Every day I set out for the forest with my dog. I’ll admit that I am often vexed or grumpy when we enter the woods, having dealt with hours of computer frustration or human stupidity. But somehow, the forest fixes it all. If I walk long enough, my world is set right, and I wonder why I do anything but walk in the woods.
Imagine a miracle drug that could ease many of the stresses of modern life — a combination mood enhancer and smart pill that might even encourage the remission of cancer. Now imagine that this cure-all was an old-fashioned folk remedy: Just take a hike in the woods or a walk in the park. No prescription necessary.
That’s the proposition of Florence Williams’s fascinating “The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative.” We suffer from an “epidemic dislocation from the outdoors,” Williams writes, and it’s destructive to our mental and physical health. The therapy is straightforward. “The more nature, the better you feel.” (…)
It’s all very encouraging, but how exactly does nature have such an effect on people? To answer that question, Williams shadows researchers on three continents who are working on the frontiers of nature neuroscience. [continue]
From AD 1300 to 1600, wildfires ignited during late summer, with about 5-10 ignitions per quarter century, generally occurring during warm, dry summers.
In the next two centuries, fire frequency rose dramatically, particularly in the mid-17th century. Early summer fires grew in prevalence. Books and other documents from this time period record a rising use of slash-and-burn cultivation and rangeland burning, explained author Ken Olaf Storaunet. The population was recovering from the devastation of the Black Death and several subsequent epidemics. People returned to abandoned lands and began using fire to improve land for grazing animals and to cultivate crops. The average length of time between recurrences of fire in the same location fell by half, from 73 to 37 years.
Increasing demand for timber in Europe raised the value of forests and discouraged slash-and-burn cultivation practices. The fires legislation banning the use of fire in Norway came in 1683. After AD 1800, fire frequency and size dropped precipitously, with only 19 fires occurring in the study area during the last 200 years.
Ecologically, the period from 1625 and onwards to today is probably unique, and something that perhaps has not happened in thousands of years, Storaunet said. [continue]
In the middle of Alberta’s boreal forest, a bird eats a wild chokecherry. During his scavenging, the bird is caught and eaten by a fox. The cherry seed, now inside the belly of the bird within the belly of fox, is transported far away from the tree it came from. Eventually, the seed is deposited on the ground. After being broken down in the belly of not one but two animals, the seed is ready to germinate and become a cherry tree itself. The circle of life at work.
Diploendozoochory, or the process of a seed being transported in the gut of multiple animals, occurs with many species of plants in habitats around the world. First described by Charles Darwin in 1859, this type of seed dispersal has only been studied a handful of times. And in a world affected by climate change and increasing rates of human development, understanding this process is becoming increasingly important. [continue]
In 1999, a team of scientists led by Christian Körner did what thousands of people do every Christmas: they wrapped Norway spruce trees in tubes. Except this was in March, not December. And the trees were 40-metre-tall giants in the middle of a Swiss forest, not 2-metre pipsqueaks in a living room. (The team had to use a crane). And the tubes had no lights or baubles on them. Instead, they had a series of tiny holes, which pumped out carbon dioxide.
For years, the team fumigated five of these wild spruces. They wanted to see how trees will cope with the high levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide that we’re pumping into the atmosphere. But in the process, and almost by accident, they showed that trees of different species exchange huge amounts of carbon via an internet of fungi—a “wood-wide web” that secretly connects their roots. [continue]
Every Monday morning, the kids suit up for a day outdoors. Rain or shine – even in the bitter cold – they go out. They head to the woods next to their school where they’ve built a home site with forts and a fire pit. (…)
Kids run around and do all kinds of things they’re not allowed to do at school, like yell and throw things. Down by the stream, two boys are working together to build a dam. One boy, pushing with all his might, tries to move a downed tree onto the dam. “We can roll it!” insists the other boy. They push and push, to no avail. Eventually, one of the boys realizes he can get leverage using the tree’s branches. Teacher Eliza Minnucci is standing about 20 feet away, watching.
“We’re supposed to study force and motion in kindergarten,” she says, noting how the boy just had a real world experience of that when he figured out how to use the branches to move the tree. “Outside offers so much,” she says. “It is sort of the deepest and widest environment for learning that we have.” [continue]
A new study by University at Buffalo geographers explores how humans altered the arboreal make-up of Western New York forests before European settlers arrived in large numbers.
The research looked at land survey data from around 1799-1814, and used this information to model which tree species were present in different areas of Chautauqua County, New York, at that time.
The analysis placed hickory, chestnut and oak trees in larger-than-expected numbers near the historical sites of Native American villages, said co-author Steve Tulowiecki, who conducted the research as a geography PhD candidate at the University at Buffalo and is now an adjunct lecturer of geography at SUNY Geneseo. This finding is important because these species produce edible nuts, and are also more likely than many other trees to survive fires.
“Our results contribute to the conversation about how natural or humanized the landscape of America was when Europeans first arrived,” Tulowiecki said. “Our society has competing views about this: On one hand, there is the argument that it was a wilderness relatively untouched by man. Recently, we’ve had this perspective challenged, with some saying that the landscape was dramatically altered, particularly through burning and other clearance practices.” [continue]