Nautilus - The Hidden Power Laws of Ecosystems < 5min

In the 1980s, two ecologists, Jim Brown at the University of New Mexico and Brian Maurer at Brigham Young University, coined the term macroecology, which gave a name and intellectual home to researchers searching for emergent patterns in nature. Frustrated by the small scale of many ecological studies, macroecologists were looking for patterns and theories that could allow them to describe nature broadly in time and space. ... Brown and Maurer had been influenced heavily by regularities in many ecological phenomena. One of these, called the species-area curve, was discovered back in the 19th century, and formalized in 1921. That curve emerged when naturalists counted the number of species (of plants, insects, mammals, and so on) found in plots laid out in backyards, savannahs, and forests. They discovered that the number of species increased with the area of the plot, as expected. But as the plot size kept increasing, the rate of increase in the number of species began to plateau. Even more remarkable, the same basic species-area curve was found regardless of the species or habitat. To put it mathematically, the curve followed a power law, in which the change in species number increased proportionally to the square root of the square root of the area. ... Power laws are common in science, and are the defining feature of universality in physics. They describe the strength of magnets as temperature increases, earthquake frequency versus size, and city productivity as a function of population.

National Geographic - Why We (Still) Can’t Live Without Rubber 5-15min

Because rubber is so common, so unobtrusive, so dull, it may not seem worth a second glance. This would be a mistake. Rubber has played a largely hidden role in global political and environmental history for more than 150 years. You say you want an industrial revolution? If so, you need three raw materials: iron, to make steel for machinery; fossil fuels, to power that machinery; and rubber, to connect and protect all the moving parts. Try running an automobile without a fan belt or a radiator hose; very bad things will happen within a minute. Want to send coolant around an engine using a rigid metal tube instead of a flexible rubber hose? Good luck keeping it from vibrating to pieces. Having enough steel and coal to make and drive industrial machinery means nothing if the engines fry because you can’t cool them. ... To the extent that most people think about rubber at all, they likely picture a product made from synthetic chemicals. In fact, more than 40 percent of the world’s rubber comes from trees, almost all of them H. brasiliensis. Compared with natural rubber, synthetic rubber is usually cheaper to produce but is weaker, less flexible, and less able to withstand vibration. For things that absolutely cannot fail, from condoms to surgeon’s gloves to airplane tires, natural rubber has long been the top choice. ... Iron can be found around the globe; so can fossil fuels. But rubber today is grown almost exclusively in Southeast Asia, because the region has a unique combination of suitable climate and infrastructure. Despite all the ups and downs in the global economy, the demand for tires continues to grow, which has created something akin to a gold rush in Southeast Asia. For millions of people in this poor part of the world, the rubber boom has helped bring prosperity

The Verge - All Queens Must Die 5-15min

Island eradications are always high-stakes, high-wire endeavors — you get, more or less, one big shot at taking out a whole species. Then you wait, sometimes years, to see if the invader has truly been eliminated or has, instead, come back. The coming back from the dead is called the Lazarus effect. Often all it takes is one pregnant female or a breeding pair to undo years of planning and millions of spent dollars. In the ants’ case, one stalwart queen stowed away underground could undo everything Boser had been plotting. ... How do you eradicate tens of millions, if not billions, of tiny insects that live under several dozen square miles of extremely rugged terrain? Killing each ant would be an impossible task. But kill the queen and you initiate a colony collapse, for the queen is the only source of new ants. Only, Argentine ant colonies often boast several queens, so even the ant’s central weakness required a comprehensive plan of attack: Boser needed to poison all the queens at once. If she did that, Santa Cruz would be one step closer to perfection.

Bloomberg - Grass Warfare in L.A. 13min

Dead grass became a point of pride as state officials rolled out ad campaigns with slogans like “brown is the new green” and “going golden this summer.” With-it wealthier residents signaled their savvy by investing in beautiful, though dusty, re-landscaped eco-havens of olive trees, white-flowered chamise shrubs, and California golden violets with, perhaps, paths of decomposed granite wending through them. ... Turf Terminators, started by twentysomething entrepreneurs, pitched itself to people like Goldfarb who wanted to conserve but couldn’t afford to pay a landscape architect four or five figures. In less than two years, the company removed 16 million square feet of grass from 12,000 lawns. During that time, Turf Terminators was the veritable face of water-saving landscaping in and around Los Angeles, praised by government officials and some customers for providing a fast, affordable way to get rid of grass. ... The company’s short but profitable life span serves as an instructional fable for other cities that will inevitably face climate change-related infrastructure problems. The takeaway: Solutions are rarely simple or easy, so do a lot of research before throwing public money at the issues.

Bleacher Report - Superheroes Are Real 15min

Smokejumpers would like you to know that they are not the firefighters who bust down your door or save your baby from the flames or rescue your cat from a tree. They are wildland firefighters, which means they deal with burning forests, not burning buildings. They are also not generally the ones battling the big fires like those in California this summer. Instead, a smokejumper’s job is to parachute in to remote wilderness areas to fight smaller wildfires before they encroach upon populated areas and start threatening homes and lives. (In 2015, the most expensive firefighting year on record, wildfires burned 10 million acres and destroyed 4,636 structures, costing $2.6 billion and killing 15.) Smokejumpers are called in to handle the initial attack—that is, jumping in while a wildfire is still small, and ruthlessly extinguishing it as quickly and efficiently as possible. ... There are only 400 smokejumpers in the entire United States, and maybe only half of those are actively jumping fires on a regular basis. ... Last year, 172 people sent in applications to the Missoula Smokejumper Base; only eight were hired. And there are only nine permanent smokejumper bases in the entire country. Even if you’re tough, talented and skilled, you’ll probably still get rejected for three or five or eight years in a row.