Posts tagged research

Global warming is real, skeptics seem to agree. What next?

A new study funded by the Koch group seems to have come to the conclusion that global warming is real and is caused by human activities. The Koch Industries, owned by the Koch family, has annual revenues of $100 billion and has a broad product base, comprising from oil and gas to fertilizers and paper pulp. Almost all of these products are dependent on exploitation of natural resources and hence, it is quite natural that the Koch family was one of the biggest supporters of anti-climate action in the US. Since 1997, the Koch family has spent over $100 million lobbying against climate-change actions in Washington and supporting the agenda of other fossil-fuel companies. But this study, funded in part by the Koch group and with two strong climate-change skeptic scientists in the team of seven lead investigators, seems to have landed a bombshell in Koch group’s business interests.

Richard Muller, the founder and scientific director of Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) project made the following statement in a recent NY Times post:

CALL me a converted skeptic. Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.

What does this mean for the politics of global warming? Surveys indicate that less than half of the US citizens think global warming is due to human activities (In India, less than half KNOW what global warming is). Will this study help bring some of those skeptics on board? Or will it be politics as usual again? In his NY Times post, Muller also says:

Hurricane Katrina cannot be attributed to global warming. The number of hurricanes hitting the United States has been going down, not up; likewise for intense tornadoes. Polar bears aren’t dying from receding ice, and the Himalayan glaciers aren’t going to melt by 2035. And it’s possible that we are currently no warmer than we were a thousand years ago, during the “Medieval Warm Period” or “Medieval Optimum,” an interval of warm conditions known from historical records and indirect evidence like tree rings. And the recent warm spell in the United States happens to be more than offset by cooling elsewhere in the world, so its link to “global” warming is weaker than tenuous.

Will the political skeptics harp on this statement rather than the science? Obama has followed an “all of the above” approach for energy in the US. He’s opened up offshore drilling and expanded shale gas explorations, leading to a significant stability in oil prices in the US despite Libya and Syria and collapsing of the European economy. He’s also invested in several clean energy projects. However, US still ranks second in terms of global CO2 emissions and releases ~17 tons CO2/person/year, compared to 6.2 tons in China, 1.7 tons in India, 9 tons in Japan and Germany, 8 tons in UK and 5 tons in France. There is an enormous scope for improvement in the US which the second term of Obama should address on a war footing!





Research review: Hornbills and their role in maintenance of rainforests

First published: Biodiversity of India

The role of birds in maintaining rainforests is frequently under-appreciated. An example in this regard is the Hornbill. Hornbills are large frugivores birds which are more efficient in seed dispersal in terms of wider range of fruit/seed sizes than other small frugivores birds.

Mindanao Wrinkled Hornbill at the Philippine Eagle Center, Philippines

There are total fifty-four species of hornbills found in sub-Saharan Africa, India, and Southeast Asia and New Guinea of which —23 species are fond in Africa and 31 in Asia. Their contribution to the maintenance of forests has been scientifically recognized and they are regarded as “farmers of the forest”.  The most extensive study on feeding behavior of hornbills by Shumpei Kitamura (1) suggests that they feed on 748 plant species from 242 genera and 79 families.  In this report, author also suggests that, survival of the seeds after passing through gut of hornbill is quite good. Also, a significant number of seed species showed enhanced germination efficiency after passing through their digestive system. After feeding, hornbills usually regurgitate or defecate seeds when perched. The home range of these birds, depending on their size, can vary from 700 Hectare to 2400 Hectare with daily movements regularly extend to at least 10 km, which suggests they can be much more efficient than the other smaller frugivores in dispersing seeds at a wider range of territory. Studies by Kinnaird(2) on the distribution pattern of seeds by hornbills suggested that they help in increasing the abundance and diversity seedlings near the nesting site. A relatively long retention time of the seeds in the gut also contributes to relatively wide spread of seeds.

Unfortunately, relatively large frugivores like Hornbills are vulnerable to extinction, as most of the rain forests in Asia are under tremendous anthropogenic pressures such as hunting, and habitat loss or, degradation. Some of these hornbill species are among the rarest in the world, with only ~40 individuals left! Dwindling number of these forest farmers will have reaching effects on the maintenance of the rainforests itself. So, the close association between hornbill population for maintenance of rainforests as well as conservation of rainforests to prevent extinction of Hornbills has to be scientifically examined before implementing any developmental projects in such eco sensitive zones.


1)     Frugivory and seed dispersal by hornbills (Bucerotidae) in tropical forests. (2011) Shumpei Kitamura, Acta Oecologica, 37, (6), 531–541

2)     Evidence for effective seed dispersal by the Sulawesi red-knobbed hornbill, Aceros cassidix (1998), Kinnaird  M.F., Biotropica, 30 (50–55)

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