Month: April 2017

Earth Day 2017: A Call to be Active in Conservation and Environmentalism

Ever since the end of 2016, I’ve been obsessively scrolling around the planet on Google Earth in my spare time. I’ve realized that I’m not doing this because I’m worried about what we might lose in the future, but because I’m nervous of what we have already lost today. Perhaps this notion of mine is because of my work and interest in paleontology. I’m liable to be looking to the past, not the present. Our current crisis, however, is too close for comfort for me, even in looking at it with a purely scientific perspective.

Late in the afternoon today, I took a hike in the Mianus River Gorge Preserve (their website is here), a beautiful stretch of land in New York that preserves an old growth forest of Hemlock trees that was not logged and turned into farmland because the hemlocks took up residence on the steep slopes of the gorge. This preserve was actually the first of the Nature Conservancy’s preserves and the first National Natural History Landmark in the United States , and walking through the gorge and old growth forest gave me a minute or two to think about conservation in general.

The land of the preserve bears biological stains from when humans exploited the countryside for its land, with the difference between the old-growth forest and the secondary growth forest growing on the slope above collapsed stone walls stark. Deforestation leaves its scars. As I read about the sudden uptick in deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, the old rock walls which populate the forest floor around myself come to mind.

In previous years, I’ve written articles on this blog on Earth day in celebration. I’m not so sure I can today. Science and the environment are under heavy attack from powerful forces political and economic. It’s up to everyone to stand up for the planet, as many demonstrated today by marching at the March for Science and its sister marches across the globe. Though I couldn’t join them today, I’ve been for my part trying to contact my legislators as much as possible regarding conservation and other issues and donating to conservation organizations among others when I can. Yet the scariness of the moment doesn’t cease. All I can say is that I think it’s going to be a long few years ahead for science and conservation, but with a little luck and a lot of work things will turn out all right. Happy Earth Day.

IMG_1489

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Photo by the author.

 

 

Advertisements

A New Theory on the Apex Predators of Appalachia

Hello everyone!  I’d like to share with you some recent developments regarding the study of dinosaurs from the eastern United States. Some new exciting research by Gotya et al. (2017) suggests that the apex predators of the continent were neither tyrannosauroids like Dryptosaurus aquilunguis nor huge crocodyliform taxa like Deinosuchus rugosus. 

Gotya et al. (2017) suggest, contrary to previous research, that Appalachia was in fact the home of large relatives of the pitcher plant genus Sarracenia. These plants, named Lythrophytum giganticum (“giant gore plant”), are thought by Gotya et al. (2017) to have grown in large groves, with each plant’s mouth heavily widened to ingest large prey. Through molecular studies of the fossils of this large pitcher plant, Gotya et al. (2017) concluded that the L. giganticum emitted a sweet smell to draw in medium-sized herbivorous dinosaurs and other large herbivores. Then, the action of the herbivores biting the flower would cause the plant to release a highly toxic substance that would paralyze the herbivore. Then, with the herbivore immobilized, the heat of the herbivore’s body would cause each of the flowers of the L. giganticum plants to turn towards the plant’s paralyzed prey, excreting an acidic solution to dissolve the body. Once dissolved, the nutrients of the herbivore would be absorbed by the plants. I have illustrated the proposed process below for better clarity.

IMG_2599

Completely Accurate Restoration. 

I’m very interested to see how work on these giant Mesozoic plants progresses into the future. For more information, click on the link to the paper below:

Gotya HA, Aprille FO, Ferst OLS. 2017. New fossils from the Late Cretaceous of the eastern United States provide evidence for carnivorous plants being the apex predators of Appalachia, or something. Journal of Creepy Creatures 24: 114-122.