Science and Innovation

Trees grace our sidewalks, house birds, feed squirrels, and furnish wood for everything from campfires to fences. And the oxygen plants emit allows us to live on Earth in the first place. But now tree huggers have a new way to assess the benefits our leafy companions provide.

In spring farmers and gardeners feel that irresistible pull to get their hands in the dirt.

If you share that urge, a program exists to satisfy it almost anywhere you go. It’s called Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, or “WWOOF” for short, and it links willing hands with farms that host volunteer workers.

Many parts of the Colorado Plateau are covered with distinctive soil crusts. Scientists are learning more about how they aid ecosystems—especially by providing good places for plants to grow.

Soil crusts rely on tiny organisms called cyanobacteria that are good at colonizing bare soil. In cold regions, frost heaving can give a dark, pinnacled appearance to soil covered with cyanobacteria. And that complicated micro-topography is key to what comes next.

G. Ballmer, University of California, Riverside

With bee populations declining worldwide, news is often grim in the world of bee research. But last August, entomologists from the University of California at Riverside found something to cheer about: they spotted three members of a bumblebee species long feared extinct.

Last documented in 1956, the Cockerell’s bumblebee of south-central New Mexico is the country’s rarest bumblebee.

Earth Notes: Blackbrush

Mar 7, 2012

What can a small, inconspicuous shrub tell us about climate change in the Southwest? That’s the question researchers are asking about blackbrush.

Most people don’t take a second glance at this compact, slow-growing shrub bristling with spiny, gray-black branches. Yet it grows across several million acres in the Mojave Desert and up onto the Colorado Plateau, sometimes in nearly pure stands. You can see extensive swaths in Arches and Canyonlands, and over the Tonto Plateau in Grand Canyon.

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