Watching the World

City Heat Affects Plant Growth

Satellite observations of eastern North America appear to show that the heat generated by cities influences the growth of vegetation, says a report published in Science News. The report notes that plants in cities bud earlier in the spring and retain their leaves longer in the fall than do plants in surrounding rural areas. According to Science News, city temperatures during one five-month period were measured to be “on average, 2.28°C [4.10° Fahrenheit] warmer than they were at spots about 10 km [6 miles] away from each urban center.” Between northern Florida and southern Canada, there are at least 70 urban locations that encompass an area of more than four square miles [10 sq km] each. “These data suggest that those cities significantly affect local climate,” says Science News.

 Animal Friendship

Farmers and herdsmen have long suspected it, but now a scientific study conducted by biologist Anja Wasilewski claims that hoofed animals can forge personal friendships with other individuals in their flock or herd. According to Wasilewski, who observed horses, donkeys, cattle, and sheep, friendship is shown by animals’ frequently being close to one another, by bodily contact while they are resting or feeding, by sharing feed, and by social grooming. Sheep, for example, rub heads with a friend that has been in conflict with another animal. This behavior seems to calm and comfort the sheep, reports the German newspaper Die Zeit. Donkeys usually have only one friend, but their friendships last longer. In efforts to avoid humanizing the animals, however, researchers are cautious when it comes to speculating about the function and effects of such social bonds.

Deforestation in Latin America

In just 13 years, 125 million acres [50 million ha] of forest in Latin America has been destroyed, an area equivalent to all of Central America, says a report published by the United Nations Environment Programme. Brazil saw 57 million acres [23 million ha] damaged, while Mexico lost 16 million acres [6.3 million ha] of forest and had 990,000 acres [400,000 ha] of cultivable soil degraded. Haiti, El Salvador, and the island of St. Lucia lost between 46 and 49 percent of their forests in the same period. These statistics are “horrifying,” says ¿Cómo Ves? a scientific magazine of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and “they are even more so when we think about . . . the hundreds of thousands of plants and animals that have disappeared from our increasingly arid planet.”

Exercise for CFS Sufferers

Despite extensive research, the causes of and possible cure for chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) continue to elude medical science. “There has been a remarkable lack of benefit demonstrated from any of the broad array of antiviral, immunological, hormonal, antidepressant and other treatments evaluated,” says a report published in The Medical Journal of Australia (MJA). Programs involving physical exercise, such as walking, cycling, or swimming, however, have been found to produce better results than a number of other therapies. Some CFS sufferers avoid exercise because they find that doing too much of it worsens their symptoms. Yet, balance is needed. Some individuals who exercise carefully, staying within the limitations imposed by their symptoms, experience ‘significant improvement’ in depression tests, perceived well-being, work capacity, and blood pressure, reports the MJA. “Graded physical exercise should become a cornerstone of the management approach for patients with CFS,” concludes the report.

Pandas and Their Bamboo

“The giant panda, symbol of China and of wildlife conservation, is not as endangered as thought,” says The Daily Telegraph of London. A four-year study by the Worldwide Fund for Nature and the Chinese government has found that instead of the previously estimated 1,000 to 1,100 pandas in the wild, there are more than 1,590. The more accurate count was obtained with the use of improved technology, including the satellite positioning system, to map out the areas to be searched. Although the results are good news for conservationists, the World Conservation Monitoring Centre, in Cambridge, England, warns that bamboo, the giant panda’s main food source, is seriously threatened by deforestation. What makes bamboos particularly vulnerable to rapid deforestation is that “individuals of each species flower once simultaneously every 20 to 100 years and then die,” reports The Guardian of London.

Mosquito Repellent Caution

Two studies indicate that mosquito coils​—one of the most widely used insect repellents in Asia—​can be harmful, especially to children, reports Down to Earth magazine of India. First, scientists at the University of California, U.S.A., say that the smoldering coils expose users to powerful lung carcinogens. Many families in developing countries use mosquito coils inside their small houses. “Moreover, windows are kept closed during sleeping hours,” note the study’s authors. The second study, by scientists from Malaysia and the United States, found that one coil burning for eight hours “releases as much particulate matter as 75 to 137 cigarettes.” As an alternative, experts recommend plant-based products, such as those made from the neem tree. “They are not only efficient and good for health, but easier on the pocket,” states the report.

Slide in Movie Ratings

“Today’s movies contain significantly more violence, sex, and profanity on average than movies of the same rating a decade ago.” That is the conclusion reached by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health, in the United States, after studying movie ratings, a system common in some lands. The study assessed the relationship between the rating and content of films released between 1992 and 2003. The results suggest that age-based movie ratings have become increasingly lenient. The researchers concluded that “parents must recognize their responsibility in choosing appropriate films with and for their children, and in discussing the messages in films with children to mediate any potential adverse effects and reinforce any potential beneficial effects.”