“Ant Farm” | Something is killing Ghana’s cocoa trees. Actually, it’s a combination of somethings. There are these ants, and they have a symbiotic thing going on with these mealybugs, and well, long story short, mealybugs carry this pathogen called cacao swollen shoot virus which can take down a cocoa tree in a matter of a few years. While the virus is killing the tree from within, the ants rip off its pods from without and—get this—use them to build tents that protect their precious mealybugs from predators (also, pesticides). This is just one of the amazing examples Ed Yong gives us in his treatise on plant diseases and the dwindling cadre of scientists who study them. And lest you think losing chocolate might not quite be the end of the world, consider this: “History tells us that when pestilence brings famine, then war and death follow shortly behind. Plant diseases offer all four horsemen rolled into one.” Aeon Magazine
“A Race to Save the Orange by Altering Its DNA” | Speaking of plants riddled with disease, orange trees aren’t doing so hot either. A bacterium that causes "citrus greening" is razing orchards worldwide—especially in the state of Florida where the orange industry is worth $9 billion and employs 76,000 people. (Globally, only Brazil produces more orange juice than Florida. And Brazil is a country—and a pretty big one.) In other words, the stakes are high. But are they high enough to ask Americans to genetically modify one of their favorite breakfast fruits? Amy Harmon peels back many of the layers in this juicy issue. New York Times
“Greenland Melting” | In climate change circles, Jason Box is a bit of a loose cannon. The climate scientist isn’t afraid of bold predictions, outside-the-box methods, or stoking the flames of melodrama. So when he got the idea to study ice in Greenland—he thought soot from last summer’s wildfires in Colorado might be adding to the melting in the Arctic—the guy up and built a website to solicit donations. Box called the crowd-funded research project Dark Snow and while he’s yet to reach his financial goal, he hasn’t let that stop him from helicoptering to some ice fields to get his science on. Jeff Goodell shows us what it’s like keeping up with this new breed of climatologist. Rolling Stone
“Animal Wise” | What’s going on inside the minds of animals? Kim Tingley reviews Virginia Morell’s newest book about animal intelligence—and what humans think about sharing the realm of rational thought with other species. Morell dives into the issue through a body of research surrounding animal cognition and emotions. You’ll encounter chimpanzees with crazy fast computing power, rats that laugh, ants that teach each other, and elephants that mourn for fallen herdmates. OnEarth
“Flood, Rebuild, Repeat” | When storms like Hurricane Sandy hit, media coverage tends to focus on the devastation. Then as the awe of the destruction ebbs, stories inevitably turn toward the human impulse to rebuild. But at what point does rebuilding become a waste of time and resources, especially with climate change bringing more extreme weather and sea-level rise our way? And wouldn't rebuilding homes in the path of disaster lead to unnecessary risks to human life? Kate Sheppard goes knee-deep into this touchy subject and tells us more than a few things we may not want to hear. Mother Jones
Tired of Reading Yet? Watch This.
Eight-legged extravaganza: One of the wonderful byproducts of the world’s shift to digital is the availability of quality nature documentaries for free on YouTube. Behold: 45 minutes of web-spinning, leaf-leaping, mate-eating super spiders. National Geographic
Tips: @OnEarthMag (tag it #greenreads)
Image: AJ Cann
Like this article? Donate to NRDC to support nonprofit journalism & receive our quarterly magazine.