fed? The healthiest meat-eating cultures are France and Italy – where grass-fed is preferred.

After all, the choice for grass-fed vs. grain-fed around the world is an economic one, e.g., the cost of getting final product to market. Health hasn’t a damned thing to do with it.

Now, the trends in Brazil introduce a completely different accomplishment. Slowing the destruction of forest. Contradictions abound.

Ancient forest emerges mummified from the Arctic

The northernmost mummified forest ever found in Canada is revealing how plants struggled to endure a long-ago global cooling.

Researchers believe the trees — buried by a landslide and exquisitely preserved 2 to 8 million years ago — will help them predict how today’s Arctic will respond to global warming.

They also suspect that many more mummified forests could emerge across North America as Arctic ice continues to melt. As the wood is exposed and begins to rot, it could release significant amounts of methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere — and actually boost global warming…

Over the summer of 2010, the researchers retrieved samples from broken tree trunks, branches, roots, and even leaves — all perfectly preserved — from Ellesmere Island National Park in Canada.

Mummified forests aren’t so uncommon, but what makes this one unique is that it’s so far north. When the climate began to cool 11 million years ago, these plants would have been the first to feel the effects,” Joel Barker said. “And because the trees’ organic material is preserved, we can get a high-resolution view of how quickly the climate changed and how the plants responded to that change…”

Bravo! It’s a treat to watch scientists reverse engineering the climate change processes we’re going through now.

The newly exposed wood rotting contributes only a tiny portion of greenhouse gases, say, compared to methane released from thawing permafrost. But, it’s all part of a process reversed in a geologic instant compared to the millions of years required for this previous serious cooling.

The owl who nearly went to sea on cruise ship golf course

A rare burrowing owl has been rescued from the world’s largest cruise ship, where it had apparently tried to set up home on a miniature golf course.

The “birdie” was spotted on board the Oasis of the Seas just hours before it set sail for the Caribbean from Port Everglades in Florida.

Wildlife protection officers caught the owl and released it into the wild…

A member of the cruise ship’s crew saw the owl near the synthetic grass of the golf course on an upper deck, and called in officials from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

The 360 meter ship has a living park, complete with plants and trees, but the FWC said the owl would not have coped well with the environment.

“Burrowing owls need to be in open, treeless areas where they can dig their burrow,” said FWC biologist Ricardo Zambrano.

“The artificial turf on the ship’s golf course resembles the fields they use for nesting in urban areas; however, it was obviously not suitable habitat for this owl…”

I love burrowing owls. They are a rare sight around my neck of the prairie only because of their nocturnal habits. But, we have beaucoup raptors and the several owl species here are all favorites.

One polling station, one man, one vote!


Mr. Darshandas

India has 828,804 polling stations in the current general election, but one of them is unique. It has just one voter. The BBC’s Soutik Biswas travels into the forest to meet him.

In a desolate, seemingly endless, lion-infested forest in India, a single man waits to exercise his fundamental right.

On 30 April, five polling officials accompanied by two policemen will travel into the wild to pick up the ballot of Guru Bharatdas Darshandas, who looks after a temple in the Gir forest in the western state of Gujarat.

Mr Darshandas is the only voter at the polling station of Banej in Gir, the last abode of the Asiatic lion.
Barely a few hundred metres from the Shiva temple where Mr Darshandas lives and work is the freshly whitewashed forest office that will serve as the polling station.

In the search for Mr Darshandas, I travel over stony, brown earth and parched rivers and thin streams, past cacti and bougainvillea and trees wilting in the oppressive heat. I pass sluggish deer and antelope and wild cats and buffaloes tethered to huts.

It is 100F (38C) in the shade in this sprawling, 1,412 sq km forest and even our beat-up SUV is groaning. I spot none of the more than 300 lions that live here; the heat must have driven them deeper into the shade.

Read the whole tale. Sitting before your computer, consider Mr. Darshandas who feels honored by his vote, honored by “how India values its democracy.”