A devestating fire

Any regular reader of this blog will know I love collections.

Which is one of the many MANY reasons I’m devastated about the fire at the National Museum of Brazilian.

In summary: the fire burned for six hours and left behind ashes where there had been dinosaur fossils (including the reconstructed Maxakalisaurus topai), the oldest human remains in the Americas, Luiza, and the audio recording and documents of indigenous languages that are otherwise extinct.

We will never be able to replace these items and the knowledge they contain is irreplaceable. Our collective knowledge is worse off as a result.

And with the devastated feeling of the incalculable loss, we’re starting to take stock of how this could have been prevented.

Funding for one (read about how the museum was underfunded for decades). And another is digitalizing the collection.

But for now, I will remain in morning for the knowledge that has gone up in flames.

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Sister species interactions in birds, and the potential for citizen science to change our perspectives

Every day, birders around the world record which species they see. Many of them contribute their sightings to the groundbreaking citizen science project called eBird, run out of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the US. One outcome from this collective activity is a worldwide record of which species have been reported in the same place at the same time – i.e. which species come into contact.

This citizen science has potential to really change the way we work at bird interactions.

Read about it here!

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Killer whales are winning on climate change

Change creates winners and losers, and that includes climate change, especially at the top of the world. On the losing side of the environmental ledger we find the polar bear, floating glumly on its ever-shrinking ice floe.

On the winning side, a new apex predator is cruising northern waters.

Which might be causing problems for other species of whales… read about it here!

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Thomas Jefferson Built This Country On Mastodons

Jefferson liked science more than he liked politics. He was a fastidious vegetable breeder and weather recorder, he led the American Philosophical Society for eighteen years, and he once spent a while re-engineering the plow according to Newtonian principals. He particularly loved fossils, and collected and speculated on them so avidly that he is considered “the founder of North American paleontology,” says Dr. Mark Barrow, an environmental history professor at Virginia Tech.

And he spent his life in a quiet war about the importance of american mastadons.

Read more about it here!

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The giant salamander might be a pyramid scheme

The world’s largest amphibian should be easy to find. The Chinese giant salamander can be as big as your entire body, and on average resemble a labrador. And while they used to be abundant, after months of searching, scientist are struggling to find even a few. 24 individuals, across 50 sites where the salamanders once thrived. Moreover, the few found all have genetic markers indicating they had escaped or been released from farms. There may not be any wild individuals left.

But this tragedy is getting worse. Based on analyses of the salamander, it’s becoming clear that it’s not one species but five. And they are all facing imminent extinction in the wild.

Read more about it here.

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The silence of the microfauna

A generation ago Rachel Carson warned us of bird die-offs from pesticides in the classic “Silent Spring”. Now, a new silence might be rocking the world, and causing an increasingly creepy silence: flying insects are dying at an alarming rate and in staggering amounts. A study published last fall documented a 76% decline in total seasonal biomass of insects in Germany, and speculated how widespread their result might be.

Unfortunately, that question is difficult to even approach because of another problem: a global decline of field naturalists who study these phenomena.

Want to learn more about this awkward intersection? Read about it here!

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