Scientists and economists recently collaborated in a study of five natural habitats converted for human use and commercial profit. A tropical forest in Malaysia was razed for intensive logging, a tropical forest in Cameroun was converted to oil palm and rubber plantations, a mangrove swamp in Thailand was turned over to shrimp farming, a freshwater marsh in Canada was drained for agriculture, and a coral reef in the Philippines was dynamited for fishing.
The researchers came up with some surprising results. Had those five natural habitats been left in their wild state, their long-term economic value to the community would have been from 14 to 75 percent more than after conversion. In fact, an ecosystem loses, on average, half its value as a result of human interference, and each year, environmental conversion costs $250 billion. By contrast, preserving natural systems would cost $45 billion. The researchers say that goods and services –in the form of food, water,air,shelter, fuel, clothing, medicine, and storm and flood protection –provided in return are worth at least $4.4 trillion, a 100-to-1 benefit-cost ratio, reports London’s newspaper The Guardian. Dr. Andrew Balmford of Cambridge University, England, who led the study, said: “The economics are absolutely stark. We thought that the numbers would favor conservation, but not by this much.”
Sadly, even since the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, 11.4 percent of the earth’s natural environments have been converted mainly because of ignorance of what is being lost and a desire for short-term financial gain. Ten years later at the World Summit on Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg, no clear solutions were forthcoming to resolve the dilemma. Dr. Balmford expressed his concern, saying: “one-third of the world’s wild nature has been lost since I was a child and first heard the word ‘conservation.’ That’s what keeps me awake at night”.
Some of the amazing living things we stand to lose if we do not take actions to correct the anomaly are;
Queen Elizabeth 1 of England ordered that the royal table be supplied with a condiment made of it. Charles VI of France sat on cushions stuffed with it. What was the object of this royal ardor? A fragment shrub known as lavender. Anyone who has ever stood amid the purple haze of a lavender field will understand why so many people are captivated by this aromatic plant.
There are over 30 species of lavender. This hardy herb thrives in diverse climates, from the cool air of the French Alps to the dry heat of the Middle East. The plant’s botanical name Lavandula comes from the Latin lavare, meaning “to wash.” It is derived from a custom of the ancient Romans, who perfumed their baths with lavender oil.
The medicinal use of lavender dates back nearly 2000 years. During the middle ages, it was a main ingredient in a concoction known as four thieves vinegar, which was used to combat the plague. The vinegar likely derived it name from the fact that grave robbers who rummaged through the belongings of plague victims washed in this lavender-based solution. Despite the risks of their work, it seems they rarely contracted the disease.
Herbalists of the 16th century claimed that lavender would cure not only colds and headaches but also paralysis of the limbs and neuroses. In addition, they believed that wearing a skullcap made of lavender would increase intelligence. As recently as World War 1, some governments asked their citizens to gather lavender from their gardens so that the extracted oil could be used to dress soldiers’ wounds.
Some lavender oils, especially lavandula angustifolia, appear to have an effect on a number of species of bacteria and fungi. Some researchers have suggested that lavender oil may be useful for treating bacterial infections that are resistant to antibiotics. Lavender oil has also found several uses in midwifery. In a large clinical trial it was shown that the mothers using lavender oil in their bathwater consistently reported lower discomfort scores 3 to 5 days post-natally. Lavender oil is also currently used in many delivery rooms for its general calming action.
What about Queen Elizabeth’s taste for lavender? Is lavender really edible? Lavender was a favorite flavoring in the cooking of Tudor and Elizabeth England, used as a relish to be served with game, roasted meats, with fruit salads, sprinkled over sweet dishes, or as a sweetmeat in its own right. Today some species of lavender are used to flavor biscuits, cakes, and ice cream. On the other hand, not all types are desirable –especially to insects. In fact, lavender oil or powdered foliage and flowers may also be useful as both commercial and domestic pesticides as the application of lavender deters mites, grain weevil, aphids and clothes moth.
In recent decades lavender has enjoyed renewed popularity. It is now cultivated in Australia, Europe, Japan, New Zealand, and North America. Lavender is unlike wine, oil produced from the same species will vary from region to region, as it is influenced by the soil and climate in which the lavender grows. Even the timing and method of harvesting can affect the final product.
Unlike wine, lavender oil is extracted not by crushing but by steaming. It takes about 250 kg of lavender to produce one liter of oil. The freshly cut flowers, stalks, and leaves are firmly pressed into a large steel drum. Steam is pumped into the base of the container, and as it rises through the plant parts, it releases the oil. The steam and oil pass through a condenser and into a pot, where the oil separates from the water and rises to the surface. The oil is drawn off and stored in ceramic-lined containers, where it is left to mature for some months
Some lavender oils are used in soaps, creams, and candles. The flowers are sold freshly cut or dried, and the flower heads are a prized ingredient in potpourri. Thousands of tourists come each year to taste lavender treats and to absorb the sight and scent of the lavender field.
ROSE MYSTERIOUS NAMES
Because of the sheer number of different plants being bred, naming new varieties has become a major challenge. Already there are about 100000 day lilies with names. At least that many rose and more than 400 dahlias. All the obvious poetic nouns and adjectives, such as beauty,blush,delight,dream, glory,queen,sunset,sunrise,velvet,fragrant,delight and magic, have been appropriated-and registered-in virtually every possible combination. Nowadays, plant namers are being driven to new heights –and depths- of commercial nomenclature. For example at gardening stores these days you can buy a Taco Supreme iris, a Macho man rose, an abba dabba do hosta, a primal scream day lily or a kung fu dahlia. You can even have a flower named after your self- for a price. A company in California allows you to name a rose for $10000, providing the name is in good taste. Another charges $7500 but throws in a few extras, including a weekend in Los Angeles.
WHY TIGERS ARE LOVELY
The dog might be man’s best friend, but the world’s favorite animal is tiger, after a series of documentaries, each featuring one of ten animals, a poll of over 52,000 people from 73 countries put the tiger ahead of dog by just 17 votes. In third place is was the dolphin, followed by the horse, the lion, the snake, the elephant, the chimpanzee, the orangutan, and the whale. Animal behavior Dr. Candy d’Sa explained that humans can relate to the tiger, as it is fierce and commanding on the outside, but noble and discerning on the inside. In contrast, the dog is a loyal and respectful creature and brings out the lighter, more communicative side of human nature.
Conservationists welcomed the tiger’s victory. If people are voting for tigers as their favorite animal, it means they recognize their importance, and hopefully the need to ensure their survival. It is estimated that only 5,000 tigers remain in the wild.
Diatoms, microscopic algae that encase themselves in ornate, exquisitely patterned glass shells, are found in prolific numbers in every ocean on earth. They have fascinated scientists for centuries –in fact, ever since the microscope was first invented and men could sketch their beauty. Justifiably, the diatom is called the jewel of the sea.
Alfred Nobel, inventor of dynamite in the 1860’s, used silica from diatoms to stabilize nitroglycerin, which enabled him to form portable sticks of the explosive. Fossilized diatom shells are used commercially in many ways today –for example, to illuminate road paint, purify wine, and filter swimming pool water.
Far more important, though, is the fact that these tiny one-celled plants account for one fourth of the photosynthesis on our planet. Researchers Allen Milligan and Francois Morel, of Princeton University, U.S.A., have found that silica in the diatom’s glass shell causes chemical changes in the water inside it, creating an ideal environment for photosynthesis. The reason the glass is so ornate, scientists believe, is that a greater surface area is thus exposed to the water inside the cell, making photosynthesis more efficient. Just how these minute but beautiful cases are formed from silicon dissolved in seawater is still a mystery, but what researchers do know is that by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen, diatoms play a vital role in sustaining life on earth, perhaps an even more important role than most land plants.
Morel rates diatoms among the most successful organisms on earth. Milligan adds that without their appetite for carbon dioxide, “the greenhouse effect might be much more severe.”
When diatoms die, their carbon remains sink to the ocean floor and eventually fossilize. Some scientists believe that in this form, under intense pressure, diatoms have contributed to the world’s oil reserves. Concern is growing, however, that as seawater temperatures rise because of global warming, this allows bacteria to eat the diatoms’ remains before they can sink, and carbon is released back into the surface water. Thus, even this tiny “jewel of the sea” is part of a marvelously designed life-sustaining system that could now be under threat.
Few fish grab our attention the way the clown fish does. Perhaps it wins our hearts with its fancy coloring, which may remind us of a circus clown. Or maybe we are struck by its surprising choice of home –among the stinging tentacles of a sea anemone. Not surprisingly, another name for the clown fish is anemone fish.
Like many Hollywood actors, clown fish are not averse to photographs. Divers and snorkelers can usually expect clown fish to pose for pictures, since they rarely stray far from home and are not particularly shy.
But what makes clown fish amazing is their seemingly risky lifestyle. Living among poisonous tentacles would seem to be comparable to setting up home in a nest of serpents. Still, clown fish and their anemone of choice are inseparable. What makes this strange partnership possible and successful?
Like most good partnerships, clown fish and anemones give and take. The relationship is not merely convenient for the clown fish; it is vital. Marine biologists have confirmed that clown fish cannot live in the wild without a host anemone. They are poor swimmers and would be at the mercy of hungry predators without the anemone’s protection. However, by using the anemones as a home base and as a safe shelter when threatened, the clown fish may reach ten years of age.
The anemone provides a safe nesting site as well as a home. The clown fish deposits their eggs at the host anemone, where both parents keep careful watch over them. Later, the clown fish family can be seen swimming around that same anemone.
What does the anemone get out of this relationship? The clown fish serve as marine bodyguards, driving away butterfly fish that like to feed on anemone tentacles. At least one species of anemone cannot live without resident clown fish. When researchers removed the clown fish, within just 24 hours, the anemone had disappeared completely. Apparently, butterfly fish had consumed them.
It seems that clown fish even provide their host with energy. The ammonium that clown fish excrete helps spurs growth in the host anemone. And as the clown fish swim among the tentacles, they help circulate oxygen-rich water to the anemone.
In the case of clown fish, protection is skin-deep. They have mucus on their skin that keeps them from being stung. Thanks to this chemical coating. It seems the anemone considers the clown fish one of its own. As one marine biologist put it, the clown fish becomes a fish in anemone clothing.
Some studies suggest that when selecting a new host, the clown fish has to go through a process of adaptation. It has been observed that when the fish approaches an anemone for the first time, it touches the anemone intermittently for a few hours. Apparently, this on-and-off contact allows the clown fish to modify its protective coating to conform to the new anemone’s particular poison. Possibility the clown fish gets stung a little during this process. But after that, the two get along fine.
The collaboration of such different creatures offers a fascinating lesson in teamwork. In so many human endeavors, people from diverse cultures and backgrounds achieve remarkable results by pooling their resources. Like the clown fish, we may take a little time to adapt to working with others, but the results are well worth it.