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Karen Murphy, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-NC 2.0

Could Fire Be Good for Wild Ecosystems?

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Karen Murphy, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-NC 2.0

The natural world is a complex place. So complex, in fact, that it can be hard to tell whether something—be it a shark, flower, or bacterium—is good or bad, or even helpful. The same is true for a wildfire. After reviewing the evidence, ecologists writing in the journal Science say they’re still trying to figure out the complex relationship between wildfires and biodiversity.

In the 1990s, scientists hypothesized that pyrodiversity, or exposure to different types of fire, benefited an ecosystem’s biodiversity in the long run. Some fires appear more often or burn more intensely, thereby clearing out a range of habitats and making way for new species. The black-backed woodpecker, for example, was more likely to move into an area that had experienced severe burns. Many studies have supported that hypothesis. One found that sections of Yosemite National Park with higher pyrodiversity also had a significantly higher diversity of plants and their pollinators.

But other studies have found just the opposite. Biodiversity in Australia’s eucalyptus forests decreased as pyrodiversity went up, as safe plant habitats were harder to come by in the dry woodlands.

L.T. Kelly and L. Brotons. 2017. Science.

 
The authors of the new review found no tidy answers. Whether fire helps or hurts, they say, depends on the ecosystem itself. And the nature of fire’s effect on biodiversity is more than just a philosophical or theoretical question. In some places, the authors write, putting out wildfires will be essential; in other places, at other times, it could be better to let them burn.

“There is a need to further develop fire management approaches that, while supported by ecological theory, are better tailored to local conditions,” they write. “Interdisciplinary approaches involving ecologists, climate and fire modelers, scenario planners, and social scientists will help to ensure that we better understand and use fire to promote biodiversity.”

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environment
To Encourage Responsible Trash Disposal, a Startup in Nigeria Pays People for their Waste
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Nigeria is home to more than 180 million people, who produce more than 32 million tons of waste per year and just 20 to 30 percent of this garbage is collected, according to one estimate. To provide Nigerians with incentive to dispose of their trash responsibly, Junks, a Nigerian waste management startup, provides people with the chance to exchange their trash for cash, according to Konbini.

The company offers to pay for items and materials like discarded electronics, glass, plastic, aluminum, books, and clothes. Once purchased, these materials are re-sold to wholesalers and recycling companies, according to Techpoint. Potential users who want to sell their trash are required to register on the startup's website, Junks.ng, and fill out a form with a description of the trash they're selling, along with their asking price and contact information. Once this information is received, representatives from Junks are sent to pick up and pay for the waste.

Computer programmer Bradley Yarrow founded Junks.ng in August 2017. Based in Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers State, Nigeria, the company currently has just three employees, in addition to Yarrow. That said, the tiny startup appears to be doing big business, judging from a growing list of sold junk—which includes laminating machines, old laptops, and scrap car parts—already listed on Junks.ng.

[h/t Konbini]

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architecture
High-Tech Skyscrapers Could be Built with Low-Tech Wood
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When we think of wood construction, we often think of log cabins, tree houses, or the framework of residential properties. But if a new start-up has its way, we might soon be gazing up at 12-story buildings made almost entirely out of Douglas firs.

In a report for CityLab, journalist Amanda Kolson Hurley profiled Portland, Oregon's Lever Architecture, a firm attempting to revitalize wood-based towers that reduce the carbon footprints of conventional buildings. Their offices are located in a four-story property made from wood; their next major project, titled Framework, is expected to be 12 stories and slated to debut in Portland in 2019.

Part of Lever’s goal is to reduce concerns over wooden structures—namely, that they’re prone to fire hazards or might not be structurally sound in an earthquake. Developers use a building material called mass timber, a special type of strengthened wood in which timber panels are glued together to make beams and cross-set layers for walls and floors. Fire tests have shown the mass timber doesn’t ignite easily: It chars, which can insulate the rest of the panel from the heat. Strength testing has shown the layers aren’t easily jostled by outside forces.

Lever’s architects hope that wooden buildings will lessen the environmental impact of commercial towers that use concrete and steel, which are responsible for 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions during their manufacturing.

Other firms have designs on taller buildings, including one 35-story tower in Paris and a 24-story building in Vienna.

[h/t CityLab]

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