Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Do humans always wipe out the big animals, or can they sometimes coexist? Evidence from Madagascar.



Scientists generally accept the theory that once humans arrive at an isolated landscape, they quickly destroy the big animals there.


Some call it the blitzkrieg hypothesis. But there's new evidence that, at a minimum, raises questions about this theory.

(Image: Bones with tool cut marks of the Madagascar Aepyornis, the giant elephant bird. Credit:  V. Pérez, Science Advances, 5:9 (2018))

In the Hawaiian Islands, the big flightless ducks that have been called moa nalo were in the islands when the first Polynesians arrived, but were gone soon thereafter. Smithsonian researcher Storrs Olson reported that the moa nalo—which represents a class of extinct big birdsdisappeared during the early human occupation of the Islands.

Fossils of numerous such species are "contemporaneous with Polynesian culture. The loss of species of birds appears to be due to predation and destruction of lowland habitats by humans before the arrival of Europeans," Olson wrote. 

In New Zealand, the class of giant moa birds (Dinornis sp.) also disappeared with the arrival of the humans. New Zealand Geographic has a piece on that loss. 

In Madagascar, the arrival of humans has been linked to the loss of the giant elephant birds, Aepyornis maximus and other species.

But recently, researchers in Madagascar found Aepyornis bones more than 10,000 years old with human tool marks on them. Until now, humans were not believed to have been in Madagascar until 2,500 years ago or at most 4,000 years ago. Some came from Polynesian origin societies to the east and some from Africa to the west.

And Aepyornis are believed to only have gone extinct in the last couple of thousand years.

So, 10,500 years ago?

"Our evidence for anthropogenic perimortem modification of directly dated bones represents the earliest indication of humans in Madagascar, predating all other archaeological and genetic evidence by >6000 years and changing our understanding of the history of human colonization of Madagascar," write the authors of this paper, Early Holocene humanpresence in Madagascar evidenced by exploitation of avian megafauna


An article in Science reviews the issue. 

In it, paleoecologist David Burney says it's a big deal: The findings"fly in the face of all that we thought we knew about human arrival in Madagascar." Burney has worked extensively with the Kaua`i-based National Tropical Botanical Garden, and has also done considerable work in Madagascar.

If humans were there that early, why didn’t they earlier wipe out the big birds and big mammals as the theory suggests they do? And if humans were there that early, why haven't archaeologists found evidence of the human presence?

For now, two theories arise.

1) It was perhaps a small, temporary human presence—maybe a visiting group of people that killed and ate some creatures and then left, or died out.

2) Maybe they haven't found evidence because they haven’t been looking for archaeological sites that early.
That said, scientists for four decades have understood that when humans arrive, they conduct a "blitzkrieg" that wipes out many big animals. Is it possible that in Madagascar, humans were able to coexist, to survive for thousands of years without wiping out megafauna?

Depending on what researcghers uncover next, it is at least possible.

Well, and then there's the question of how humans were voyaging across oceans as early as 10,500 years ago. That's more than 5,000 years before Polynesians began plying the Pacific in their voyaging canoes.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2018

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Climate forecast: 2019 to be an El Nino year


It's been a while coming, but federal climate researchers say there's now robust evidence that the Pacific is moving into a new El Nino cycle.

For our Islands, that means a possibly dry winter, and the potential of a higher hurricane count than normal in 2019.

The Climate Prediction Center issued its new outlook today (Nov. 8, 2018), and you can look at it here

It concludes that there is now an 80 percent chance that an El Nino will form, and will stay in place right through next winter—meaning it's there during the entire 2019 hurricane season.

There are now warmer-than-normal water temperatures across the equatorial Pacific, although right now the assessment is that conditions are still neutral.

Climate forecasters' best guess is that the 2019 El Nino will not be a strong one, giving those concerned about hurricane patterns a little good news.

The International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University publishes lots of detailed information on climate forecasts, and if you're interested in a whole lot of colorful spaghetti charts summarizing different climate models, look here

© Jan TenBruggencate 2018

Friday, November 2, 2018

Where are the electric pickup trucks?


Tesla's prototype pickup truck: Tesla

The electric vehicle market won’t make significant inroads in Hawai`i until there's a robust EV pickup truck available to buy.

Pickups are must-have vehicles for many Hawai`i families. They carry the surfboards, the coolers and beach chairs, the trash to the dump, the yard waste, the tools, the beach camping gear, and all the rest.

In Hawai'i, about 200,000 of our 1.2 million vehicles are light trucks and vans, about 16 percent.

But it's the Neighbor Islands where light trucks shine. Only about 12.5 of O`ahu's vehicles are light trucks. But it's 19 percent on the Big Island, 18 percent in Maui County and a whopping 24 percent on Kauai.

We tend to keep our trucks a long time. The mean age of pickups is north of 9 years. If you're interested in going EV, you might want to stretch that just a bit. We're still a year or two from folks being able to replace their old gas and diesel pickups with electric versions.

Elon Musk just energized the EV pickup arena with details on Tesla's entry into the pickup truck market, and his is certainly not the only one on the horizon.

But Musk's airing of a "futuristic-like cyberpunk" sure looks hot, with its aerodynamic design, all-wheel-drive (to get you out of the mud at the greenwaste swamp), and high-tech suspension. Here's USA Today's piece on it. 

Musk gets excited about this truck: "Well I can’t talk about the details, but it’s gonna be like a really futuristic-like cyberpunk, 'Blade Runner' pickup truck. It’s gonna be awesome, it’s gonna be amazing. This will be heart-stopping. It stops my heart. It’s like, oh, it’s great."

One downside is that it's not scheduled to be the compact pickup that many Hawai`i drivers seem to prefer. It's a large version—a pickup big enough to carry a pickup in its bed. Musk has suggested that another, smaller pickup might be in the pipeline behind that one.

Bollinger's pickup: Bollinger
There might be something like an electric pickup available from Tesla as early as next year, but we'll see. The electric truck has been just-around-the-corner for a long time now. Several look like they might be only a year or two out.

Bollinger Motors has announced a boxy EV pickup with a 200-mile range, which folks say will be for sale at $60,000. 

Bollinger's B2 looks like a cross between a Jeep and a Land Rover, but with better performance than either. Production is to start in 2020.

Condor pickup: EV Fleet; Bison: Havelaar 
EV Fleet has a pickup, the Condor, that has a 140 or so mile range. The front end of this looks like a cross between a VW Bug and a Deux Chevaux, and you can select the kind of bed you want—flat, panel, tool setup, whatever. It starts at $50,000 or so. 

The Canadian company Havelaar has its electric Bison, reportedly in the $50-60,000 range. It reports a 186-mile range, which would get you most anywhere in the Islands and back, unless you're doing long-distance cruising on the Big Island. I'm waiting on details on whether it's going to be available in the Islands. 

The company Workhorse has announced a plug-in electric pickup with 80-mile electric range on battery. It's a hybrid so you can use fuel to extend that range to north of 300 miles. 

But then all the major manufacturers have hybrid options with various levels of pure electric range. there's a Ford, a Dodge, a Chevy, a Toyota…and so on.

Pickups are clearly a big part of the market, but pure electrics are taking their time getting to mainstream. 
© Jan TenBruggencate 2018

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Kane`ohe corals more resilient to bleaching after 50 years of hot


Montipora capitata coral. 
Credit: Keisha Bahr
Corals in Kane`ohe Bay seem more resilient to bleaching in warming waters today than they were 50 years ago—the first evidence that coral may be gaining tolerance to rising global temperatures.

It may not be enough to keep up with the pace of climate change, but it's a hopeful sign.

“Although these results are encouraging in their indication that acclimatization/adaptation of corals and their symbionts can occur at an unexpectedly rapid rate, increased bleaching tolerance may not be enough for widespread coral survival,” said researcher Ku‘ulei Rodgers

A complex study by University of Hawai`i and Bishop Museum researchers looked at how corals responded to hot spells in 1970, and then in 2017 when the research team repeated the earlier studies. They found that corals today take longer to respond to superheated water, that they recover more readily and start growing again more quickly.

There are caveats here, but the indications are hopeful for the future of our reefs.

The new study in the journal PeerJ: The Journal of Life and Environmental Sciences, is entitled "Evidence of acclimatization or adaptation in Hawaiian corals to higher ocean temperatures." The authors are UH Institute for Marine Biology scientists Steve L Coles, Keisha D. Bahr, Ku'ulei S. Rodgers, Stacie L. May, Ashley E. McGowan, Anita Tsang, Josh Bumgarner and Ji Hoon Han. Coles, a veteran coral scientist who also works with Bishop Museum, was part of the original 1970s study.

Science Daily reported on the study. 

Reef corals are two-part organisms. The coral polyp provides a home to single-celled algae called zooxanthellae. It's a mutual relationship, and corals get both their color and some of their food from the algae. When corals are stressed, as when water temperatures rise, they eject their zooxanthellae and begin to starve. They also look white, bleached.

The 1970s experiments studied how corals responded to periods of abnormally warm water. The 2017 experiments recreated those studies.

"Re-running a 50-year old experiment using the same coral species, same experimental setup, and same observer allows us to directly test changes in coral temperature tolerance,” said co-author Keisha Bahr.

After nearly five decades of increasingly warm oceans, those corals seem to behave differently now, the team said. They keep their zooxanthellae longer, and recover quicker after waters return to normal temperatures. The warming trend has been carefully tracked, and offshore sea temperature rise amounts to 1.13 degrees Centigrade from 1958 to 2014, the report says.

Why are the corals more resistant to warming?

It isn’t clear whether that's because corals are adopting more resilient zoozanthellae or whether the corals themselves are more temperature resilient. And Coles warns that it might also have something to do with cleaner waters in Kane`ohe Bay, where in the 1970s, nutrient-rich secondary treatment sewage effluent was being dumped in the bay.

"Elevated levels of dissolved nitrogen have been implicated in stimulating coral bleaching," Coles said.

"Available evidence indicates that the lower concentrations of nutrient pollutants, particularly dissolve organic nitrogen, have played an important role in the increased temperature tolerance of corals after nearly 50 years as was determined by these experiments," the paper said.

In other words, corals can respond better to change when the water is cleaner.

This evidence from a single location is important in a special way, the authors said.

"Our experiments are the first to demonstrate thermal acclimatization/adaptation to elevated ocean  temperature for corals of the same species and from the same location over the past half-century."

The three species of corals they studied are Lobactis scutaria, mushroom or plate coral, Montipora capitata, called rice or pore coral, and Pocillopora damicornis, the cauliflower or lace coral.


© Jan TenBruggencate 2018

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Random climate science: Hot seas, marine debris, changing forests and, of course, goats


They've been taking temperature measurements at San Diego's Scripps Pier for 102 years.

And on Aug. 1, 2018, they measured the highest temperature in all that time: 78.6 degrees. And summer's not even over yet. 
The same day, a half-mile offshore they measured 79.7 degrees, second highest at that location after a 2015 El Nino year measurement. 

Yeah, that's just one location, and you can get isolated peak temperatures, but large scale temperature data continue to move in one direction. The image at upper right represents global land and sea temperatures from 1880 to 2015. It comes from the National Climate Data Center.

There are still plenty of skeptics out there, but the science seems clear.

We all know about rising sea levels, California wildfires, increasing droughts, acidification of the oceans and so on. But what are some of the likely impacts that we don't hear much about?

For the Hawaiian and Pacific Islands, a warming climate has other kinds of implications. Marine debris, for example, can not only be a nuisance, an entanglement threat to turtles, an ingestion threat to seabirds, but a bunch of other things.

Climate change can alter storm frequency, change current patterns, and move plastic debris into new parts of the sea and the coast, according to a study in the journal Aquatic Invasions.  

"Climate change may also increase the frequency and magnitude of storm activity capable of washing the immense amounts of plastic material now poised on the edges of the world’s coastlines into the sea," the authors write.

Have a child interested in medical school? Suggest a career in treating parasitic worms. There's evidence that a warming climate will increase the populations and virulence in a range of nasty bugs that like to bore into human tissue.

In the PLOS journal Neglected Tropical Diseases, there's this paper: " Global 'worming': Climate change and its projected general impact on human helminth infections." 

Not every nasty parasite will increase but many will, and some of those will be able to move into areas where they now don’t exist. And here's a word to get familiar with: ancylostomiasis. It is caused by a hookworm and can cause anemia in humans. Here's another: ascariasis, a disease caused by a roundworm. Both are expected to thrive in a warming climate.

There are a lot of folks in the Midwest who have felt secure that climate change will impact them minimally, since, after all, they aren't going to be impacted by rising seas or tropical storm systems. But there's increasing evidence that they can expect disruptions, too.

The Indiana Climate Change Impacts Assessment suggests that the growing season will be longer, but that with more spring floods and summer drought, the state might not be able to take advantage of it. 

And not just Indiana. 
Northern European forests will see big species changes, with declines in species like silver fir, beech, common ash and common oak, and a better habitat for alien species like the Douglas fir, red oak and black locust. With the change in species will come a dramatic change in the natural species that rely on those forests, said a paper in the journal Global Change Biology called "How much does climate change threaten European forest tree species distributions?" 

Should you get used to goat-milk ice cream? One research paper suggests that in a more extreme environment, goats present the best option for milk and meat. 

"Goats have numerous advantages that enable them to maintain their production under extreme climate conditions. Principally, goats have higher capacity than other farm raised ruminants to effectively convert some feed sources into milk and meat," write authors Nazan Koluman Darcana and Nissim Silanikoveb in the journal Small Ruminant Research.

Additionally, they produce less methane than cattle, they write.
©Jan TenBruggencate 2018

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Big Island fish evolving without geographic barriers: this is strange stuff


Arc-eyed Hawkfish, this one from Fiji in 2008. 
Credit: NOAA photo by Julie Bedford
If you isolate populations of animals and plants long enough, they can evolve into different forms, even different species.

That's been known for a long time.

In the Hawaiian Islands, we also have lots of evidence that the isolation doesn’t require long distances. A plant or insect in one steep-sided valley can have evolved into a unique species from its relatives in the next valley.

The valley itself may be sufficient to isolate the genetic flow, and allow each group to evolve independently.

But can species isolate themselves without geographic barriers? Apparently so, and you can find examples on Hawaiian reefs.

Researchers Jonathan Whitney, Brian Bowen and Stephen Karl, all of the Hawai`i Institute of Marine Biology studied arc-eye hawkfish (Paracirrhites arcatus) off the Big Island, where they found dark-colored fish on basalt bottoms and light-colored fish in coral habitats—all within a few feet of each other.

And it turned out that the dark colored hawkfish were more closely genetically related to dark hawkfish far away than they were to their light-colored cousins nearby. The fish apparently were isolating themselves voluntarily by their preferred habitat.

Whitney, Bowen and Karl published their research in the journal Molecular Ecology, under the title, "Flickers of speciation: Sympatric colour morphs of the arc-eye hawkfish, Paracirrhites arcatus, reveal key elements of divergence with gene flow." 

They wrote: "We observed greater genetic divergence between colour morphs on the same reefs than that between the same morphs in different geographic locations. We hypothesize that adaptation to the contrasting microhabitats is overriding gene flow and is responsible for the partial reproductive isolation observed between sympatric colour morphs."

Apparently, the light-colored fish on coral select their mates from among the other light-colored fish on coral, rather than from among the dark-colored fish on the basalt a short distance away. And vice versa.

"The combination of ecological, behavioural and now genetic  studies of the arc-eye hawkfish provides compelling evidence for partial reproductive isolation resulting from ecological barriers in the absence of geographic isolation."

The hawkfish have not been sufficiently isolated to have developed into separate species, but they seem to be on their way in that direction. And that's both interesting and strange, but may be a piece to a puzzle, the authors write:

"Whether complete reproductive isolation will develop between arc-eye colour morphs remains speculation. Regardless of the outcome, P. arcatus provides a rare case confirming that partial reproductive isolation can evolve in the face of continuous gene flow, bringing us one step closer to understanding the role ecological barriers play in initiating the early stages of speciation."

©Jan TenBruggencate 2018

Thursday, July 12, 2018

New study finds rat eradication improves fisheries around islands

Rat on palm. Credit Island Conservation, USFWS
If the rat eradication of Lehua Island ends up being successful, it could result in a more productive nearshore fishery.

Which is ironic, in that many of those fighting the eradication program were fishermen.

A new study in the journal Nature says that when rats kill off seabirds on islands, it means those birds are no longer pooping in the nearshore waters, fertilizing reefs. And that means fewer fish on those reefs.

This study was done in the Chagos Archipelago, where some islands have rats and others are rat-free. Researchers looked at both the fertility of the land on those islands and the productivity of their reefs, where erosion from the land would carry nutrients like bird-poop-sourced nitrogen.

The Chagos are atolls and reefs just south of the Equator in the Indian Ocean. Their ownership is disputed between Great Britain and Mauritius. One is Diego Garcia, which houses a U.S military base.

The results of the research were clear, said the authors, who are from Australian, British, Danish and Canadian research institutions.

On islands without rats, seabird density as well as nitrogen deposits were hundreds of times higher. Yes, hundreds: 250 to more than 700 times higher.

Those rat-free islands had reefs that had 48 percent more biomass of "macroalgae, filter-feeding sponges, turf algae and fish."

The researchers looked specifically at damselfish, and found that they both grew faster and had higher total biomass on the rat-free islands.

The theory, then, is that seabirds feed in the open ocean, deliver bird poop to the islands, and that the islands then feed the nearshore waters, which makes the waters more productive and capable of producing more fish.



"Rat eradication on oceanic islands should be a high conservation priority as it is likely to benefit terrestrial ecosystems and enhance coral reef productivity and functioning by restoring seabird-derived nutrient subsidies from large areas of ocean," the authors wrote.
Vampire mouse victim. Credit USFWS

Rats are not the only problems on islands. On Midway Atoll, near the western end of the Hawaiian archipelago, mice began eating seabirds after rats were removed from the islands there. The case of the vampire mice, which chewed into the necks of Laysan albatross, is reviewed here.

On other islands, the mice even seemed to be getting bigger on their diets of eggs and bird flesh. The Washington Post was among the many international publications that picked up the vampire mouse story.

All that said, rodents mainly go after eggs and chicks of nesting seabirds. That was the case at Lehua Island. Here is a description of the situation on the little island north of Ni`ihau before an application of a rodenticide to try to wipe out the rats.

"We found Wedge-tailed Shearwater and Red-tailed Tropicbird eggs broken open, the edges gnawed, the insides consumed. Tiny seabird chick bodies were commonplace–pulled out of burrows and half eaten. This was particularly true for the diminutive Bulwer’s Petrel–the vast majority of Bulwer’s Petrel burrows we found had bits and pieces of chick inside," wrote Andre Raine, Project Manager for the Kauai Endangered Seabird Recovery Project.



A couple of months after the 2017 rat eradication effort at Lehua, Raine said he could clearly see the difference:

"Fat, healthy Wedge-tailed Shearwater chicks shuffled about in their burrows looking like animated fuzzballs. One of our burrow cameras showed a Bulwer’s Petrel chick exercising outside its burrow and actually fledging – a great omen, as this is something we have never recorded on our cameras in previous years," he wrote.

Most, but not all the rats were killed off at Lehua, and wildlife crews were back this year with rat-hunting dogs to try to kill off the survivors and protect the island's nesting seabird population.

And the island's coastal reefs and fisheries.
The removal of rats from islands is a major conservation effort. It has been done successfully at islands in Hawai`i like Mokoli`i off O`ahu and Mokapu off Molokai. When it was accomplished at Palmyra Atoll south of the Hawaiian Islands, it had the unintended effect of killing off the disease-causing Asian tiger mosquito, which had depended on rats for blood meals. 

© Jan TenBruggencate 2018

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Drink coffee, live longer. It seems strange, but the science is compelling.


So what's with the health benefits of coffee?

New studies suggest you will live longer drinking coffee than from taking vitamins, eating good fruits and engaging in the latest "miracle diet" craze.

It's not entirely clear why. Its not the caffeine, because even decaf coffee has the impact of reducing mortality by statistically significant amounts.

One British study released this month followed half a million people over 10 years, and found not only that coffee drinkers live longer, but that the more coffee you drink, the better your chances of a longer life than those who drink less.

The study is entitled "Association of Coffee Drinking with Mortality by Genetic Variation in Caffeine Metabolism." It was published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, a publication of the American Medical Association, by authors are Erikka Loftfield, Marilyn Cornelis, Neil Caporaso, Kai Yu, Rashmi Sinha and Neal Freedman.

The study was designed to look into whether drinking a lot of coffee is a problem for people with genetic issues with caffeine metabolism, but it found that everyone—including those whose caffeine metabolism was faster or slower—had reduced mortality if they drank coffee.

This isn’t entirely new. There have been previous studies linking coffee to better longevity and to reduced rates of various diseases. That helped lead to the recommendation that up to 40 ounces of coffee (five 8-ounce cups) can be part of a healthy diet, from the 2015 report of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.

This new study is a massive study using the more than 9 million members of the UK Biobank. This study targeted 503,000 volunteers—excluding those who were pregnant, or whose coffee or nicotine intake information was incomplete. It looked at those who drink ground coffee, instant coffee and decaffeinated coffee. The average age going into the study was 57, and there were slightly more women than men. The researchers followed them for 10 years, during which time more than 14,000 of them died

People lived longer, even if they drank decaf—so it's something in the coffee or the coffee drinking, and not just the caffeine. "These findings suggest the importance of noncaffeine constituents in the coffee-mortality association and provide further reassurance that coffee drinking can be a part of a healthy diet," the study's authors write.

The authors looked at details of participants' smoking, as well as sex, weight, exercise, race, education and how much they also drank tea (it is a British survey, after all). A fifth were non-coffee-drinkers.

Ground coffee was a little healthier than instant and decaf, but they were all better than none. The study found that sex, age, weight and previous health issues did not make much difference in the outcome.

The study 's conclusion ends with this key message: "Our results provide further evidence that coffee drinking can be part of a healthy diet and may provide reassurance to those who rink coffee and enjoy it."

An earlier study of 400,000 people was published in 2012, in an edition of the New England Journal of Medicine. It had similar results. The study was entitled "Association of Coffee Drinking with Total and Cause-Specific Mortality," and was by Neal D. Freedman, Yikyung Park, Christian C. Abnet, Albert R. Hollenbeck, and Rashmi Sinha. Freedman and Sinha were authors of both papers that we discuss here.

They followed 230,000 men and 170,000 women aged 50 to 71 over 13 years, during which period about 50,000 of them died. The study found that people who drink several cups of coffee daily have lower mortality—they don't die as early as ones who don't drink coffee or who drink less coffee.

This is particularly noteworthy—and strange—because coffee drinkers tend to make bad lifestyle choices:

"As compared with persons who did not drink coffee, coffee drinkers were more likely to smoke cigarettes and consume more than three alcoholic drinks per day, and they consumed more red meat. Coffee drinkers also tended to have a lower level of education; were less likely to engage in vigorous physical activity; and reported lower levels of consumption of fruits, vegetables, and white meat. However, coffee drinkers, especially women who drank coffee, were less likely to report having diabetes. About two thirds of coffee drinkers reported drinking predominantly caffeinated coffee.

Still, according to both studies, if you drink three to five cups of coffee a day, even decaffeinated coffee, you're roughly 10 percent less likely to die in a given period.

What the heck is going on? Everybody knows about the caffeine, but if the decaf drinkers get the same protective effect (which may mean that caffeinated soft drinks don't do the same thing, incidentally) what's causing the reduce mortality?

Well, it turns out there are about 1,000 other compounds in coffee. So it might be one or more of those things.

The authors point out that they can't prove the coffee causes the health effect. It might be that something else about coffee drinkers is making them less likely to die as soon.

If it is not caffeine having an effect, maybe it's antioxidants, the authors of the 2012 paper suggest.

"Coffee contains more than 1000 compounds that might affect the risk of death. The most well-studied compound is caffeine, although similar associations for caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee in the current study and a previous study suggest that, if the relationship between coffee consumption and mortality were causal, other compounds in coffee (e.g., antioxidants, including polyphenols) might be important.

There's also a 2017 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine of coffee drinkers in 10 European countries. It had similar results: " Coffee drinking was associated with reduced risk for death from various causes. This relationship did not vary by country." 

Still, this research isn't entirely straightforward. This article from the Mayo Clinic suggests that while there may be health benefits from coffee, there are also risks for some folks. 
Oh, and taking vitamins and supplements? One study says "the results from controlled trials are dismal."
Another, on antioxidant vitamins in heart health says: "After an initial enthusiasm for antioxidants in the secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease, recent reports from of several large randomized trials have failed to show any beneficial effects." 
The takeaway seems to be that it's healthier to eat a good diet with lots of fruits and vegetables than to take supplements to make up for a bad diet. But also, that there might be some benefit to having a couple of cups of coffee with those leafy meals.
© Jan TenBruggencate 2018

Friday, July 6, 2018

Kīlauea: Dramatic, long-term changes continue. Catastrophic event possible but unlikely.


It is tough to grasp the enormous changes going on at Kīlauea volcano, including the impact on the prized national park as well as the catastrophic impacts on downslope residents.

(The view at right is from Volcano House. If you've looked over Kīlauea from this site, you'll recognize how completely different it looks now. The image is from an automated National Park Service camera.)
In the day-to-day news cycle, we tend to use a tight focus on what has been destroyed lately--the hundreds upon hundreds of lost homes, the thousands of acres of forest gone, the loss of transportation systems and the destruction of the Jaggar Museum--but scientists at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory recently took a wider look, and the future doesn't look bright.

The U.S. Geological Survey report is entitled Volcanic Hazard at the Summit of Kīlauea, June 29, 2018 Update.
The Kīlauea caldera is collapsing at two to three inches daily, dramatically changing the look of the landscape. The lava lake has dropped 1,000 feet from its high. The parking lot at Halema`uma`u has been torn up like a sheet of paper, and it is covered by ash and rocks that have been ejected from the firepit.

If you remember the Halema`uma`u overlook, remember it well. It has now been closed since 2008, and if you ever see it again, it will look very different. The crater, for example, is four times as big as it was.

For the next few months, we can anticipate more earthquakes, ground cracking, ash plumes, vog and large scale deformation as Halema`uma`u engulfs more and more of Kīlauea Crater. It may eventually take up all of what we now know as the crater.

A sudden, massive, severely damaging collapse is considered possible, although unlikely. New lava fountains hundreds of feet high are possible. So is an earthquake much bigger than the ones felt recently.

"Strong earthquakes can occur at any time, and the risk of these events is larger now due to ongoing stress changes in and around the caldera. These earthquakes will not necessarily occur during swarm seismicity or in association with (collapse-explosion) events, may be large, and may happen outside of the caldera," the report says.

The only good news in this scenario is that if a massive, destructive collapse of the caldera occurs, there ought to be some notice of it:

"…Large-scale hazardous caldera collapse is a possible future outcome, although it is considered to be very unlikely and should be preceded by detectable warning signals. HVO should recognize these warning signs by direct observation and instrumental monitoring and, should they be detected, will alert authorities and the public."
That said:.

"The most likely course of activity for the immediate future at the summit of Kīlauea Volcano is continued subsidence of the caldera floor, episodic slumping into Halema`uma`u, felt moderate-sized earthquakes, and small ash plumes. The duration of this activity may be related to the duration of the (Lower East Rift Zone) eruption but cannot be confidently predicted," the USGS says.

In short, the most likely scenario is that we keep seeing what we’ve been seeing for the past couple of months. The less likely scenario is that it gets worse.

You can keep track of the technical details of the eruption at the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory website

Another great resource is the lyrical narratives of retired Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park ranger Bobby Camara, Dispatches from Volcano

© Jan TenBruggencate 2018

Thursday, June 28, 2018

New book on Breadfruit: Make it part of your agroforest


It's no surprise that the British sailed around the world, twice, to collect breadfruit.

The ulu is that important a crop. Rich in nutrients, versatile, drought-resistant and darned easy to farm. You just plant them once, and then harvest fruit for the rest of your life.

That work of food production in the tropics and subtropics is going to get easier still with the guidance from Craig Elevitch and Diane Ragone's new volume, Breadfruit Agroforestry Guide: Planning and Implementation of Regenerative Organic Methods. Elevitch is Director of Agroforestry Net and Ragone is director of the Breadfruit Institute at the National Tropical Botanical Garden.

Their new book is available as an ebook from the National Tropical Botanical Garden website or in print for $19.95 at Amazon. 

The 72-page volume will be useful to home growers, but it's designed for agricultural professionals and extension agents, and it's an unabashed paean to the tropical and subtropical tree in complex food production systems.

The mission of the authors is not only to point up the value of breadfruit as a species, but to celebrate its role in a food forest—as part of an agroforest. Traditional Pacific societies grew breadfruit as part of a forest garden that might include taro, sugar cane, ti, banana, kava, noni and many other crops.

They argue that such a system doesn't require external fertilizers and buffers the impacts of fluctuation in markets for single crops. Multi-story agroforestry captures carbon in the soil, protects plants from the wind and reduces moisture loss.

The National Tropical Botanical Garden has a research agroforestry breadfruit garden at its McBryde Garden on Kaua`i. And it has a collection of about 150  breadfruit varieties at Kahanu Garden on Maui and at McBryde.


There are many varieties of breadfruit. The traditional Hawaiian seedless variety is just one. Others fruit at different times, produce crops that taste different, and some have seeds that can be eaten like chestnuts. 

Trees product a hundred to several hundred fruit annually, often in two seasons. The fruit is edible at any stage. Unripe fruit can be cooked and eaten as a vegetable; soft ripe fruit are eaten as a starch, and they can be baked, fried or used in any number of dishes. 

I visited an island in the Solomons where ripe breadfruit was dried for use in the season when they weren't available fresh. Other Pacific cultures preserve them underground. But they'll last a while on your kitchen shelf, and refrigeration works, too.

The book was funded by Patagonia Provisions, the Hawai`i Department of Agriculture, Kauai Office of Economic Development, and Western Sustainable Agricultural Research and Education. Its publishers are the Breadfruit Institute and Permanent Agriculture Resources.

The same authors in 2013 produced what works as a companion volume: Breadfruit Production Guide: Recommended practices for growing, harvesting, and handling. You can download that one free here

But actually buying the books--search for them at Amazon--helps support the programs Ragone and Elevitch run.

Here's what the authors had to say, from the press release on the new book:
Ragone: “Breadfruit has been grown sustainably since humans began cultivating it thousands of years ago. It’s vital that we revive centuries of indigenous knowledge and traditional methods into a modern context. Doing so will help breadfruit thrive and support communities for many generations.”

Elevitch: “This is a crucial time for the future of breadfruit and island agriculture in general. Given that the single-crop plantation model with high chemical inputs leads to declining soil fertility and plant health, growers are now developing models for breadfruit production rooted in traditional methods.”

© Jan TenBruggencate 2018

Monday, June 11, 2018

Hawai`i data shows CO2 at record levels in atmosphere: and growing faster than ever


Annual CO2 growth rate. Source: NOAA, Scripps
Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere continue to grow at a record rate, promising that climate change will continue long beyond our lifetimes.

That's from data collected in Hawai`i—at the Mauna Loa Observatory, which has been collecting atmospheric CO2 data for 60 years. 

The Scripps release on the milestone is here.

In May, those levels reached a record high of 411.31 parts per million.

The latest tally was released last week by scientists from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego and NOAA.

And despite international efforts to control emissions, they appear to not be effectively under control. The level of emissions is not only continuing to grow, but it's growing faster. It was growing at 1.5-1.6 parts per million in the 1980s through 1990s, but during the past 10 years has been growing at 2.2 parts per million.

“Many of us had hoped to see the rise of CO2 slowing by now, but sadly that isn't the case. It could still happen in the next decade or so if renewables replace enough fossil fuels,” said Scripps CO2 program director Ralph Keeling, whose father Charles Keeling started the Mauna Loa CO2 program in 1958.

But while it's possible to reverse the growth trend in CO2, for species of all kinds, including humans, the future isn’t bright.

“Today's emissions will still be trapping heat in the atmosphere thousands of years from now.” Pieter Tans, lead scientist of NOAA’s Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network.

With Kilauea volcano erupting continually for so long, many ask if that has a significant impact on atmospheric carbon dioxide. Researchers say it's clear that most of the CO2 change is from fossil fuel use, not the volcano.

And the proximity of Kilauea to Mauna Loa is also not a big factor. The high rate of growth in atmospheric CO2 is not only being observed at Mauna Loa but also at other sites in NOAA’s Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2018

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Rats can open a window on ancient island environments


It may be hard to think of something rats are good for, but a team of scientists has figured out a unique way to look into the history of Pacific islands—using rats.
(Image: A Pacific rat, Rattus exulans, in a New Zealand government photo.)

They looked into the bones of rats from ancient archaeological sites, and it turned out that they could extract information from the marrow of rat bones. They were able to figure out what the rats were eating over time, and from that, make assessments about the changing island environment.

A new study on this work was just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The authors are Jillian Swift, Patrick Roberts and Nicole Boivin of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, and Patrick Kirch of the Univeristy of California-Berkeley Department of Anthropology. The paper is entitled "Restructuring of nutrient flows in island ecosystems following human colonization evidenced by isotopic analysis of commensal rats."

Some definitions: Isotopes are forms of the same element that have different numbers of neutrons in the nuclei. Isotopic analysis in this instance is studying changes over time in the mix of isotopes of certain elements—in this case carbon and nitrogen. And commensal means living with something, without causing it any particular help or harm—in this case rats living among humans.

When early Polynesians arrived on Pacific islands, they almost always brought Pacific rats with them. People argue over whether that was intentional or not, but it almost always happened. Pacific rats, or Polynesian rats, are Rattus exulans.

And those rats quickly went out on their own, foraging initially in the virgin environment, and later in the environment that humans had created through bringing new plants, slash and burn agriculture and so forth.

"Stable isotope analysis of commensal animals provides an effective proxy for local human environments because these species are closely associated with human activities without being under direct human management," the authors write.

They studied rat bones from archaeological sites in three Polynesian island areas: Mangareva, Ua Huka in the Marquesas and Tikopia far to the west.

They found that their study of rats was able to track dramatic changes in local environments, demonstrating "human land use, intensification and faunal community restructuring."

More specifically, "Our results highlight the large-scale restructuring of nutrient flows in island ecosystems that resulted from human colonization and ecosystem engineering activities on Pacific islands."

This is complicated stuff, and I won't go into details on how the lab work was done, but you can look it up yourself here.

This is data that the authors say is hard to get from standard analysis of early archaeological remains, and it suggests that this kind of stable isotope analysis can help shed more light on how and how quickly humans changed their environments after arriving on Pacific islands.

It is also true that the rats themselves did a lot of that modification of ecosystems—eating birds and insect and seeds and seedlings. But that's all part of the story, since it was humans who brought the rats to these new environments.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2018

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Dying `Ōhi`a: Lots of research, perhaps some hope







Dead `ohi`a with live trees and uluhe.
Credit: DLNR
Lots of news organizations spread word that a variant of the Rapid `Ōhi`a Death fungus has been found on Kaua`i, but none told the larger story.

That story is the powerful effort that’s going on to save the tree that has been called the mother of the forest.

`Ōhi`a is really a remarkable part of the Hawaiian environment, growing in many environments from sea level to high mountains, and in many cases serving as the dominant canopy tree.

It feeds and houses insects. Those insects and the tree’s nectar feed birds. And it houses birds, both in its branches and in cavities in its trunk.

It is prominent in culture, common in legend, and it’s just plain gorgeous with its crimson and orange puffball flowers and widely varying leaf types. Buds can be reddish or orange or green, and shiny or covered with a frost of silver hairs.

“It is the foundation tree of our watershed,” said Bob Masuda, deputy director of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

As a community we despaired when there arrived a fungus, Ceratocystis lukuohia, which began killing trees by the thousands on Hawai`i Island. Many trees were infected and once infected, death was certain often in days to weeks. It was sometimes called `Ōhi`a Wilt, and sometimes more dramatically, Rapid `Ōhi`a Death.

It turns out that a small percentage of trees was also infected with a slower-developing related fungus, Ceratocystis huliohia. It could take months to years to kill a tree, often taking single branch systems before killing off the entire tree. 

That’s the one that has now been found on East Kaua`i. Not nearly as virulent as its spooky cousin, but still a problem for `ōhi`a. Foresters suggest it probably shouldn’t be called Rapid `Ōhi`a Death, because, well, it doesn’t progress so rapidly.

Both are examples of something called a vascular wilt—a fungus that clogs the tree’s ability to transfer water between roots and leaves


There are some interesting things about these diseases, including that they appear to have very different sources. The fast-acting one is most closely related to fungi in Latin America, while the slower one appears to be more closely related to Asian fungi.

And the slower-moving version may spread slowly enough that it was in the Hawaiian Islands first, but wasn’t recognized. There are lots of things that can kill `ōhi`a trees, lots of disease that can attack them—although none as aggressive as Ceratocystis lukuohia.

One of the big unanswered questions about both diseases is whether there is hope. Whether there are any examples of `ōhi`a trees that may be resistant—and thus could be used to repopulate the Hawaiian forest.

To help find that out, lots of research is underway, including aerial surveys on several islands to better understand the outbreak. Here’s one study on the aerial monitoring from the journal Remote Sensing

Pathologist Lisa Keith, of the USDA Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Service, said that researchers are growing seedlings of different varieties of `ōhi`a and infecting them with the fungus. So far, some are still surviving—perhaps a good sign, although they may just be heading downhill slower than others.

She and others are also working with different fungicides, which may not save an infected tree, but might keep a particularly valued tree alive longer. Others are working with other techniques to try to strengthen the trees so they can potentially survive infection.

It’s clear that humans are big carriers. If a tool like an ax, chain saw or machete cuts an infected tree, it can easily spread the disease if you cut into a second tree without disinfecting the tool. Any injury to the tree can be a highway for infection.

Scientists are studying the beetles that may be spreading the disease by boring into the trees.

And they’re trying to determine how effective the fungus is at being spread by wind.

And what if it’s not just those beetles, but other insects. Researchers have chunks of infected tree wood in netted containers, to watch what other insects might emerge over time.

If the disease is spread by wind, then perhaps you could limit the spread by cutting down a swath of trees downwind from an infected patch, to deny the fungus trees to spread to. Kind of like cutting a firebreak.  The state Division of Forestry and Wildlife is working on that technique.

Researchers are studying old photographs of the forest to try to determine what they can about disease in `ōhi`a over the years.

And scientists have developed quarantine measures to reduce the spread—like limiting the movement of infected wood.

The number of organizations working on this issue is impressive. It includes the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, the U.S. Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center, USDA Forest Service Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry, the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry and Wildlife, University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo, The Nature Conservancy, National Tropical Botanical Garden, Hawaiʻi Association of Watershed Partnerships, Coordinating Group on Alien Pest Species, the Big Island, Maui, Molokai, O'ahu and Kaua'i Invasive Species Committees, USFS Region 5 State and Private Forestry, USGS Pacific Island Ecosystems Research Center, Carnegie Airborne Observatory,  Hawai'i Invasive Species Council and Hawai`i Department of Agriculture -Plant Quarantine Branch.


A sign of hope is that not every tree in a diseased stand dies. But it’s not yet clear whether that’s because surviving trees might be resistant to the disease, or that they simply haven’t been infected yet.

That said, the `ōhi`a is so important to the Hawaiian environment that researchers and foresters hope to be able to identify resistant trees.

If they can find them, then the daunting task will be a massive statewide effort to replant these seminal trees throughout the Hawaiian forest.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2018