What Went Wrong in Rondônia

In the late 1970′s, tens of thousands of Brazilian agricultural workers found themselves out of work due to technological advances on farms.  To combat the problem, the government, with help from the World Bank, set up a program to settle people into the rainforest and allow them to farm commercial crops.  The hitch? No one had tested the soil to see if it could support the crops being grown.  From there, the ambitious social and ecological experiment quickly turned into a nightmare of Hollywood proportions involving strife between ranchers and local tribes, clear cutting of the rainforest, and disease outbreaks of all kinds.  What can we learn from what went wrong in Rondônia?

This episode was produced by Leslie Chang, Mike Osborne, and Miles Traer.
Additional music by Kevin MacLeod (License available here)

Seeds of Change

image taken by CIAT

At the dawn of the agricultural revolution, humans began to tinker with our seeds.  Over millennia, we’ve managed to breed plants for selective traits and grow more food.  As certain crops now dominate our agricultural fields, what will happen to all of those original seeds – and their genetic information – that were used to create our modern food system?  We travel to the extreme northern latitudes and visit the Svalbard Global Seed Vault to see how they are trying to curate our changing seeds.  In our second story, we see that humans aren’t the only force that tinkers with seeds.  With climate change, certain crops might adapt their own biology to warmer conditions.  Cassava, a major food staple worldwide that feeds over one billion people, has already shown the potential to adapt in a strange way – by producing more cyanide.  We speak with biologist Ros Gleadow to explore the complex relationship with climate change and the changing biology of cassava.

This episode was produced by Leslie Chang, Mike Osborne, and Miles Traer.
Additional music by Kevin MacLeod (License available here)

A Slight Digression: Invertebrates

Invertebrates. Gutless, spineless– but perhaps underappreciated invertebrates. We probably don’t spend enough time thinking about that other category of organisms on earth, so on this episode we’re going to spend some time with maybe the most overlooked group of Eukaryotes: Fungi. As it turns out, there are (at least) five MIND BLOWING facts about fungi that we all need to know. We’ll then travel to Southeastern Alaska to study the changing forest community. A wave of climate-driven ecological change is sweeping across the region, and we’ll learn about what this means for forests and the people who live there. Finally on today’s show we leave the invertebrates and debut a new segment that we’re calling Convos with Kau (as in coversation with Kaustubh Thirmulai, PhD candidate in paleoclimate at UT-Austin).

This episode was produced by Leslie Chang, Mike Osborne, and Miles Traer.
Additional music by Kevin MacLeod (license available here)

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What’s in a Word?

This week, we explore communication: how do we talk? how do we hear? and what the hell are we even saying?  And what about the rest of the animal kingdoms?  African elephants don’t just communicate through trumpeting – they also use seismic waves. Elephant behavior expert Caitlin O’Connell explains this “second language,” and how it’s helping advance hearing aid technology. She also tells us about her new work of fiction, Ivory Ghosts, which draws attention to the intensifying problem of illegal ivory trade. We then talk to evolutionary biologist Nicole Creanza, who explains that we can learn a lot about early human migration across the globe not just through genetics, but also through our languages.

This episode was produced by Leslie Chang, Mike Osborne, and Miles Traer.
Additional music by Kevin MacLeod (tracks used: Digya and Night Cave. License available here)

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