The Persistence of Life

Perhaps at first glance it looks like evidence of an extraterrestrial invasion, a field of Teletubby egg sacs spread across the rocky plain. It is, in fact, la llareta (Azorella compacta, neé A. yareta), apparently a relative of parsley. The dense-growing evergreen perennial flowering shrub is found in South America. What makes llareta fascinating is not that the flowers are hermaphroditic, nor even that the species’ adaptations over the years make it unsuitable for growth in shade. Rather, it is that these organisms live for thousands of years. Some llareta in the Atacama are known to have survived over two millennia.

And if that isn’t enough to blow your mind, Katherine Brooks brings the news about a new book by Rachel Sussman, The Oldest Living Things In the World:

Photograph by Rachel Sussman.For nearly a decade, photographer Rachel Sussman has been traveling the globe in search of the world’s oldest living things. From the Mojave Desert to the Australian Outback to Greenland’s icy expanses, she captures portraits of life forms so relentless they’ve managed to survive eons of planetary change. An 80,000-year-old colony of aspen trees in Utah and a 43,600-year-old self-propagating shrub in Tasmania rank amongst Sussman’s unlikely subjects, just two of the many plants, fungi and invertebrates catalogued by her lens.

Gathered together in a book published this Spring, and aptly titled “The Oldest Living Things in the World,” the collection of age-old organisms serves as a stunning visual history of Earth’s extreme inhabitants. The collision of art and science is hardly just a visual feast of the past, it’s also a reminder of what the future might leave behind, as climate change and human endeavors threaten the existence of these millennia-old characters.

Sussman worked with biologists to complete the research for the project (not to mention science writer Carl Zimmer has provided the foreword and Hans Ulrich Obrist the essays for the new tome), and the photographer has worked tirelessly to bring awareness to the fragile nature of stromatolites, moss and other overlooked living things. Her 2010 TedTalk educated the world on 2,000-year-old brain coral off the coast of Tobago, while an article posted to Brain Pickings lamented the death of a 3,500 year old Cypress tree.

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Image credit: Rachel Sussman via Huffington Post.

Whistler’s Mother Nature

xkcd 1259 (Bee Orchid; detail)Time out for a picture break.

Actually, what happens is that a reserve folder gets overstuffed with links to post, though sometimes it seems hard to imagine what one was thinking when pulling this or that from the net.

Not so in this case. One really needs no excuse for xkcd.

Words as filler, so the picture doesn’t look so lonely. Go ahead. Click. It won’t bite. Hopefully, it will make your day.

(And, yes, Ophrys apifera is real.)

Good News, Bad News

The good news is that people are talking.

Unfortunately, that’s it.

The bad news is that the discussion needs to take place at all. BBC’s Matt McGrath explains:

BBC logoNew plans to protect elephants, rhinos and other species will be discussed at a critical meeting that begins in Bangkok on Sunday.

Delegates will review the convention on the international trade in endangered species (CITES).

Around 35,000 animals and plants are at present protected by the treaty.

But with a global “extinction crisis” facing many species, this year’s meeting is being described as the most critical in its history.

Naturally, one of the foremost controversies is the idea of secret ballots versus transparancy. “CITES ought to be a transparent body,” said Mark Jones of Humane Society International, “but secret ballots have become easier to implement at the behest of certain parties who don’t want their vote to be known.” Sounds about right.

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