SOLUTION: ETS 260 St Catherine University In a Fight for a Tree Ants Thwart Elephants Paper

Planet in Peril
September 6, 2010
In a Fight for a Tree, Ants Thwart Elephants
Campers know the pesky feeling of ants crawling up and down their arms and legs.
For elephants in Kenya’s central highlands, the sensation is disturbing enough to keep
them far away from a variety of tree they would otherwise enjoy eating, according to a
study in Current Biology.
The tree, known as the Acacia drepanolobium, is a generous home to ants that live in its
bulbous swellings and feed on a sugary solution it produces. In return, the ants serve as
guardians, instantly attacking any creature that approaches the tree. In the case of
elephants, ants crawl up the inside of their trunks and agitate sensitive nerve endings.
“An elephant’s trunk is a truly remarkable organ, but also appears to be their Achilles’
heel when it comes to squaring off with an angry ant colony,” said Todd M. Palmer, a
biologist at the University of Florida and the paper’s co-author.
In conducting their study, the researchers presented elephants with tree branches from
the ant tree but without ants. The elephants hungrily ate them.
Conversely, when presented with branches from one of their favorite trees that the
researchers populated with ants, the elephants detected the ant odor and stayed away.
“What we found is that they like to eat the ant plant as much as their favorite plants,
when there are no ants on them,” Dr. Palmer said.
The little ants end up playing a critical regulatory role in the savanna’s ecosystem, he
said, ensuring the presence of tree cover and helping control wildfires, since fire spreads
faster across grass than through trees.
Dr. Balsy Kasi
Page 1
A Fatal Disease Is Ravaging America’s Bats, and Scientists Are
Struggling to Stop It
By J. R. Sullivan
February 18, 2018 (from: The New Yorker)
Since white-nose syndrome was first identified, just twelve years ago, it has spread to thirty-one states.
The consequences—for bats, humans, and the U.S. economy—could be disastrous.
Photograph by Michael Durham / Minden Pictures / Getty
Late last summer, the biologist Mark Gumbert began flying over the farmlands of Iowa,
looking for bats. As the animals foraged and moved through the night, he followed from
above, circling the rivers and fields in his single-engine Cessna 172, trying his best not to
lose the signals from their transmitters. Over the past decade or so, Gumbert has
pioneered the study of bat migrations using radio telemetry, a method of wildlife
tracking typically reserved for caribou, moose, and other big game, which tend to travel
at moderate speeds. “A wolf running across the ground can move pretty quick, but
they’re not going to run all night,” Gumbert told me recently. A bat, on the other hand,
can be nearly impossible to trail on foot or by truck. Gumbert and his team at
Copperhead Environmental Consulting were the first to observe an entire migration
from the air, and they have since conducted surveys in New York, North Carolina, Ohio,
Tennessee, West Virginia, and elsewhere. But the project that brought Gumbert to Iowa
was unlike any he had undertaken before—tracking the northern long-eared bat, Myotis
septentrionalis, a species that is among those most threatened by a dangerous fungal
disease called white-nose syndrome.
Since the syndrome was first identified, twelve years ago, it is estimated to have killed
more than six million bats nationwide, a number that has undoubtedly risen since the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued its most recent official estimate, in 2012. As of
September, 2017, the disease had spread to thirty-one states, some of which have
Dr. Balsy Kasi
Page 1
suffered ninety-per-cent declines in their bat populations; the crisis, which began in
New York, now extends as far west as Washington. “I think most states would say it’s
not a matter of if white nose is going to show up but when,” Kelly Poole, the
endangered-species coördinator for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, told me.
The disease disrupts the bats’ hibernation, causing them to wake up in winter, exert
energy looking for food, and, in time, starve. It is almost always fatal, leaving caves full
of bonesin its wake. Scientists have yet to find a cure or treatment. “I get a sense that we
may actually be witnessing the extinction of a couple of species, at least regionally,”
Gumbert said. “We may not lose a species completely, but it wouldn’t surprise me if we
In a state such as Iowa, where the economy is based largely on agriculture, white nose is
particularly worrisome. According to a study published in 2011 in the journal Science,
bats consume enough insects to save U.S. farmers an estimated $22.9 billion a year in
pest control and crop damage, a conclusion echoed by a follow-up study in 2015. The
findings suggest that a nationwide decline in bats could result in higher food prices,
owing to an uptick in pesticide use and a reduction in crop yields. “That cost gets passed
down to the consumer, and you start seeing it at the grocery stores,” Piper Roby,
Copperhead’s research director, told me. She also noted that increased pesticide use
means more harmful chemicals in the ecosystem. “It’s just this cascade effect if you
remove a top-down predator, and you start to see the effects of it years later,” she said.
Gumbert’s efforts in Iowa, which began last August, were something of a stopgap
measure. The thinking was that, if he could track the northern long-eared bats, often
known simply as northerns, along their migration routes, he would be able to identify
where they ended up hibernating. This, in turn, would allow state officials to protect the
animals from human encroachment, including wind-energy development, while they
were at their most vulnerable. As Poole, who is overseeing the project for the D.N.R., put
it, “We don’t know where the bats are hanging out.” The fact that they are small and
secretive complicates the process. Unlike the bats of campy horror films, northerns tend
not to form large clusters in caves. If they did, Poole said, “then you’d have, like, one
cave to protect.” Instead, Gumbert told me, “They may actually be roosting in the
ground and in little crevices they can crawl into.” They might be in groups of two or
three, or they might be alone. He and his team fitted thirty bats with transmitters in the
course of the project, seven of which were active in the field at the time. None, it
seemed, had ended up in the same winter refuge, known as a hibernaculum, or had
really migrated much at all; they were mostly making small jumps. “We’re not exactly
sure what they’re doing yet,” Roby said.
To track those thirty bats required months of near-sleepless nights. When conducting an
aerial survey in the summer or fall, the team first has to catch the bats one by one, by
setting up nets in areas of known bat activity. Once they catch one, they document its
sex, weight, and over-all health, then put a numbered band on one forearm and fit it
with a radio transmitter roughly the size and shape of a Tic Tac. Gumbert takes off at
dusk each evening. He searches for one bat at a time, following the beeps from a receiver
in the Cessna. Once he pinpoints one bat’s location, he begins looking for the next; he
will cycle through the group again and again for the next four or five hours, waiting for
Dr. Balsy Kasi
Page 2
one to make a move. When that happens, Gumbert leaves the rest behind and follows
the bat however far it travels—in one case, more than two hundred and twenty miles in
the course of several days. It is mentally exhausting work, he told me. “Not only am I
listening to the beeps and going through the frequencies of the bats that are out there;
I’m also looking for other aircraft,” Gumbert said. But he also finds flying at night
peaceful. In Iowa, as he tracked the bats, he picked out porch lights scattered across the
otherwise black fields of corn and soybeans. “If there’s not a lot of haze, you can see the
reflection of the moon on the river below,” he said. Sometimes people will notice his
plane circling their property. “Then they get their big flashlight out and they spotlight
us, or they get their laser pointer,” he told me.
Aside from the practical concerns of protecting the species, one of the biggest challenges
moving forward, Poole said, will be getting the public to recognize the threat that white
nose poses. It doesn’t help the bats’ case, she added, that they’re not what most people
would consider charismatic megafauna. When a conspicuous creature, such as a lion
or wolf, teeters on extinction, folks tend to take notice. Last November, the outcry over
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s plan to allow the import of elephant trophies from
two African countries was so severe that President Trump had to get involved. Neither
the northern long-eared bat, the little brown bat, the gray bat, the Indiana bat, nor any
of the other species now at risk from white nose has inspired such widespread support,
though their loss would no doubt affect the country more severely than would the
disappearance of the elephant. But Roby told me that, even now, with white nose as
widespread as it is, researchers are already behind in simply trying to understand the
lives of bats—the northerns, in particular. “All of a sudden, we’re starting to lose these
populations, and we don’t know how to help them because we don’t know what they
need,” she said.
By November 1st of last year, Gumbert and the Copperhead team had concluded their
aerial monitoring and were wrapping up the last of their field work. They had confirmed
the location of only one hibernaculum. The bats had not migrated far—about twenty
miles. Ultimately, the project had led to more questions than it had answered, Roby told
me. Gumbert speculated that, for the time being, the most effective way to help the bats,
at least in Iowa, would be to protect the forested areas along the major waterways where
the animals are known to forage and hibernate. Unlike most other endangered or
threatened species, he noted, northerns are generalists; they do not require a specific
habitat to thrive. Since Iowa isn’t short on bat habitat, what northerns need most
remains a mystery. Still, Gumbert said that he is encouraged by signs that some species
in the United States and abroad may be developing an immunity to white nose. “I’m
hopeful that bats build up a resistance and they do survive,” he said. “I’m terrified to
think of my two-year-old growing up and there not being bats on the landscape.”
J. R. Sullivan is an editor for Men’s Journal.
Dr. Balsy Kasi
Page 3
A Floating House to Resist the Floods of Climate Change
By Emily Anthes
January 3, 2018 (from: The New Yorker)
Click on the picture or on this link for the article and animation!
As major storms become more common, could amphibious architecture keep at-risk neighborhoods intact?
Illustration by Seb Agresti
Last June, not long after a catastrophic thunderstorm swept through southern Ontario,
bringing a month’s worth of rain in just a few hours, a group of seventy-five architects,
engineers, and policymakers from sixteen countries gathered in the city of Waterloo to discuss
how humanity will cope with its waterlogged future. The timing of the conference was a fitting
meteorological coincidence; in a world increasingly transformed by climate change, heavy rains
and major floods are becoming more common, at least in some areas. In the summer of 2017
alone, Hurricane Harvey dumped more than fifty inches of rain over Texas, a monster
monsoon season damaged more than eight hundred thousand homes in India, and flash floods
and mudslides claimed at least five hundred lives in Sierra Leone. In the past two decades, the
world’s ten worst floods have done more than a hundred and sixty-five billion dollars’ worth of
damage and driven more than a billion people from their homes.
It was statistics like these that animated the experts who had assembled in Ontario for
the International Conference on Amphibious Architecture, Design and Engineering, a threeday event organized by Elizabeth English, an associate professor at the University of Waterloo.
Unlike traditional buildings, amphibious structures are not static; they respond to floods like
ships to a rising tide, floating on the water’s surface. As one of English’s colleagues put it, “You
can think of these buildings as little animals that have their feet wet and can then lift
themselves up as needed.” Amphibiation may be an unconventional strategy, but it reflects a
growing consensus that, at a time of climatic volatility, people can’t simply fight against water;
they have to learn to live with it. “With amphibious construction, water becomes your friend,”
English told me. “The water gets to do what the water wants to do. It’s not a confrontation with
Mother Nature—it’s an acceptance of Mother Nature.”
English began her career focussed on an altogether different force of nature: wind. After
earning degrees in architecture and engineering, she eventually landed at Louisiana State
University’s Hurricane Center, where she studied the effects of wind loads on buildings and the
aerodynamics of windborne debris. In August of 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans,
about seventy miles southeast of her home in Baton Rouge. The storm’s high-speed winds
Dr. Balsy Kasi
Page 1
peeled roofs off of buildings and flung debris through windows, but it was the flooding that
really shocked English. “Katrina was much more of a water event than a wind event,” she said.
“I started looking at the implications of all the flood damage and the social disruption that it
caused, and I became very, very angry about the cultural insensitivity of the solutions that were
being proposed.”
In the aftermath of the storm, the federal government recommended that
residents permanently elevate their houses, lifting them up onto raised foundations or stilts.
But English worried that hoisting the city’s low-slung, shotgun-style houses into the air would
ruin its sense of community, making it more difficult for residents to chat with neighbors and
passersby. “People didn’t want to move up,” English said. “And it visually thoroughly destroyed
the neighborhoods. There had to be a better way.”
She discovered that better way in another perpetually sodden locale—the Netherlands, where
developers were building a cluster of amphibious homes in a flood-prone region along the
Maas River. The houses sat on hollow concrete boxes attached to large steel pillars. During a
flood, the boxes would function like the hull of a ship, providing buoyancy. As the waters rose,
the buildings would rise, too, sliding up the pillars and floating on the water’s surface. When
the waters receded, the houses would descend to their original positions.
It was an elegant solution, English thought, but not quite what she was looking for. Building a
hollow foundation is a major construction project; English wanted to give New Orleanians an
easy and inexpensive way to modify their existing homes. In 2006, she founded a nonprofit
called the Buoyant Foundation Project and began working with a group of architecture and
engineering students to devise a method for retrofitting local homes with amphibious
foundations. A typical New Orleans shotgun house sits slightly above the ground, resting atop
short piers; the researchers could, they thought, fasten a steel frame to the underside of a
house and affix a set of foam buoyancy blocks. Then they could sink posts into the ground and
attach them to the corners of the frame, allowing the house to rise up off the piers without
floating down the street.
English and her students built a full-scale prototype of the system, and in the summer of 2007
they put it to the test. They borrowed some corral panels from the College of Agriculture and
built a temporary flood tank around their model amphibious home, pumping in water straight
from the Mississippi River. The tank filled with two, three, four feet of water, and the house
began to rise. By the time they stopped pumping, it was hovering about a foot above the piers.
“It was a religious experience when it lifted off,” English recalled.
The system was simple and cheap; it could be installed by two reasonably handy people
without heavy equipment for between ten and forty dollars a square foot. It left a building’s
appearance and structure almost unchanged, and it was more resilient than permanent
elevation, which can cost two or three times as much and make a building more susceptible to
wind damage. “This is not a one-size-fits-all solution,” English said, noting that the system
would not provide adequate protection against high-speed waves. “But it’s an excellent solution
for some circumstances.”
Dr. Balsy Kasi
Page 2
English became so enamored of the approach that she began to think beyond the bayou. In the
past decade, she and her colleagues at the Buoyant Foundation Project have designed
amphibious-housing prototypes for low-income, flood-threatened regions in Nicaragua and
Jamaica. They have also consulted with indigenous communities in Canada and Louisiana.
(English kept her house there after she moved from L.S.U. to Waterloo, in 2007.) Thanks in
part to the project’s work, the gospel of amphibiation is spreading. Amphibious buildings are
popping up everywhere from the U.K., where the firm Baca Architects recently built a buoyant,
light-drenched three-bedroom home on an island in the Thames, to Bangladesh, where a
master’s student designed a sustainable affordable-housing unit that relies on eight thousand
empty plastic water bottles for buoyancy.
Still, amphibious structures remain more of an innovative curiosity than a bona-fide building
trend. It probably doesn’t help that the premise is profoundly counterintuitive. When English
first started telling people about her work, they laughed at her. “It seemed so outlandish,” she
said. But the biggest hurdles, English told me, are more prosaic. In the United States, federal
law requires most homeowners living in high-risk flood zones to purchase flood insurance, but
buildings with amphibious foundations are not eligible for the subsidized policies offered by
the National Flood Insurance Program. In one of English’s academic papers, she mentions the
story of a developer who built an amphibious house in New Orleans, then found himself unable
to acquire an N.F.I.P. policy; the building remained unsold until he replaced the amphibious
foundation with a traditional one.
In 2007, after English began promoting her concept on the Buoyant Foundation Project Web
site, an official at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which administers the N.F.I.P.,
wrote to her. He urged her not to release more information about her design and suggested
that communities that permitted the floatable foundations could “jeopardize” their “good
standing” with the N.F.I.P. A decade later, FEMA continues to maintain that more research is
needed. “Although amphibious-building technology is changing, these systems raise several
engineering, floodplain-management, economic, and emergency-management concerns,” an
agency spokesperson said in a statement. “A technology that relies on mechanical processes to
provide flood protection is not equivalent to the same level of safe protection provided by
permanent elevation.”
English isn’t giving up. A few months after the conference, she flew to Vietnam, where she is
designing two new amphibious houses that are slated to be built in January. She also has a
grant fro …
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