Archive for August, 2011

Why we should save nature

The revived controversy over the old Penang Hill project should raise awareness of the economic and social benefits of conserving or sustainably using nature, which is one aspect of the Green Economy.

THE revival of interest over the Penang Hill project proposed in 1990 has again focused attention on the benefits of preserving the environment, contrasted with the pressures for approving development projects.

Media reports in the past week have given differing accounts of the sequence of events in the early 1990s surrounding the Penang Hill project.

The project was given the go-ahead in a memorandum of understanding by the state government and the developer in 1990 and then stalled by the Department of Environment’s rejection of the environment impact assessment reports submitted by the proponent.

Subsequently, the state government decided that a local plan for the Penang Hill area should be drawn up instead of implementing the project, and invited the developer to come up with new proposals, if it so wished, after the local plan was finalised.

These are the bare bones of the project’s history. But the real story lies in the campaign by local groups to “save Penang Hill”.

That campaign raised the awareness of a generation of Penangites and Malaysians about the importance of forests, especially in hill and mountain areas, and more especially if they are water catchment areas.

There are vital social and environment lessons from the whole episode, which may need reviving for a new generation.

Most local people involved in the campaign wanted to save the hill to preserve the quiet and serene ambience, having had fond memories of the times they spent in hikes, holiday stays in the rented government bungalows, and simply enjoying the breathtaking views of the island and the forests.

Quite a few wrote or spoke of how they had proposed to their spouses on romantic evenings up the hill.

Scientists prepared reports on the environmental importance of the hill in cloud formation and maintaining the rainfall pattern, and in retaining and recycling water which is captured and supplied to the urban population.

If the hill were damaged, the supply of water to the island would be affected.

The hill also conserves soil, preventing landslides and preventing soil eroding into rivers that could otherwise block the natural drainage system.

Without this function, there would be greater flooding downstream in the town areas.

These environmental and social services that forested hill areas provide are often invisible and under-appreciated, until disturbance to the ecology by logging or a project causes a range of problems.

These include soil erosion, river and drain blockage, floods, landslides and reduced flow to reservoirs and to household water supply.

For years, ecologists have struggled to get recognition for the value of the “environmental services” that nature, left to itself, provides, and for these to be fully accounted for when assessing the costs and benefits of a proposed commercial project.

The “green economy” initiative that is being given a boost through the UN Summit on Sustainable Development next year (popularly dubbed Rio Plus 20), seeks among other things to raise awareness worldwide about the economic value of nature that would be wiped out if forests, water catchment areas, river and coastline systems are destroyed.

Recent studies have compared the benefits of conserving or sustainably using natural resources to the revenues from exploiting nature in a careless way that maximises short-term profits.

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment pointed out that biodiversity (such as forests and mangroves) provides provisioning services (food, crops, water, medicines), regulating services (filtration of pollutants by wetlands, climate regulation, pollination and protection from disasters), supporting services (soil formation, photosynthesis, nutrient cycling), and cultural services (recreation, education, spiritual and aesthetic values).

Maintaining or augmenting the stocks of natural resources enables the continuous flows of these ecological services, while depleting stocks implies reduced flows of services in future, with adverse effects on human well-being.

Examples of the economic benefits of conserving or sustainably using nature are given in a UN environment report on the economics of biodiversity:

A 2007 study in Southern Thailand on conversion of mangrove into commercial shrimp farms showed net private economic returns of US$1,220 per hectare per year, while the cost of restoration after the pond is abandoned after five years of exploitation was US$9,318 per ha.

But the estimated benefits of retaining the mangroves instead totalled US$12,392/ha, comprising US$584/ha for collected forest products, US$987/ha for providing nursery for off-shore fisheries and US$10,821/ha for coastal protection against storms.

The Te Papanui Conservation Park in New Zealand provides the Otago region with water for free that would cost NZ$136mil had water to be brought in from elsewhere. The park is a natural water catchment supplying NZ$31mil of water flows for hydroelectricity, NZ$93mil for urban water supply and NZ$12mil for irrigating 60,000ha of farmland.

Halving deforestation rates by 2030 would reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 1.5 to 2.7 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide per year, thereby avoiding damages from climate change estimated at US$3.7 trillion in net present value terms. This does not include the many other benefits of forest ecosystems.

The over-exploitation of fish stocks has reduced income from global marine fisheries by US$50bil annually compared with a more sustainable fishing scenario.

The lesson is that the usefulness to society of conserving nature or making use of resources sustainably should be given its proper weight in making decisions on the alternative uses of land and natural resources.

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DuPont Environmental Education Center / GWWO Architects

The new DuPont Environmental Education Center is part of efforts to restore marshlands along the Christina River in Wilmington, Delaware, while creating economic vitality, enhancing the environment and promoting public access. The site for the new facility is an open expanse of reclaimed wetland located within the Russell W. Peterson Urban Wildlife Refuge at the southernmost edge of Wilmington’s downtown. Housing exhibits, classrooms and offices for nature education and related recreation activities, as well as community meeting and gathering space, the building enhances and encourages the relationship between urban development along the waterfront and the natural environment.

© Robert Creamer

The client’s goal was “to create a symbiotic relationship between urban development along the waterfront and the natural environment.” To fully realize the client’s objectives it was important to locate the building within the refuge. Elevated on piloti above the marshlands, the design responds to the dynamics of the natural systems—tidal river and wetlands—as well as infrastructural elements: an adjacent railway, high voltage power lines, and multiple utility rights of way. Visible from major transportation routes, including two interstate highways, the building acts as a beacon marking the terminus of the city’s river-walk. The center is immediately a sentinel standing guard over the refuge and a gateway between the urban environment and the last vestige of natural marshland. The detailing of the bridge and building, suggestive of the nearby working railroad bridge and the industry that dominates adjacent sites, is juxtaposed with the framed view of the refuge that greets visitors as they approach, highlighting the tenuous connection between man and nature.


As the building’s primary exterior material—with natural cedar shakes set in elegant contrast to red-stained vertical cedar slats and v-groove cedar siding—wood was an ideal choice for achieving the warm and modern, yet natural, aesthetic desired by the client. The longevity of its beauty, maintained even as it weathers, was considered particularly relevant in the context of the dynamic natural site. Cedar was favored for its durability and resistance to decay and infestation, which will prove critical given the wetlands setting.

© Robert Creamer

From within, windows on the north façade frame views to the city while the south opens toward the natural setting. Large expanses of glass provide an abundance of daylight to reach the interior spaces, while the large roof overhang and viewing decks provide shade to the interior during summer months. The exterior circulation tower provides visitors with a constant connection to nature through the vertical wood slats. Specific views are framed in all directions, highlighting key features within the landscape as they move between levels. At the lowest level visitors are welcomed into the marshland by a boardwalk to experience the wildlife first hand.


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Demanding Respect for Nature

I spent a week around July 1 in a cabin on one of Haida Gwaii’s remote islands. I was there to celebrate a birthday – not Canada’s, but my grandson’s, who turned two. And what a blessed time it was, hanging out with him without the distractions of email, phone calls, or television.

When I got involved with First Nations communities in remote areas, one of the first lessons I learned was about the importance of respect. Without respect for each other, we don’t listen, and we fail to learn. Instead, we try to engage in conversations set within the perspective of our values, beliefs, and ideas. It’s what led to the depredation of Europeans in the Americas, Africa, and Australia. It’s what led to catastrophic disasters when explorers failed to listen and learn from local people during expeditions to the Arctic, down the Nile, and into the Amazon.

But our respect should extend beyond our fellow humans, to all the green things that capture the sun’s energy and power the rest of life on Earth; to the birds, the fish, the rivers and oceans, the clouds and sky; to all the things that make this planet home and nurture our species.

According to a recent survey, the environment is not a major concern for Canadians. Find this hard to believe? Read more here.

It rained every day but one on Hotsprings Island, where we stayed. It’s a rainforest, so that’s to be expected. We dressed for it, and went out at low tide to tickle geoduck siphons. My grandson squealed with delight as each clam ejected a jet of water to withdraw into the mud. The jumble of seaweed at water’s edge formed an astonishing collage of colour and shape, and we peered under leaves to find crabs, sculpins, and starfish.

I was overwhelmed by the thought that this diverse miniature community of animals and plants had flourished for millennia, co-existing and interacting in ways we have yet to discover. All over the world, life has found ways to survive and thereby enable human beings to exploit the abundance and productivity that developed within diverse ecosystems.

Human beings are a clever animal, able to overcome our deficits in size, speed, strength, and sensory abilities with curiosity and inventiveness. We now know we’re not alone as tool makers, but no other species has been blessed with the incredible resourcefulness and creativity to make tools such as ours.

The Privy Council is squelching discussions of research indicating the harmful impacts of salmon farms. Read more here.

I was impressed with my grandson’s response to his first birthday cake. He loved the novelty of the sweetness (his parents restrict his candy intake), but he only took three bites and was sated. If only we were all able to control our appetites so well. As a species, we have developed an insatiable hunger for stuff and the technological power and global economy to fulfill that consumptive demand.

It once took the Haida people months to cut down an immense tree to use for their longhouses, poles, or canoes. Today, one man and a chainsaw can achieve the same thing in a matter of minutes. Driven by a thirst for economic growth and profit, without a sense of respect for the forest as an ecosystem, we use our technology to destroy the forest for a small part of its constituents. We justify clear-cutting huge swathes of forest as “proper silvicultural practice” or “imitating naturally occurring fires or blowdowns.” But that’s all rationalization.

Think of the incredible technologies in ocean fisheries – radar, sonar, GPS, tough materials for nets, and more. We use drift nets, longlines, and bottom draggers that take immense numbers of target species, as well as so-called bycatch – species deemed of no value, or that are unintentionally taken (birds, sharks, turtles, dolphins, etc.). Now, the consequences – which I would never have dreamed possible when I was a boy – are apparent: The oceans that cover 71 per cent of Earth’s surface – the oceans that I was taught in high school were a “limitless source of protein” – are a mess, beset not only by overfishing, but dead zones bereft of oxygen, immense islands of plastic debris, and changing pH from carbon dioxide dissolving in the water.

These thoughts flowed through my brain as I wondered about the kind of world my grandson will grow up in and how far we could go if we learn that simple word: respect.

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Oman Botanic Garden conducts study on natural flora in sand

MUSCAT — Oman Botanic Garden (OBG) has set itself a challenging task; to create plant displays that are so realistic that their future visitors feel immersed in the ‘natural’ environment. Success in this is dependent on a deep understanding of the original landscapes. The botanic garden team travels all over the country to carry out research and learn from nature.
In April this year, this task took 20 staff members deep into the Sharqiya sands with the aim to identify the climatic, geological and floral features that makes this area unique. Abdullah bin Saeed al Hosni, a horticulture specialist at OBG, particularly enjoyed the opportunity to explore this stunning, yet fragile, habitat.
“The desert climate is characterised by high temperatures, scarce rainfall and a mobile substrate. Its plants cope with these difficult climatic conditions with a variety of strategies, for example, reaching deep water sources with long roots or reducing water loss by having very few leaves.” Al Hosni outlined the importance of these tough organisms.
“The plants of the desert are used in a range of ways, including for food or for medicine. The loss of desert plants, through over-grazing or climate change could have a dramatic impact, not just for people, but for many animals and other living things that rely on these plants for food and shelter in a hostile environment”.
The Botanic Garden team recognises the vital importance of its field work, both for training and research. Al Hosni continued “This trip is an effective tool for the whole team. Being here, engaging all our senses, makes it easier to understand how different features fit together
to make a whole. We will take our understanding here and apply it at the botanic garden site to ensure that our displays are both attractive and relevant for our future visitors”.

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Chemist tells Nature Conservancy about creating balance

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A prominent chemist spoke Thursday night to members of the West Virginia Nature Conservancy about the importance of creating balance between environment and business.

Dr. Neil Hawkins, vice president of sustainability and environment, health and safety for Dow Chemical, spoke about a recent partnership between his company and the national Nature Conservancy. The partnership was made to help local businesses and corporations protect nature and invest in sustainable efforts, according to the Dow Chemical website.

Hawkins was the keynote speaker during the state chapter’s annual Nature Conservancy Corporate Council dinner. Prominent local business leaders who have donated to the conservation group were there to receive thanks for their contributions.

“I understand the beauty and aesthetic beauty of nature, I love getting out into nature. I don’t know how many people here think about nature’s value for business,” Hawkins said. “I am only just beginning to understand the benefit that nature has for the private sector.”

He told an anecdote about a chemical plant operator in Texas who invested in preserving neighboring swamplands. The wetlands’ value was of a greater value to the community than they were to Dow, which actually helped their profits, he said.

Conservation and renewable energy is the key to the next 10 years, he said, in which the world population will increase to more than 10 billion people.

He said Dow is moving toward using more solar energy at their plants.

“Our biggest challenge is to take conventional energy and use it and to remove the energy that is harming our planet,” he said.

Rodney Bartgisco , director of the state’s Nature Conservancy, thanked Dow  for their efforts to work with others to conserve land, especially in West Virginia.

Currently, the company has conservation projects to improve areas along the Ohio River, restoring small tallgrass prairie segments in Grant County and removing invasive species in Monongahela National Forrest.

He announced that their office was a recipient of a 2011 Outstanding State Program award from the national office.

Robert Steptoe, chairman of the state Nature Conservancy’s Board of Trustes, said he wants to find more business partners by next year’s dinner.

“We as a nature conservation want to find common solutions in business to show a value that nature bring to business,” he said. “We can increase a scale of conservation and business-making and we need each other.”

Reach Travis Crum at travis.c… or 304-348-5163.





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Fracking, The DC Earthquake and Unclean Water

I’m the first to remind folks that correlation isn’t causation, but the rise in earthquakes after oil companies use contemporary hydraulic fracturing methods (fracking) to extract oil, natural gas and coal seam gas is giving me pause. Add to that the nature of the beast (millions of gallons of “mystery liquids”) and it seems to me that re-examination of current law and regulation is far overdue.

Tuesday’s earthquake was centered in Mineral, Virginia, about 90 miles from the nation’s capital. According to USGS records, the 5.8 magnitude quake tied for third most powerful (ie, destructive) East Coast quake in recorded history.

Not only was it powerful (relatively speaking), it was rare:

The odds of a quake exceeding a magnitude of 5.5 occurring in central Virginia are so slim that Dominion Power determined only around six quakes of that size would occur in the area over the next 10,000 years. Dominion was looking at building a third nuclear reactor at their power plant in North Anna, VA, where facilities had to be taken offline yesterday as a result of the quake. Despite predicting that the site would be scarcely affected ever by a tremor, the quake’s epicenter was only mere miles from the nuclear facility.

Dominion, which confirmed in February that it will be building a third reactor for the plant, was rated by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission as the seventh most-likely site to receive damage from a quake, taking into consideration the 100-plus plants from coast-to-coast. Even still, the plant had its earthquake-sensing seismographs removed in the 1990s in order to save money.

However, there are no hydrofracking wells in Virginia. Mineral, the epicenter, is about 90 miles from the West Virginia state line; WVa has a lot of hydrofracking.

Hydraulic fracturing is the process whereby oil companies inject water mixed with chemicals below ground; the injection is designed to create fractures in order create permeability that will allow extraction of situ fluids (such as oil and gas). Halliburton developed the technique in the 1940s (pdf). However, contemporary fracking differs from legacy methods. “Slick water” hydraulic fracturing, developed in the late 1990s, uses a different chemical mix (and up to three orders of magnitude more chemicals by volume); “high-volume” hydraulic fracturing (HVHF) uses much more fluid (about two orders of magnitude more, 3-7 million gallons of water per well, pdf) than the old method.

Although industry says “no way” could these practices be causing earthquakes, in 1990 the USGS said otherwise:

Earthquakes induced by human activity have been documented in a few locations in the United States, Japan, and Canada. The cause was injection of fluids into deep wells for waste disposal and secondary recovery of oil, and the use of reservoirs for water supplies. Most of these earthquakes were minor. The largest and most widely known resulted from fluid injection at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal near Denver, Colorado. In 1967, an earthquake of magnitude 5.5 followed a series of smaller earthquakes. Injection had been discontinued at the site in the previous year once the link between the fluid injection and the earlier series of earthquakes was established. (Nicholson, Craig and Wesson, R.L., 1990, Earthquake Hazard Associated with Deep Well Injection– A Report to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 1951, 74 p.)

That was 21 years ago, and industry practices have changed. Multi-stage fracking (which extend fractures across several miles) and “slick water” fracks have become widespread in the past decade. According to a 2008 ProPublica investigation, nine out of 10 natural gas wells in the United States involve fracking. The number of wells are growing: in 2007, there were 449,000 gas wells in 32 states, thirty percent more than in 2000. And all these fracked gas wells need wastewater disposal injection wells.

Here are some stats on fracking:

Braxton County West Virginia (160 miles from Mineral) has experienced a rash of freak earthquakes (eight in 2010) since fracking operations started there several years ago. According to geologists fracking also caused an outbreak of thousands of minor earthquakes in Arkansas (as many as two dozen in a single day). It’s also linked to freak earthquakes in Texas, western New York, Oklahoma and Blackpool, England (which had never recorded an earthquake before).

  • Arkansas: The number of Arkansas earthquakes dropped by 75% after the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission issued a temporary ban on fracking. In the month prior to the shutdown, there were more than 80 seismic events with a magnitude 2.5 or greater; afterwards, that dropped to 20. “Ninety percent of these earthquakes that have happened since 2009 have been within 6 kilometers of these salt water disposal wells,” according to Steve Horton, an earthquake specialist at the University of Memphis Center for Earthquake Research and Information (CERI).
  • Colorado: On Monday, Colorado experienced a 5.3 magnitude earthquake in its southeastern corner. About 90 percent of the gas wells in Colorado have been fracked. In 2001, a USGS investigation could not rule out fracking as a contributor to widespread earthquakes in the region.
  • Texas: In 2009, The Fort Worth Business Press wrote: “It’s clear the incidence of earthquakes has increased as Barnett Shale production increased during the past two decades.” Also in June 2009, the Wall Street Journal wrote: “More earthquakes [at least 100] have been detected in the [Cleburne, Texas] area since October [2008] than in the previous 30 years combined.” Regarding a recent study of earthquakes in Texas: “What we have is a correlation between seismicity, and the time and location of saltwater injection. What we don’t have is complete information about the subsurface structure in the area – things like the porosity and permeability of the rock, the fluid path and how that might induce an earthquake.”
  • West Virginia: After the West Virginia Oil and Gas Commission forced a reduction in on injection rate and pressure, “the earthquakes there seem to have dissipated,” Horton continued.

It’s not just the earthquakes that should be raising eyebrows.

“More than 1,000 other cases of contamination [related to fracking] have been documented by courts and state and local governments in Colorado, New Mexico, Alabama, Ohio and Pennsylvania,” ProPublica continues. But under the Bush Administration, Congress exempted fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act (emphasis added):

Of the 300-odd compounds that private researchers and the Bureau of Land Management suspect are being used, 65 are listed as hazardous by the federal government. Many of the rest are unstudied and unregulated, leaving a gaping hole in the nation’s scientific understanding of how widespread drilling might affect water resources.


Buried deep within the 424-page [2004 EPA] report are statements explaining that fluids migrated unpredictably — through different rock layers, and to greater distances than previously thought — in as many as half the cases studied in the United States. The EPA identified some of the chemicals as biocides and lubricants that “can cause kidney, liver, heart, blood, and brain damage through prolonged or repeated exposure.” It found that as much as a third of injected fluids, benzene in particular, remains in the ground after drilling and is “likely to be transported by groundwater.”

The EPA began preparing its report on hydraulic fracturing in 2000, after an Alabama court forced the agency to investigate fracturing-related water contamination there under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Political pressures were also mounting for the agency to clarify its position on fracturing. The 2001 Energy Policy, drafted in part by the office of Vice President Dick Cheney, a former Halliburton CEO, noted that “the gas flow rate may be increased as much as 20-fold by hydraulic fracturing.” While the EPA was still working on its report, legislation was being crafted to exempt hydraulic fracturing from the Safe Drinking Water Act.


But one of the report’s three main authors, Jeffrey Jollie, an EPA hydrogeologist, now cautions that the research has been misconstrued by industry. The study focused solely on the effect hydraulic fracturing has on drinking water in coal bed methane deposits, typically shallow formations where gas is embedded in coal. It didn’t consider the impact of above-ground drilling or of drilling in geologic formations deep underground, where many of the large new gas reserves are being developed today.

“It was never intended to be a broad, sweeping study,” Jollie says. “I don’t think we ever characterized it that way.”

Nevertheless, a few months after the report’s release, the sweeping 2005 Energy Policy Act was passed. Almost no attention was paid to the three paragraphs that stripped the federal government of most of its authority to monitor and regulate hydraulic fracturing’s impact on the environment.

To get an idea of just how generous Congress has been to the natural gas industry, take a look at this New York Times report from earlier in 2011:

Coal mine operators that want to inject toxic wastewater into the ground must get permission from the federal authorities. But when natural gas companies want to inject chemical-laced water and sand into the ground during hydrofracking, they do not have to follow the same rules.

The air pollution from a sprawling steel plant with multiple buildings is added together when regulators decide whether certain strict rules will apply. At a natural gas site, the toxic fumes from various parts of it — a compressor station and a storage tank, for example — are counted separately rather than cumulatively, so many overall gas well operations are subject to looser caps on their emissions.

Note: we don’t know the chemical composition of the fracking mixture; they’re called mystery liquids for a reason. The natural gas industry is exempt from disclosure (community right to know) as well as most reparation (superfund).

The U.S. had 284 trillion cubic feet of “proved” oil reserves in 2009.

In 2010, U.S. consumption of natural gas was 24,136,666 million cubic feet (24 trillion cubic feet).

You can see the pressure to tap domestic reserves, even if they would only last about 10 years if we had no other source. We import a small volume of natural gas from Canada each year.

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Ancient harvestmen revealed in 3-D models published today in Nature Communications

Public release date: 23-Aug-2011


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Contact: Colin Smith – Snr Press Officer
Imperial College London

2 ancient types of harvestmen, or ‘daddy long legs,’ which skittered around forests more than 300 million years ago, are revealed in new three-dimensional virtual fossil models published today in the journal Nature Communications

Two ancient types of harvestmen, or ‘daddy long legs,’ which skittered around forests more than 300 million years ago, are revealed in new three-dimensional virtual fossil models published today in the journal Nature Communications.

An international team, led by researchers from Imperial College London, have created 3D models of two fossilised species of harvestmen, from the Dyspnoi and Eupnoi suborders. The ancient creatures lived on Earth before the dinosaurs, in the Carboniferous period. The 3D models are providing fresh insights into how these ancient eight-legged creatures, whose 1cm bodies were the size of small buttons, survived in the Earth’s ancient forests and how harvestmen as a group have evolved.

Other scientists have previously suggested that harvestmen were among the first groups on land whose bodies evolved into their modern-day form at a time while other land animals such as spiders and scorpions were still at an early stage in their evolution. The researchers say comparing the 3D fossils of the Dyspnoi and Eupnoi species to modern members of these harvestmen groups provides further proof that ancient and modern species were very similar in appearance, suggesting little change over millions of years.

Dr Russell Garwood, who is currently based in the computed tomography lab at the Natural History Museum in London and who carried out his research while at the Department of Earth Science and Engineering at Imperial College London, says:

“It is absolutely remarkable how little harvestmen have changed in appearance since before the dinosaurs. If you went out into the garden and found one of these creatures today it would be like holding a little bit of prehistory in your hands. We can’t yet be sure why harvestmen appear so modern when most land animals, including their cousins such as scorpions, were in such a primitive form at the time. It may be because they evolved early to be good at what they do, and their bodies did not need to change any further.”

The 3D virtual fossil models have also provided the researchers with further proof that the Dyspnoi and Eupnoi lineages had evolved from a common harvestmen ancestor around 305 million years ago. The researchers say their work supports earlier DNA-based studies and is important because it provides a clearer picture of the early evolution of these creatures.

The researchers also found clues as to how both creatures may have lived hundreds of millions of years ago. The team believe that the Eupnoi probably lived in foliage just above the forest floor, which may have helped it to hide from predators lurking on the ground. The 3D model of the Eupnoi revealed that it had long legs with a curvature at the end that are similar to the legs of its modern relatives who use the curved leg parts to grip onto vegetation while moving from leaf to leaf.

The researchers also determined that the Eupnoi’s body had a very thin and soft outer shell or exoskeleton by analysing a section of the 3D fossil showing a part of its abdomen that had been crushed during the fossilisation process. This indicated to the team the fragility of the Eupnoi’s exoskeleton.

The Dyspnoi fossil had spikes on its back and the scientists believe this may have provided it with some protection from predators who would have found the creature a prickly meal to swallow, and that the Dyspnoi may have lived in moist, woody debris on the forest floor. Dyspnoi’s modern American descendent Acuclavella cosmetoides also has spikes for protection and lives in similar environmental conditions.

It is rare to find fossilised remains of Harvestmen because their soft, tiny, fragile bodies are difficult to preserve during the fossilisation process. Only around 33 fossilised species have been discovered so far.

Currently, most palaeontologists analyse fossils by splitting open a rock and looking at the creatures encased inside. This means that they can often only see part of a three-dimensional fossil and cannot explore all of the fossil’s features.

The method used in today’s study is called ‘computed tomography’ and it enables researchers to produce highly detailed virtual models using a CT scanning device, based at the Natural History Museum in London. In this study, scientists took 3142 x-rays of the fossils and compiled the images into accurate 3D models, using specially designed computer software.

This research follows on from previous modelling studies carried out by Imperial researchers on other prehistoric creatures including ancient spiders called Anthracomartus hindi and Eophrynus prestivicii, and an early ancestor of the cockroach called Archimylacris eggintoni.

The research was funded by a Natural Environment Research Council studentship.

Notes to Editors:

1. Images of 3D models showing the ancient creatures from today’s study is available for use

Download image of Dyspnoi:

Download image of Eupnoi:

2. 3D computer models of Dyspnoi and Eupnoi are available on request. Please contact Colin Smith (details above).

3. ” Carboniferous harvestmen demonstrate early cladogenesis and stasis in Opiliones’ “,23 August 2011, Nature Communications journal.

The full listing of authors and their affiliations for this paper is as follows:

Russell J. Garwood1, Jason A. Dunlop2, Gonzalo Giribet3 Mark D. Sutton1

1 Department of Earth Science and Engineering, Imperial College, London SW7 2AZ, UK

2Museum fr Naturkunde at the Humboldt University Berlin,D-10115 Berlin, Germany

3Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology and Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, Cambridge,Massachusetts 02138, USA

Link to study:

2. About Imperial College London

Consistently rated amongst the world’s best universities, Imperial College London is a science-based institution with a reputation for excellence in teaching and research that attracts 14,000 students and 6,000 staff of the highest international quality. Innovative research at the College explores the interface between science, medicine, engineering and business, delivering practical solutions that improve quality of life and the environment – underpinned by a dynamic enterprise culture.

Since its foundation in 1907, Imperial’s contributions to society have included the discovery of penicillin, the development of holography and the foundations of fibre optics. This commitment to the application of research for the benefit of all continues today, with current focuses including interdisciplinary collaborations to improve global health, tackle climate change, develop sustainable sources of energy and address security challenges.

In 2007, Imperial College London and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust formed the UK’s first Academic Health Science Centre. This unique partnership aims to improve the quality of life of patients and populations by taking new discoveries and translating them into new therapies as quickly as possible.


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