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Fighting Poverty Can Also Fight Deforestation, New Study Finds

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Fighting Poverty Can Also Fight Deforestation, New Study Finds
A regenerated rainforest at Samboja near Balikpapan, on Kalimantan, Indonesia on May 20, 2019. Wolfgang Kaehler / LightRocket via Getty Images
It may be surprising that a universal basic income would also help the environment, but that is exactly what a new study found. A government program to help poor, rural Indonesians through direct cash payments had the unexpected effect of reducing deforestation by 30 percent in participating villages, according to a new study, as Newsweek reported.


The program that Indonesia started, Keluarga Harapan program, or "Family Hope" program, which provides direct cash transfers to low-income households to bring them above the poverty line, had no intention of helping the country's forests, which have been slashed down at a remarkable rate.

Instead, the program gave families money if they met certain conditions, like attending regular doctor visits, keeping kids in school, and participating in health and nutrition training. While conditional cash transfers are used in several countries around the world to alleviate poverty, they are not viewed as an environmentally friendly action, according to Science News.

That's because economic growth is often correlated with environmental degradation. But, that's correlation, not causation.

The new study, published in Science Advances, examined the habits of 266,533 households in 7,468 rural villages across 15 provinces on multiple islands between 2008 and 2012. The researchers then compared where the cash was distributed to satellite images of forests during the same timeframe. That's when they noticed that forests where the government was making payments were faring far better than other regions of Indonesia.

"For decades, people have been debating whether alleviating poverty and protecting the environment are at odds with each other. Resolving this debate is important because lots of poor people are found in the same areas where we find the most endangered ecosystems, like the rainforest," Paul Ferraro, an author of the study from Johns Hopkins University, told Newsweek.

Saving Indonesia's forests is crucial for the health of the planet and wildlife. The forests are home to a diverse range of species and are efficient at capturing carbon. However, forest destruction is responsible for 10 percent of human carbon dioxide emissions, and much of it is the result of extreme poverty, as Bloomberg reported. For rural villages, selling timber and clearing land for cultivation is often an income stream of last resort.

Indonesia is home to the world's third-largest tropical forests, but it's also the top global producer of palm oil, which generates millions of jobs but is blamed by environmentalists for forest loss and fires, according to Reuters.

Not only does Indonesia suffer from troubling rates of deforestation, it also has terrible income inequality. According to Global Forest Watch, Indonesia had the third-highest rate of rainforest loss in the world in 2019. It also saw the divide between its richest and poorest citizens grow faster than any other country in Southeast Asia over the last two decades, and now has the sixth-largest wealth inequality gap in the world, according to Oxfam International, as Mic reported.

"No matter which way we looked at it, the anti-poverty program on average leads to reduction in deforestation in the villages receiving it," said Ferraro, as Reuters reported.

The researchers suggest their results may spill over to other countries in Asia that have similar experiences, such as cutting down forests to grow rice as a supplement to a poor harvest. They also say that their study shows that's what's good for people is also good for the environment.

"The value of the avoided deforestation just for carbon dioxide emissions alone is more than the program costs," said Ferraro, as Science News reported, adding that the economic benefits of saving the forests justify the intervention.

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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