The human and the tree: a love story

I suspect no other relationship is more complex and fraught than that between humans and trees. I’ve been wanting for a long time to write something about it, but every time I try, I get overwhelmed. Where to begin? For us humans, it indeed goes back to the beginning: Adam and Eve learned of their own humanity from a tree. Or if you prefer more scientific stories, our ancestors took a crucial step in speciating from other apes by descending from the trees. Since then we haven’t gone far from the tree, so to speak. We have eaten from trees, climbed trees, lived in trees, worshipped trees, studied trees, planted trees, bred trees, hugged trees, and saved trees. We have also, at various times, cut trees down for fuel, for lumber, to make paper, to make weapons, to clear farmland, to create subdivisions, because they threatened our infrastructure, because we didn’t like where they were growing, and for no reason whatsoever. After hundreds of thousands of years of shared history, have we and trees come to understand each other better? Three stories I have come across recently suggest the answer is, it’s still complicated. A local tale The first story […]

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Dolphins, Sharks, and Whales: Adventures in Biodiversity

“Space is the last great frontier.”  Space is indeed spectacular, but maybe not the last frontier of discovery, especially when completely new species pop up with some regularity on your own planet.  Due to an inability to grow gills, humans have yet to sprawl into the ocean, so many of these new species are water-dwelling, surprisingly big, and good at hiding.  A few of these new species we are newly distinguishing from their neighbors, and others we’ve just gotten to know.  But these sharks and squids and jellyfish have been here all along, and are now rolling their eyes at the uninformed humans.  Here are some quick introductions to our newly-identified global neighbors. The half snake, half two-ducks-in-a-costume creature you see waddling around in the video above is a new species of walking shark, also known as carpet sharks.  Named Hemiscyllium halmahera, it was discovered off the coast of the eastern Indonesian island of Ternate, the 16th member of the Hemiscyllium walking shark genus.  This species is a mini version of its relations- on average 12 cm smaller than the 40 cm length of other species- and has distinctive snake-like dark bands running down its back.  The nocturnal members of the genus Hemiscyllium prefer shallow, warm tidal […]

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