Saturday 27 May 2017 News Updated at 07:05 AM IST
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How ants figured out farming - Deccan Herald
How ants figured out farming
Rachel Nuwer, The New York Times
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Today, some 250 species of ants build fungi gardens in climate-controlled chambers underground.
Sixty million years ago, in a rainforest in South America, ants figured out how to farm. Fungus, specifically. Today, some 250 species of ants build fungi gardens in climate-controlled chambers underground. They weed them. They water them. Some even use antibiotics or chemicals to keep harmful bacteria away from their crop. After comparing the genomes of 78 species, researchers have found that two kinds of ant-farming societies diverged about 30 million years ago.

One contained higher, more complex agriculturalists, which co-evolved with their fungal crops until they were mutually dependent. The other society was made up of less complex agriculturalists, primarily in tropical forests, who grew fungus capable of escaping the ant farm and living independently.

What moves gravel-size gypsum crystals around the desert?
In Salar de Gorbea, at the edge of the otherworldly Atacama Desert of northern Chile, groundwater collects in salty, acidic pools, then evaporates in the sun, leaving gypsum crystals that protrude from the ground like daggers. Somehow the crystals become scattered: in some places, it looks as if someone
intentionally swept them into 15-foot piles, stuck together like giant gobs of rock candy.

How they got there was a mystery, until a geologist observed a desert whirlwind materialising between two volcanoes, moving over the pools and then vanishing above the gypsum dunes. Desert whirlwinds aren’t supposed to be strong enough to carry big gypsum crystals.

Researchers estimated the speed at the centre of this gravel-devil to be around 150 mph - the strength of a small tornado.
Joanna Klein

Photographing the players in pollination

Spend just a few minutes in a garden this time of year, and you will likely see a pollinator buzzing or fluttering from flower to flower. While most of us are aware of this vitally important ecosystem service, the act itself - the transfer of pollen from stamen to stigma via tiny feet, wings, antennas or mouthparts - is largely unseen. In Pollination Power, Heather Angel, a photographer based in Surrey, England, exposes the process in macrophotography, which stands out not only for its range and aesthetics, but also for its scientific exactness: She was determined to show not just creatures in flowers, but the instant release of pollen itself.

Heather’s pursuits took her to 20 countries, from Kazakhstan to Costa Rica, though some of her most productive trips were closer to home: to her own backyard and to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, in London. The diversity of plants she captured is equaled only by the diversity of pollinators. "Bees get all the publicity, but there are so many other insects and animals that are important pollinators,” she said. While her photographs include bees and butterflies galore, they also spotlight more unlikely players: hoverflies, scarab beetles, day geckos and blue tits.

Technical expertise made many of the images possible. Heather used an ultraviolet flash to expose the brilliant petal patterns and fluorescing nectar that many flowers produce for the benefit of their pollinators, normally invisible to the human eye. A red light allowed her to photograph nocturnal moth pollinators. Plants are not passive players in pollination, and Heather paid special attention to their role in taking care of business.

Some flowers change colour when pollination is complete, signaling to would-be visitors that they should move on to freshly opened blooms. Others open and close to control the timing of the act. All provide some form of enticement for pollinators: sugary nectar, pollen, a place to find a mate or even shelter from the elements. "Sometimes you see up to five solitary male bees sleeping in a flower,” Heather said.