Discovered: Climate change threatens the fanciest of ingredients; permafrost is melting; WiFi networks could stifle bovine belching; scientists find relatives of Lonesome George the tortoise.
Is a world without truffles a world any of us can live in? Uber-rich haute cuisine aficionados have to decide what's more important: their gas-guzzling private jets or their decadent truffle garnishing. Because now, according to scientists with the Swiss Federal Research Institute, global warming is directly causing a drop-off in the truffle harvest. "Given the symbiotic fungi-host asssociation, we postulate that competition for summer soil moisture... might be a critical factor for truffle fruit body production, particularly in semi-arid environments," the researchers write. Fifty years ago, truffle harvesters hauled in about 200-300 tons of truffles each year. Now, dry summers are causing yields to drop to 25 tonnes per year, making prices skyrocket to $2,500 per kilo. [AFP]
Permafrost may not be so permanent. How awkward will it be if we eventually have to refer to permafrost—by its very etymology, something that's not supposed to disappear—in the past tense? Scientists with the U.N. Environment Programme are warning that the frozen ground covering 24 percent of exposed Northern Hemisphere land is thawing at worrying rates. Their findings "indicate that large-scale thawing of permafrost may have already started," which could lead to even worse warming feedback loops. If it were to all melt away, the permafrost's 1,700 billion metric tons of carbon would be released into the atmosphere, doubling the about of carbon currently stored up there. [Scientific American]
Technology controls cow burps. There's nothing funny about cow flatulence. Since our industrial feedlots contain so many cows waiting for slaughter, bovine belching is actually a significant contributor to carbon emissions. Since it's unlikely that herds of Americans will turn vegan anytime soon, scientists are trying to engineer ways to mitigate these releases, and researchers from CSIRO's Sustainable Agriculture Flagship may have developed just such a system. They make cows swallow tiny, WiFi-enabled devices that can monitor and throttle how much the animals burp. Hopefully, this will allow farmers to bring down the alarming figure that livestock ruminants are responsible for a whopping 28 percent of the world's human-related methane emissions. [Fast Company]
Lonesome George wasn't completely lonesome. The late celebrity tortoise of Galapagos named Lonesome George was thought to be the last of his subspecies. But Yale researchers now say that George may have some remaining relatives. They collected DNA samples from over 1,600 giant tortoises on Isabella Island, finding that 17 percent of them had at least one parent from Lonesome George's Chelonoidis abingdoni subspecies. "Our goal is to go back this spring to look for surviving individuals of this species and to collect hybrids," says researcher Gisella Caccone. "We hope that with a selective breeding program, we can reintroduce this tortoise species to its native home." [The Christian Science Monitor]