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What is Next Nature?

With our attempts to cultivate nature, humankind causes the rising of a next nature, which is wild and unpredictable as ever. Wild systems, genetic surprises, autonomous machinery and splendidly beautiful black flowers. Nature changes along with us.

Posts Tagged ‘Urban Organisms’

  • moths flying around a streetlight

    Street Lights Permanently Change the Ecology of Local Bugs

    The first “modern” streetlight was lit in London’s Pall Mall in 1807. That night may also have marked the first time a moth found itself trapped in an irresistible spiral around public lighting. Ever since then, streetlights have become a fixture of life in cities and suburbs, and a deathtrap for flying insects. Researchers at the University of Exeter have recently discovered that the abundance of insect life around these lights is not just a passing assemblage, but a permanent fixture. The diversity of invertebrate ground predators and scavengers, like beetles and harvestmen, remained elevated around streetlights even during the day. These insects had figured out the benefits of living in an island of artificially high prey concentrations.

    These findings indicate that streetlights affect local ecologies for a longer duration, and at a higher level in the food web, than previously thought. Given the decline of pollinators and other invertebrates in the UK and around the world, it may be important to re-examine the impact of seemingly harmless nighttime lighting.

    Image via Swburdine. Thanks to Twitter user Namhenderson for the story.

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  • the reason why cities have squirrels

    Squirrels Are in Cities to Keep Us Sane

    If you stroll through a park in an American city, you might assume that all the squirrels you see got there on their own. After all, where there’s trees, there’s usually nuts, and where’s there’s nuts, there’s squirrels. But it turns out that those nut-bearing trees were specifically planted to support squirrels, and that all those squirrels were brought there on purpose. It turns out the existence of urban squirrels is linked to a history of changing attitudes towards nature, the wilderness, and animals:

    The squirrel fad really took off in the 1870s, thanks to Frederick Law Olmstead’s expansive parks… the movement to fill the parks with squirrels “was related to the idea that you want to have things of beauty in the city, but it was also part of a much broader ideology that says that nature in the city is essential to maintaining people’s health and sanity, and to providing leisure opportunities for workers who cannot travel outside the city.” These squirrels were possibly the only wildlife the workers would ever see.

    Read more about city squirrels at Gizmodo. Photo of a fry-loving squirrel via Serious Eats.

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  • new york city dogs hunt for rats

    New York’s Dogs Hunt for Dangerous Game: City Rats

    Before the advent of broadcast sports or animal rights legislation, a night at the pub used to mean one thing: watching small terriers snap the spines of dozens, if not hundreds, of rats. Sporting men placed bets on how many rats a dog could kill in a set period of time. Nowadays, dog breeds bred to hunt rats, rabbits, badgers don’t get much of a chance to exercise their killer instincts. The Ryders Alley Trencher-fed Society (RATS) in New York, however, have figured out how to harness their dog’s inborn talents in order to make a (small) dent in the city’s rodent problem.

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  • tokyo subway

    The Pulsating Heart of Tokyo

    An astounding tangle of multi-colored water flowing throughout 18 arteries represents what happens every day in the pulsating heart of Tokyo. This is how Takatsugu Kuriyama, from the Tokyo Institute of Technology, creates a 3D map of the subway system of the Japanese capital, visualizing the city as a creature.

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  • Autocultural

    Gardening on the Roof of a Bus

    In the streets of Girona, a sunny town near Barcelona, ​you can find an eco-friendly bus with a garden on the roof. It’s not an artistic work, but an experiment to expand the urban green area, in order to reduce CO2. Called Autocultural, it’s a classic bus with a thin layer of hydroponic components on the top, allowing the plants to grow without overloading to the vehicle’s structure with the weight of the soil. Public transporters drivers can now add green thumb to their CV.

    Source: The Sunday Times

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  • Nature is here to stay

    Anthropo-scene #4: Longing for Nature

    Nature, anybody? Heidelberger Platz is one of the more brutal urban spaces in Berlin. It is torn apart by the city highway and train lines. The few buildings that surround it look pretty ugly. There’s no feeling of a social fabric here, just a constant flow of people moving through. The whole experience of being here is pretty filthy. Except for the animals. Here they are, a dolphin and a turtle swimming in bright blue water, a happy chick and a healthy-looking ice bear, plastered on the walls of a drive-thru car wash under the highway bridge. The owners of the car wash could show race cars here or pictures of sexy women, but no: people get to see a pictorial zoo. An optimistic reading of this bizarre sight is that it exploits an in-built human longing for being in and with nature. If we feel happy hanging out with dolphins even in our car washes, humans will surely look after the well-being of Earth in the Anthropocene? The pessimistic reading goes like this: we’re fed Orwellian images of an abstract natural purity so we get distracted from how ugly human-made spaces can be. Either way, Nature is here to stay.

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  • Screen shot 2013-07-03 at 3.58.53 PM

    Swans Float through Flooded Streets

    In this peculiar image, swans float down a flooded street in Worcester, UK. A jarring sight to human observers, the swan’s blithe adoption of a new habitat illustrates the fact that most creatures don’t care about the differences between nature and culture. Via The Times.

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  • nairobi lions prepare for hunt

    Lions Relax in Morning Traffic

    Old nature meets next nature as a pair of lions prepare for their day amidst morning traffic, while human bystanders snap photos and upload them to Facebook. As cities and suburbs infringe on lion habitat, these carnivores are increasingly becoming synanthropes – animals that, welcome or not, live in association with human habitations. Image via Naij.

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  • Google-Birdhouse

    Google Birdhouse Shows Birds Their Way

    Maybe the Taiwanese artist Shuchun Hsiao was inspired by a cold winter day to reinvent the common birdhouse in the shape of the Google Maps icon. The designer understood the importance and the omnipresence of Google Maps in our society and created the Google Birdhouse Project, a modern way to accommodate birds in urban spaces.

    The iconic symbol references the “surfing” of flying birds to find their arrival point, just like Google Maps does for humans. As Shuchun Hsiao explains: “Birds have the most real experience of Google Maps. Birds can fly through the city, through streets. A birdhouse becomes their destination”.

    Eye-catching, but not intrusive, these niches are also interesting urban decorations. The micro in the macro, the abstract becoming material, the virtual in the real: the result of the Google Birdhouse is bewildering and strong. Perhaps something dealing with Twitter would have been more predictable.

  • paris beehive

    High-Priced Honey from Parisian Rooftops

    Across Paris, bees and their keepers have been taking advantage of the city’s pesticide-free parks, gardens and flowerbeds to produce pricey honey. The otherwise unused rooftops of many Parisian landmarks are now home to hundreds of thousands of bees. The exclusivity of the real estate shows in the cost: The world’s most expensive honey – E 15 for 150 grams – comes from the roof of Palais Garnier, the city’s grand opera house.

    Image: A keeper fumigates the hives atop Saint-Denis. Story via Skyscraper City. Thanks to Wessel de Jong for the tip.  

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  • Screen shot 2013-03-27 at 12.31.26 PM

    Cliff Swallows Are Evolving to Avoid Cars

    Cliff swallows, as their name suggests, like to build nests on cliffs and other rocky outcroppings. They also like building their nests on bridges and overpasses, and sunbathe on warm roads. This puts them in the path of traffic, and adds thousands of swallows to the nearly 80 million birds killed by cars each year in the US. Swallows in the state of Nebraska, however, appear to be getting wise to the ways of the highway – or at least their genes are.

    Researchers at the University of Nebraska have been collecting swallow bodies along several highways for the last thirty years. Not only have the total number of fatalities decreased over this time, but the wing length of the birds has also been decreasing. The swallows, it seems, are evolving to become more nimble. Shorter wings makes it easier to take off vertically or to quickly maneuver around vehicles. Time to add “vehicular selection” to the sub-categories of “natural” selection.

    Via Smithsonian Magazine. Photo via Nebirdsplus.

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  • cigarette-butt-bird-nest

    Cigarettes: Bad for You, Good for Birds

    Birds use whatever they can get their beaks on to build nests, including cigarette butts. Surprising new research from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México shows that instead of giving baby birds a bad case of smoker’s cough, the cigarettes in their nests might actually be helping them. The more used-up filters a nest had, the fewer nest-dwelling parasites called it home.

    Since nicotine is a natural pesticide, it’s likely that trace remains of the chemical in the butts are keeping away the creepy-crawlies. The researchers still don’t know if the birds are using butts because they’re good insulators, or if they’re somehow aware of their anti-parasite properties. Birds in more wild environments have been known to line their nests with strong-smelling, bug-repelling herbs, so it’s possible they’re instinctively attracted to that special cigarette stink.

    Via Io9

  • suburban lion cub

    Lions Relocate to the Suburbs

    Foxes, coyotes, bobcats, jackals, and dozens of other generalist predators have successfully adapted to suburbia, following their prey to where the grass is green and the landscaping is tasty. At their worst, these mid-sized species will knock over a few garbage cans and make a meal of Fluffy. In Kenya, however, suburban homeowners are now facing lions, animals that exclusively specialize in killing large prey. Too bad humans fit the definition of “large”.

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  • dyed pigeon

    Artists Paint a Rainbow with Copenhagen’s Pigeons

    If you’ve noticed candy-colored pigeons flapping through Copenhagen lately, don’t blame a freak chemical spill. Artist Julien Charriere and photographer Julius von Bismark have built a conveyer-belt device, equipped with seed and spray nozzles, to lure in unwitting pigeons for a brisk airbrushing. The bird trap was installed for a week to mark the Copenhagen’s architectural biennial, with a total of 35 birds being transformed from drab flying rats into limited-edition “prints”. Watch out, pigeons: Now that you’re art, you’ll have to watch out for overzealous collectors.

    Plentiful, familiar and practically tame, pigeons make great raw material for bio-hackers. We’ve seen them used as tools for protestors, as secure alternatives to file-sharing, and as genetically engineered soap dispensers. With green roofs and backyard chickens proliferating through trendy cities, perhaps these artists are paving the way for pigeons to become the next hip urban organism. The only drawback to a pigeon rainbow? There’s definitely not a pot of gold at the end.

    Check out the full, gloriously colored collection here. Thanks to Mike Bularz for the tip.

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  • glowing canals in Amsterdam

    Amsterdam’s Canals by Bacterial Light

    Italian architect Carlo Morsiani would like to take Amsterdam’s canals from dark, dank and filled with old bikes, to brilliant, blue, and presumably still filled with old bikes. Morsiani recently proposed adding bioluminescent members of Photobacterium to the city’s waterways. With the canals stocked with motion-sensitive bacteria, any passing boats or accidental swimmers would leave a hazy blue trail in their wake.

    The idea is not entirely untenable – bioluminescent organisms congregate in such density in Vieques, Puerto Rico, that the bay has become a tourist attraction. Since these tropical organisms produce only weak light, Morsiani has a lot of genetic modification to work out before these bacteria can adjust to life in Europe. Add glowing canals to buildings coated with Photobacterium and transgenic streetlight trees, and we might never have to change a lightbulb again.

    Story via The Pop-Up City.

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  • urban trees autumn pavement

    Urban Heat Causes Trees to Grow Faster

    The high temperatures of urban environments causes trees to grow faster in the city than in rural areas. Researchers at Columbia’s Earth Institute have discovered this by planting seedlings of the American red oak in four sites from Central Park to the foot of the Catskill Mountains.

    Cities are hotter because buildings, streets and other urban structures absorb more solar energy during the day, and radiate that energy at night. This causes a difference in temperature between the city and rural areas in the New York area, with an average difference of 2.4 degrees during the day and an average minimum of 4.6 degrees at night. Cities also have greater atmospheric nitrogen and CO2 concentrations, which are vital for plant growth.

    By August, the city seedlings had developed a biomass eight times that of the non-urban trees. Besides their fast growth, the city grown trees also developed bigger leaves, giving them a greater photosynthetic area. Urban trees allocated proportionately less mass to roots, an important carbon sink, than did rural trees.

    Since urbanization is happening everywhere at a rapid pace, this adaption of our trees and plants to city life may have an impact on urban forest management and climate change discussions.

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  • cat being measured with tape

    Rotund Rats, Fat Cats and Chubby Chimps

    It’s nothing new that humanity is getting chubbier by the day. What’s surprising is that we’re bringing our animals along for the ride. A meta-analysis of animal weight has revealed that, over the last several decades, creatures as diverse as feral rats and laboratory primates have been getting fatter.

    For some of the species in the study, these trends have obvious causes. Dogs and cats are moving less and watching more tv, just like their owners. ‘Synanthropes’, animals like pigeons and rats that live in association with human communities, are thriving on dumpsters filled with our calorie-dense discards. Without natural predators keep them on their toes, it makes sense that city rats living on fatty, sugary foods will turn into the rodent equivalents of Howard Taft.

    It’s harder to explain weight gain in lab animals. Creatures used in research settings like chimpanzees, macaques and vervets all live in controlled environments where they’re insulted from the charms of Krispy Kreme and HBO. These zaftig animals typify the complex state of obesity science. One day obesity is reducible to maxims – “eat less, exercise more” – while the next it balloons outwards to encompass hidden factors like viruses, thrifty genes, drifty genes, and chemical obesogens.

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