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Tiny forests in big cities

13 August 2021
In the Dutch city of Utrecht, 7 tiny forests of about 200 square meters each were planted to promote urban cooling, water regulation, and boost biodiversity; as a nature-based solution to the environmental challenges brought on by climate change. These forests were planted with native species planted close together for a short rejuvenation period as saplings grow quickly to compete for light, water and nutrients. This idea for close forest planting was pioneered by Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki. The Netherlands has since planted 144 forests and aims to plant their 200th forest by the end of 2021. Since 2018, 636 animals such as hummingbirds, frogs and an additional 298 plant species to the original species were observed in these tiny planted forests.

Renewed hope for Singapore’s Margaritaria!

05 July 2021
Since the rediscovery of Margaritaria indica in 2012, researchers in Singapore have found another two mature trees on Kusu Island and Bukit Brown. Pollination is the bottleneck of reproduction for this dioecious species where male and female flowers are produced on different trees. The discovery of viable seeds from the tree in Bukit Brown is an indication that both male and female individuals are around. There is renewed hope for species recovery efforts to safeguard the future of this species in Singapore. With this latest discovery, propagation trials for this critically endangered species are currently under way.

The Beginnings of Plant Life on Land

31 May 2021
Researchers in France found that 450 million years ago, plants moved from the aquatic to terrestrial environment with the help of fungi. The team demonstrated that the non-vascular bryophyte (Marchantia paleacea) possessed genes that facilitated the sharing of resources like lipids with fungi, very much like the symbiotic relationships present day vascular plants have with fungi. This suggests that the common ancestor of vascular and non-vascular plants also had similar genes that allowed the transfer of resources which eventually led to the successful colonisation of land.

Coffee boosts forestation

30 April 2021
Scientists from ETH-Zurich and the University of Hawaii found that coffee pulp sped up restoration of exploited land in tropical regions. A post-agricultural plot in Costa Rica covered with 50 cm-thick layer of coffee pulp, the leftover of coffee production that are typically discarded, was transformed into a small forest with pioneer tree species after two years. The coffee-boosted plot had 60% more canopy cover by trees that are 4 times taller than those in the non-treated control plot. The coffee pulp treated topsoil was rich in Carbon and Nitrogen, and the amount of Sulphur, Phosphorus, Iron and Manganese were much higher than the control plot.

Talking with plants

14 April 2021
Researchers at Nanyang Technological University have found an innovative way to communicate with plants through electrical signals. The Venus Fly Trap is a carnivorous plant that traps insects by shutting its modified leaves when prey touch trigger hairs. Researchers were able to use electrical impulses to close the leaf trap and even ‘pick up’ a thin wire using a connected robotic arm on command! This was done by connecting the leaf trap to a smartphone via an electrode. As electrical signals generated by plants tend to be weak, the discovery of a novel hydrogel with strong adhesive properties was key to making this type of communication with the plant possible. As researchers deepen their understanding, they hope to develop plant-based robotic systems that can better handle delicate and sensitive tasks than the current technology.