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Amazon Deforestation Rate Hits 3 Football Fields Per Minute, Data Confirms

Climate
Amazon Deforestation Rate Hits 3 Football Fields Per Minute, Data Confirms
Aerial view of deforestation in the Western Amazon region of Brazil on Sept. 22, 2017. CARL DE SOUZA / AFP / Getty Images

The Amazon rainforest in Brazil is being clear cut so rapidly — a rate of three football fields per minute — that it is approaching a "tipping point" from which it will not recover, according to the Guardian.


As trees are lost, researchers said there is a risk that large areas could transition from rainforest to savannah as they lose the ability to make their own rainfall from evaporation and from plants giving off water vapor, according to Newsweek.

A transition on that scale could have significant implications for global warming since the rainforest absorbs vast amounts of atmospheric carbon. Recent research has shown the potential for massive tree plantings to remove excess carbon from the atmosphere.

"It's very important to keep repeating these concerns. There are a number of tipping points which are not far away," said Philip Fearnside, a professor at Brazil's National Institute of Amazonian Research, as the Guardian reported. "We can't see exactly where they are, but we know they are very close. It means we have to do things right away. Unfortunately that is not what is happening. There are people denying we even have a problem."

The alarming rate of deforestation and its acceleration confirms suspicions that new president Jair Bolsonaro has allowed illegal land invasion, logging and burning. Bolsonaro has called his own government's satellite data lies. The president's comments followed preliminary satellite data that showed more than 400 square miles of the rainforest had been cleared in the first half of July — an increase of 68 percent from the entire month of July last year, according to the BBC.

Bolsonaro, the far right politician who has said he is fulfilling a mission from God, dismissed concerns expressed by European Union members and called it hypocritical since so many European forests have been wiped out.

"You have to understand that the Amazon is Brazil's, not yours," Bolsonaro said, as the Guardian reported. "If all this devastation you accuse us of doing was done in the past the Amazon would have stopped existing, it would be a big desert."

The DETER-B satellite system that the Brazilian government started to use in 2015 to track deforestation has shown that the record setting July deforestation is on pace to clear enough forest to fit New York City twice by the end of the month.

The DETER satellite data is considered preliminary. Detailed figures are released at the end of the year when data from other satellites and observatories is also collected, according to Newsweek.

"Unfortunately, it is absurd, but it should not catch anyone by surprise. President Jair Bolsonaro and minister Ricardo Salles are dismantling our socio-environmental policies," said Carlos Rittl, the executive secretary of the Climate Observatory, an NGO formed by a coalition of environmental groups, as the Guardian reported.

After years of conservation, Brazil's environmental track record has nose-dived in the first seven months of Bolsonaro's administration. He has given environmental oversight to the agriculture minister, who is the leader of a farming lobby. His foreign minister called climate science a part of a global Marxist plot. The government has invited businesses to register land counter-claims in areas that are protected nature reserves, indigenous territories and areas dedicated to sustainable production by native forest people, according to the Guardian.

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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