Two stories of ecological disruption: the great sea star wasting, and a graveyard of trembling aspens. As climate change unfolds, one of the scariest prospects is that we will witness large scale ecosystem collapse. So is that moment already upon us? Will we be able to recognize the symptoms in time, and do we have enough information to take steps in advance? In both of today’s stories, from the oceans to the mountains, scientists are trying to understand the magnitude of ecological transformation underway – and what that might mean for the future.
Today, Ginkgo biloba is a common street tree, found in cities all over the world. But believe it or not, it was once almost lost to extinction. This once global tree retreated into a tiny relic community, only found in a few valleys in China. But about 1,000 years ago, humans discovered ginkgo, thought it was beautiful and useful, and began to cultivate it. From there, in time, it spread across the planet again. This makes ginkgo arguably our oldest conservation project.
This episode of Gen Anthro tracks the entire journey of the ginkgo, from its emergence to its decline, to its resurgence. The story is also partly based on a book by Sir Peter Crane, former dean of the Yale School of Forestry, entitled Ginkgo: the Tree that Time Forgot.
What if you you could scoop up a jar of seawater and use it to figure out what species were in that part of the ocean? Today we’re able to do that with a new scientific technique analyzing environmental DNA, or eDNA for short. In this episode, we talk to Ryan Kelly, an ecologist and lawyer at the forefront of eDNA research, about the technique itself, how it’s changing what we can learn about the ocean, and how that might impact policy.
Humans are a force radically reshaping the Earth’s surface – but what forces are shaping homo sapiens? Today on the show, we feature two stories. First we look at ongoing human evolution and genetic mutations (btw, we are still evolving). Our second piece is about a human and animal instinct that we rarely think about – the impulse to play.
“What if life isn’t something that happens *on* a planet, but is something that happens *to* a planet? What if the planet itself is alive?” Thus begins one of the many intriguing thought exercises in astrobiologist David Grinspoon’s new book, Earth in Human Hands (available Dec. 6, 2016). David has long been a friend of the show, in large part because he possesses a unique ability to bring the geologic imagination to life. His approach to the Anthropocene READ MORE
Sometime in the near geological future, the landscape of life on earth as we know it will be transformed. It’s a mass extinction, and it’s only happened five times before in Earth’s history. There have been severe ice ages, perplexing loses of oxygen from our oceans, massive volcanic eruptions, meteor impacts. And now, we’re on the precipice of a sixth mass extinction… and it’s nothing like our planet has ever seen before. In Season 8’s final episode, producer Miles Traer dives into the sixth mass extinction: Are we in it? What can the previous mass extinctions teach us about READ MORE
How did life begin on Earth? Curiously, scientists often search for the answer on other planets or moons in our solar system. After all, if we want to see whether our theories are right, we need to find another example of life somewhere. The search has taken us to some strange places seemingly frozen in time that give us hints to what Earth looked like billions of years ago when life first appeared in the geologic record: places like Mars that show evidence of fossil oceans, and places like Saturn’s moon, Enceladus, that show evidence of liquid water oceans containing organic READ MORE
“In Asia or Africa around 60 million years ago, snakes became more venomous, though scientists aren’t quite sure why then and there.” Sometimes understanding global environmental change requires that we simply know how nature works. And not just the pleasant side of nature, but all of it. When we look back through the wonders of READ MORE
There are billions of microbes both in and on our bodies. These invisible organisms form complex ecosystems, which are passed on to us as infants through breast milk, help digest food in our guts, and may even be correlated with a growing list of health conditions like obesity, chronic fatigue syndrome, and autism. It’s no exaggeration to say that human life would not be possible without the microbiome. Science writer Ed Yong READ MORE
The solenodon: a venomous, shrew-like mammal, found only in the Caribbean, that has survived for millions of years by hiding underground. Even the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago couldn’t kill this hardy little creature. But after surviving for so long, after outliving the freakin’ DINOSAURS, the solenodon is now threatened by human encroachment into their habitat. Guest producer Laura Cussen READ MORE