Maple trees + good timing + basic chemistry = maple syrup. But Science Friday takes us behind the scenes of maple syrup research to show that there’s much more to it than that. While the tradition has been to tap fully grown wild trees – commercially with lots of plastic tubing – recent experiments at University of Vermont’s Proctor Maple Research Center have found that harvesting from the cut tops of juvenile trees might yield 5 to 6 times per acre, surprisingly without harming the young trees.
Lots of questions about this one: What are the other differences between the farm vs forest model of growing trees? Does this new process affect the local birds or creatures underground? What do these young trees look like in 20 years? What questions do you have?
File under: food, trees, and how things are made.
From Science Friday.
In Onward: Searching for Life in Iceland’s Frigid Fissures, National Geographic grantee and biology researcher Jónína Ólafsdóttir goes diving in search of tiny arthropods in the underwater volcanic fissures of Iceland’s Thingvellir National Park. She is joined by NatGeo multimedia journalists Spencer Millsap and Dan Stone.
“When I started doing this research, I was amazed that no one had ever done it before,” she said one morning earlier this week as we drove to her favorite dive site. Iceland has a lot of research questions related to biology and geology that have never been answered, let alone even asked. “Iceland is a really great place for a scientist with an explorer’s heart,” she says…
Ecologists are often asked why they might study one particular animal, especially a small one that has little impact on humans. Jónína’s answer goes like this: humanity might never be dependent on microscopic arthropods but understanding how animals work together, how they depend on each other holds lots more clues about an area’s environmental history—and its future. At the top of the world, seeing how species change and adapt may indicate what happens as the climate changes around the world.
Read more about Ólafsdóttir's research at National Geographic, and check out more scuba diving videos in the archives.
Polar Bears Eat Goose Eggs in the Arctic’s summer months, but now scientists are studying how melting sea ice might affect the bears’ eating habits in the years to come. Will more eggs be on their menu? Utah State University Ph.D candidate David Iles narrates this remote camera footage from Western Hudson Bay near Churchill, Manitoba, as we watch polar bears find these high-calorie snacks (and a few of the birds that laid them):
“In terms of snow geese there’s 50,000 pairs out there, and that could be quite a substantial benefit to polar bears that do happen to take advantage of them,” he continued. “But what we don’t yet know is how often that overlap happens, what types of bears are taking advantage, and what it could mean for both polar bears and waterfowl.”
There are more details about the balance of these animals and the changing ecosystem that they share in this corresponding National Geographic article.
Related bears-on-hidden-camera fun: What goes on when you are not there.
Alaska: The Nutrient Cycle by wildlife filmmaker Paul Klaver.
Once they enter fresh water chum salmon stop feeding and morph into an aggressive creature intent only on mating. After spawning, they die and their bodies become a source of nutrients for everything in the forest and sea.
This 14 minute video had the kids riveted and shows how the end of the salmon’s life directly benefits the animals and ecosystem around them. A note a warning for more sensitive viewers: this video includes a lot of creatures eating very dead-looking fish.
There are more videos tagged with life cycle and death in the archives, including Radiolab’s excellent Whale Fall.
As honey bee populations decline (from pesticide and fungicide use, parasites, and a mix of other factors), scientists like entomologist Claudio Gratton are exploring the exciting idea of pollinating our plants and crops in an “alternative” way: native bees.
“There’s a lot of other pollinators out there,” explains Gratton. The 500 or 600 wild bee species that live in Wisconsin are only a fraction of the 4,000 native to the United States. But because they tend to be solitary, aren’t easily managed, and don’t produce honey, they’ve mostly flown under the radar.
In this video from KQED’s QUEST, learn about these native bee populations and how we can support them by planting pollinator-friendly gardens and championing farms that pollinate with native bee habitats.
Related watching: It’s Okay to Be Smart’s How Bees See the Invisible, and the incredible Hidden Beauty of Pollination.