Sunday, April 23, 2017

Consequences of Deforestation Throughout the World

Forests expand across the world providing breath taking, natural physical features to immerse oneself in. Occupying 31 percent of the world’s land surface, forests not only offer beauty but also provide a number of resources that are essential to both environmental and human growth (Kirk, 2016). We owe a great deal of gratitude to the various components that make up forests including trees, soil, and organic matter and their environmental contributions. These features each perform unique processes, trees act as a natural filter providing purification for air, water, protection from run off, and climate regulation (Adams, 2012). The forest is also responsible for providing goods including wood or paper as well as the storage of key nutrients vital for plant growth. For example, Guyana’s rich forests hold massive amount of carbon. When carbon is stored it reduces the amount that is lost to the environment and helps to combat climate change (Sutherland, 2017). Not only do forests cleanse the environment and provide nutrition, but they also instill balance within the ecosystem serving as a home to diverse wildlife (Erickson-Davis, 2017). Although forests provide many benefits to the people, deforestation is a relevant topic of concern that threatens their existence and hinders these contributions.
Deforestation is a distressing issue that involves the removal of Earth’s forests and occurs for a variety of reasons. The human population continues to grow and as with other environmental issues man takes priority resulting in the removal of Earth’s forests to provide land for settlement and agriculture. Not only are forests being removed for habitation but this land is often viewed by the government as an agricultural opportunity for prosperity. Global agribusiness is primarily responsible for Cambodia’s massive deforestation as the government is leasing land to timber and agricultural companies (Erickson-Davis, 2017). Similarly, in the Brazil’s northern Amazon agribusinesses are forcing local farmers off land in order to utilize the acreage for soya production (Vidal, 2017). Another large driver of deforestation includes removal of land for activities such as gold mining as well as the construction of dams. Guyana, a country with a rich supply of gold under its jungle cover, experiences this problem first hand as mining is a necessary evil that is responsible for much of Guyana’s deforestation (Sutherland, 2017). A third contributor to deforestation is high severity forest fires resulting from a combination of increasing temperatures and dry conditions. Areas around the world such as the state of California experience deforestation as a result of these devastating fires that also create a number of environmental concerns.
Fig. 1 This image shows the significant damage done to the mountains of California as a result of a roaring wildfire.

Although there are many different factors that contribute to deforestation they all pose significant problems for the environment and surrounding individuals. Deforestation not only burdens individuals that rely on its resources but its also has a drastic impact on the diverse wildlife living within it. Cambodia’s forests were once home to a variety of species however deforestation has endangered a number of species including the Indochinese tigers and colorful monkeys referred to as doucs (Erickson-Davis, 2017). The complete loss of species eliminates biodiversity and offsets balance within the ecosystem generating immense concern. The effects of deforestation also contribute to global warming, as there are fewer trees to reduce pollution levels within the air. Cambodia has experienced a build up of about 533 million metric tons of carbon emission resulting from fewer leaves to absorb greenhouse gases (Erickson-Davis, 2017). Next, deforestation creates ecological and social devastation leading to conflict between groups of people. The redistribution of land in Brazil has created controversy between farmers and the government as farmer’s claim that the government is illegally redistributing lands for personal gain (Vidal, 2017). Small business holders are being removed from land that is then being sold to bigger businesses to make profit from Soya production. Farmer’s are not only worried about possible remove from their homes but are also concerned about the potential social problems associated with the soya market (Vidal, 2017). 
Deforestation has significant consequences however; the issue is not going unnoticed, as efforts have been directed towards eliminating the destruction of the forest landscape. In Cambodia the prevalence of endangered species has captured the attention of various organizations including the government. Specifically, the government granted official protection to swaths within the threatened forests and announced plans of introducing a new national park to preserve the forest (Erickson-Davis, 2017). Guyanese leaders have also directed efforts towards reducing deforestation with the help of funding from an organization known as REDD+.  This organization works towards fighting global warming through protection of forests and provides funding that contributes to their efforts (Sutherland, 2017). UC Davis and the USDA Forest Service have also contributed to the efforts engaging in an experimental study to help foresters determine the areas where seeds should be planted immediately after forest fires and where conifer seeds will regrow on their own (Safford, 2016).  The consequences that result from deforestation are concerning however, efforts from various countries and organizations such as these must persist to prevent further destruction to our forests. 

Adams, E. (2012). World forest area still on the decline. Earth Policy Institute. Retrieved from
Erickson-Davis, M. (2017). NASA releases images of dramatic deforestation in Cambodia. Mongabay. Retrieved from
Kirk, A. (2016). Deforestation: where is the world losing the most trees? The Telegraph. Retrieved from
Safford, H. (2016). High severity wildfires complicate natural regeneration for California conifers. Science Daily. Retrieved from
Sutherland, G. (2017). Guyana focuses deforestation prevention efforts on conservation and management. The Guardian. Retrieved from

Vidal, J. (2107). Amazon rainforest’s final frontier under threat from oil and soya. The Guardian. Retrieved from

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Climate Change as a Catalyst to Learn and Adapt

"The nearly indestructible ‘moss piglet’ has proteins that when placed into human cells, protect them from dangerous radiation."
           As the hot, record setting year of 2016 sinks away we are left dealing with a planet that has been consistently increasing temperatures.  Climate change is happening at this very moment.  The planet has always gone through an ebb and flow of environmental conditions and at the moment we seem to be experiencing a dramatically warming environment.  This warming environment may be a natural occurrence but it is more than just suggested that humans are catalyzing the climate change event, causing more severe and rapid weather changes.  While many people are concerned with slowing down our involvement in climate change, via green movements, emissions testing, and the like, it may also be wise to consider what we can do to adapt to a changing environment.  Mitigating our involvement in climate change is a necessity at this point but we could also be looking into preparations to increase long-term survivability in a changing and possibly harsher environment.  Some of earth’s organisms already live in a harsh environment.  We typically refer to these organisms as “extremophiles.”  By studying these unique species we may be able to learn more effective ways of preparing ourselves and the environment for the rapidly changing planet (3). 

            One of the organisms we could learn from is the 500 million year old, seemingly invincible tardigrade, or more adorably known as the “water bear” or “moss piglet” (1).  This organism is microscopic but is an animal nonetheless.  It can survive with no water for months and even in temperatures ranging from almost absolute zero (-273°C) to well above boiling (4,5).  This amazing animal has been blasted into space and was able to not only survive in the vacuum of space but managed to reproduce in that environment (4,5).  Recent genetic studies have found a specific protein that protects the animal from extreme levels of radiation (1,5).  Furthermore, this protein was isolated and then placed into human cells which produced a similar protective result (1,5).  While the human cells were not as stout as the tardigrade cells, this protein was still effective in protecting the DNA from radiation (5).  The ability to protect humans from radiation could be useful as the planet is being exposed to warmer weather and more solar radiation.  It could also help to protect people who work around radiation and there is even talk about using this biotechnology to aid in space travel and colonization (1).  Most of this is speculative but it opens up many possibilities to increase human survival in an ever changing world (5).

            The tardigrade is certainly not the only extremophile that offers hope in a changing world.  The microbial world offers solutions that we could benefit from as well.  For example, the organism known as Deinococcus peraridilitoris comes from one of the driest places on earth (3).  It survives on basically no water intake (3).  Learning from its genetics could help us to engineer agricultural plants to survive on less water, which could help farmers around the world.  Other organisms, like Pyrodictium abyssi, are thermophiles and thrive at extremely high temperatures (3).  Similar genetic research could lead to bioengineering plants to survive at the ever increasing temperatures of the earth.  There are other organisms like those on the Andes Mountains of Peru that are adapting to live in warmer environments (3).  In this area, glaciers are receding but organisms are finding ways to grow, which could aid our understanding of how different organisms are adapting to the changing environment (3). 
"Adaptations of the Atlantic molly could teach humans how to cope in a more toxic, polluted world."
           Humans are not the only organisms learning how to deal with human-induced climate change and pollution.  The Atlantic molly is an extremophile fish that can live in highly toxic waters where most other organisms cannot survive (2).  This fish has an adaptation to make the typically toxic sulfide compounds inert once they enter the fish’s body (2).  They are able to take what should be a poison and break it down into energy (2).  By studying this fish we can see how ecosystems change and adapt to environmental changes (2).  Again this is a genetic adaptation that could possibly have benefits for humans.  If we could bioengineer plants to live in more toxic environments we could grow food in more inhospitable places.  An understanding of this genetic adaptation could also assist humans to deal with the increasing levels of pollution.

            While most of these concepts are speculative they certainly offer hope.  The obvious answer to climate change problems would be to stop, or at least delay climate change, but that might not be an option at this point.  Education and legislation could aid in slowing down the effects of human-induced climate change but there is likely no turning back from a certain level of change.  The best answer might not be the only answer though.  Plenty of organisms have adapted to live in harsh environments here on earth.  If we could harness some of that information we could use it to aid our survival or production of food if the earth becomes a harsher place to live.  As opposed to basic damage control, we could learn from natural selection and use our innovation abilities to adapt ourselves and our environment to the world of climate change. 

#1 - Feltman, R. (2016, September 20). Water bears’ latest superpower: Proteins that protect them from radiation. The Washington Post. Retrieved from 

#2 - Kansas State University. (2016, February 10). Genetics help fish thrive in toxic environments, collaborative study finds. Science Daily. Retrieved from

#3 - Novey, L. (2009, October 18). How extremophiles might help us save the world. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from

#4 - Rajeshwari, A. (2016, May 31). Tardigrade: The animal that can return from the dead. The Times of India. Retrieved from

#5 - Tauger, N. & Gill, V. (2016, September 20). Survival Secret of ‘Earth’s hardiest animal’ revealed. BBC News. Retrieved from

Friday, April 21, 2017

Trump’s Wall Will Divide More Than Just Two Countries

            The now infamous wall that is in plans to be built on the southern border of the United States to stop illegal immigration from Mexico and other countries may hurt this country in the long run. The wall in theory will be built to ward off unwanted immigration, but the wall will disrupt the ecosystem of the plants and animals that thrive in that current area. A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service analysis suggests that President Trump’s wall could affect more than 100 threatened or endangered species (1).
            A large wall that takes the place of a small crossable fence, or even an open space will alter the range of animals. One 2011 study found that some native species in California have already lost up to 75 percent of their range to border fences (1). This impeded range will have devastating effects on the animals. The wall will virtually split the range of the animal, and depending on when the wall is being built some of the animals will either be on one side or the other. Jaguars, desert bighorn sheep and roadrunner could see their habitat split in two and their genetic diversity threatened if the wall is built (2). Speaking of the jaguar, there was recently one spotted in the United States after being on hiatus for a long span of time. If the wall were to be built, a wild jaguar may never be seen on U.S. soil ever again.
            Creating man-made barriers such as the border wall leads to small, isolated populations and with time, the impacted species become weak, inbred, and vulnerable to disease (3). With the range of animals being significantly altered, the animals will not have to ability to travel far distances just to find mates. This will ultimately lead to inbreeding within their own pack or groups of animals in which they travel. The results could be detrimental to the given species depending on healthy they were in the first place. A prime example would be the Florida panther. Today, they roam in a small fraction of their historic range and are cut off from accessing other panther populations — which ultimately lead to inbreeding and disease, as nature requires genetic diversity in order to ensure healthy populations (3). If the wall were to be constructed then some animals that people have come to know and love could end up in an isolated location just like the Florida panther.

Photo: A portion of the wall that is constructed in southern California.
            Yeah, but there is already a fence on the border. Why are people not talking about this structure that is already erected? The fence that was constructed in the past was not at the magnitude that is in plans for the future. The future plans for a large wall alongside the entire border of the southern United States, and is supposed to be impenetrable for humans to cross. If humans are not supposed to pass over this new wall, then what makes one think that animals will? Some sections of wall are 18 feet high and solid steel, so no terrestrial animals (except humans) can pass (5). Even when the fencing that was put up in the past animals were still in shock on what was happening. There are stories of animals stopping in their tracks, staring at barriers they couldn’t cross (4). This same type of story will be told a numerous amount of times in the future if the wall will be actually constructed. Even with animals in dismay over that new barrier in their way, they still found ways to cross over the border. An example would be when a herd of bison was documented as traveling back and forth to the United States from Mexico, at the time was a broken-down barbed-wire fence (broken by the bison themselves) (5). The wall for the future is supposed to be built bigger and stronger than that of a barbed-wired fence.
            With all that being said, the United States government needs to consider that pros and cons of what is actually happening when there is a giant wall covering the full border between two countries. This presents a huge ecological problem (walls being built) that if it continues will likely cause extinctions for some species that are endemic to the region or already imperiled, and localized extinctions for others, which will throw ecosystem dynamics out of balance all along the border (5). Is the extinction of some precious animals enough to modify the future plans? The biodiversity of this particular area will be hit very hard, so, cherish these animals living on the border while we still can because there is a chance in our future that we may never see them again.