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Preview: Natural Selections Podcast

Natural Selections

Conversations about the natural world with Dr. Curt Stager and Martha Foley, from member-supported North Country Public Radio.The natural world with Martha Foley and Dr. Curt Stager, Thursdays

Copyright: ℗ & © 2018, NCPR - North Country Public Radio

Why is carbon dating harder than it used to be?

Thu, 22 Mar 2018 00:00:00 -0400

(Mar 22, 2018) Scientists use isotopes of carbon, carbon-13 and carbon-14, to study the age of organic material. But the activity of humans is distorting the clock. Curt Stager tells Martha Foley how added carbon in the atmosphere, pollution, and nuclear testing have made it harder to study the natural world.(image)

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What makes some eyes shine at night?

Thu, 15 Mar 2018 00:00:00 -0400

(Mar 15, 2018) Martha Foley and Dr. Curt Stager talk about eye shine, and why some animals' eyes reflect light and others' don't.(image)

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Where did all the insects go?

Thu, 08 Mar 2018 00:00:00 -0500

(Mar 8, 2018) Curt Stager reports on a long-term study of flying insects in Germany that records an astounding 76% drop in the total biomass of flying insects entering their traps over the last 30 years. This is not a decline as happens in a single species, but appears to affect the whole spectrum of species.Martha Foley wonders if this could explain the decline in insect-eating birds that appear around her house, or the steep decline in bug spats Stager observes on his car compared to decades ago. Disturbing news from long-term study and anecdotal observations.(image)

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A warmer future means fewer cold water refuges for Adirondack lake trout

Thu, 01 Mar 2018 00:00:00 -0500

(Mar 1, 2018) Lake trout thrive in deep, cold water with lots of oxygen, and are stressed by being in warm summer shallows with lower pressure and oxygen levels. But as the climate warms, fewer Adirondacks lakes will have the right combination of factors they need. During a recent hot summer drought, fishing guides steered clear of many favorite spots, not wanting to draw remaining trout into danger.Martha Foley and Curt Stager look into the future of this popular sports fish and where they can survive in a warming world.(image)

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From Pyrex to Bioglass: Glass is all around you, even in you

Thu, 22 Feb 2018 00:00:00 -0500

(Feb 22, 2018) A lot of different things are mixed with silicon dioxide to make different kinds of glass. Added lead makes crystal. Most ordinary glass is made with the addition of soda lime. Pyrex glass has boron to give it heat resistance. Fiberglass contains aluminum. Amorphous substances like porcelain and polycarbonate plastic can also count as glass, as can certain amorphous mixtures of metal. One of the most interesting new technologies is Bioglass, where calcium, phosphorus and other bone nutrients are added to glass to serve as a matrix for replacement bone. Actual bone cells are attracted to the glass and new, healthy bone can form around it. Martha Foley and Curt Stager discuss.(image)

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How your glass of red could become a glass of lead

Thu, 15 Feb 2018 00:00:00 -0500

(Feb 15, 2018) Glass is basic stuff - melted sand, pretty much. But your lovely crystal decanter or goblet gets its heft and clarity from a big dose of lead, up to one-fourth by weight. That lead can leach out into liquids containing alcohol, such as wine or brandy - significant enough amounts to be a health risk if stored in crystal over a long period of time.Martha Foley and Curt Stager clear up the differences between glass and crystal, and explain how lead can become transparent.Natural Selections is a regular Thursday feature of the The Eight O'Clock Hour on NCPR. Get it delivered to your device automatically. Subscribe to the Natural Selections podcast.(image)

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Camel and caribou adapt in similar ways to different "deserts"

Thu, 08 Feb 2018 00:00:00 -0500

(Feb 8, 2018) While the sub-Arctic and the Sahara are very different environments, both present extreme challenges to large mammals that live there.Martha Foley and Curt Stager compare the camel and the caribou, which, while not closely related, have made similar evolutionary adaptations to survive in barren terrain.Both need coats that can insulate against temperature extremes, complex nasal equipment to preserve hydration, and digestive tracts adapted to handle a wide range of coarse and nutrient-poor foods.(image)

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Adirondack lakes recover from acid rain, but with an altered ecosystem

Thu, 01 Feb 2018 00:00:00 -0500

(Feb 1, 2018) The success of the Clean Air Act in reducing acid deposition in Adirondack lakes is an under-reported good news story. Many lakes once devoid of life can now support healthy fish populations and other aquatic life.But as Curt Stager discusses with Martha Foley, the life that returns to recolonize the water is not the same as what was lost. Sediment cores show that the original algae and plankton varieties that form the base of the food chain and were unchanged for hundreds of years are being replaced by different varieties. A balance has been restored, but it's a new balance, tipped perhaps by warming, and by invasive species.(image)

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What is cheese, anyway?

Thu, 25 Jan 2018 00:00:00 -0500

(Jan 25, 2018) You can make cheese from the milk of any mammal, but who wants to go out and milk the pigs? Curt Stager came back from a trip to Italy with some Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. He shares a taste with Martha Foley while they run down different processes used to make a number of varieties of cheese from the same starting point, milk. Saturday was National Cheese Lovers Day, but isn't every day, really?(image)

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Cats are liquids, except when not

Thu, 18 Jan 2018 00:00:00 -0500

(Jan 18, 2018) A recent article in Science magazine highlighted the work of a French scientist who was the recipient of a 2017 Ig Nobel Prize. He posited that because cats can fill up the shape of whatever container they are put in, they must be liquid.(image)

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Are your tonsils as useless as they seem?

Thu, 11 Jan 2018 00:00:00 -0500

(Jan 11, 2018) When infected, your tonsils may be useful to doctors to keep up their bottom line, and to Popsicle vendors to provide the means to soothe recovering children. But when healthy, they also have a use as part of the front-line in the human immune system.Martha Foley and Dr. Curt Stager discuss an oft-removed portion of the human anatomy.(image)

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Nature journals put the history in natural history

Thu, 04 Jan 2018 00:00:00 -0500

(Jan 4, 2018) Martha Foley has never succeeded in keeping a nature journal long-term, but Curt Stager finds them invaluable in his work. He records his observations on paper, but also finds great data through researching the journals of past observers, from Samuel de Champlain to Thomas Jefferson, to ordinary little-known North Country folk.His hint - always put it on paper. Whatever became of all that stuff on your floppy diskettes?(image)

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Just how individual are animals?

Thu, 28 Dec 2017 00:00:00 -0500

(Dec 28, 2017) We tend to think that dogs do this, and that cats do that. We think animal species have a recognizable set of behaviors that define the nature of their kind. But what about individual animals? Does each have something we could understand as a unique personality?Curt Stager said his cat is not like Martha Foley's cat. But what about individual birds, or even insects?Researchers say they can identify individuality even in some of the simplest creatures.(image)

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A new neighbor in the north: fish crows

Thu, 21 Dec 2017 00:00:00 -0500

(Dec 21, 2017) There is a new crow in the neighborhood! "Fish crows" aren't actually new to New York State, but they are increasing in numbers, and moving north from waterway to waterway.Martha Foley and Curt Stager share the scoop on their life and habits.(image)

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How do electric eels use their "juice"?

Thu, 14 Dec 2017 00:00:00 -0500

(Dec 14, 2017) Aside from their properties as biological dynamos, electric eels have other peculiarities; they are not true eels, but are a kind of fish - and a kind of fish that needs to breathe air. The South American predator of river bottoms can reach 40 pounds in size and deliver a fatal shock to humans.They use electricity for a number of purposes other than shocking their prey, as a navigation aid, to communicate with others of its kind and to detect unmoving prey by making its muscles twitch.Martha Foley and Curt Stager discuss the life cycle of a shocking species.(image)

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Closet nemesis: the clothes moth

Thu, 07 Dec 2017 00:00:00 -0500

(Dec 7, 2017) Keratin, the substance wool, hair, and feathers are made from, makes a pretty thin diet, but the clothes moth has been dogging humanity's closets and drawers for hundreds of years, unravelling the work of generations of knitters and weavers to feed its larvae.Martha has a personal beef with the moth and talks with Curt Stager about the life cycle of the moth, and how to fight its ruinous effects.(image)

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Bats can sing, too!

Thu, 30 Nov 2017 00:00:00 -0500

(Nov 30, 2017) Humans, birds, and whales are not the only creatures who can sing. Martha Foley and Dr. Curt Stager discuss recent research that uncovered bats also use learned songs to communicate.(image)

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Shy and rare: the softshell turtles of Lake Champlain

Thu, 23 Nov 2017 00:00:00 -0500

(Nov 23, 2017) The eastern spiny softshell turtle is rare in the north, but a small population lives at the top of Lake Champlain. Shyer than their armored cousins, the encroachment of human activities is making it harder for them to breed.Martha Foley and Paul Smiths College naturalist Dr. Curt Stager discuss this uncommon holdover from the days of the dinosaurs.(image)

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Are there really no snakes in Ireland?

Thu, 16 Nov 2017 00:00:00 -0500

(Nov 16, 2017) Were there really no snakes in Ireland before St. Patrick showed up? Martha Foley and Dr. Curt Stager ponder this and other questions. They explained there are in fact, places with no native snakes, particularly isolated places like New Zealand and Greenland.(image)

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Where did all the seagulls come from?

Thu, 09 Nov 2017 00:00:00 -0500

(Nov 9, 2017) Martha Foley talks with Dr. Curt Stager about the population boom of seagulls in the last few decades, particularly ring-billed gulls found in the northeastern United States and the Great Lakes region.(image)

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Pointier eggs and ultraviolet colors help some birds survive

Thu, 02 Nov 2017 00:00:00 -0400

(Nov 2, 2017) This week, Martha Foley and Dr. Curt Stager continue their discussion about eggs, exploring the color and shape of birds' eggshells, from green, white, and brown to pointy and ovoid.Some variations in shape and size are just that, variations, but some have also appear to have survival value for their respective species.(image)

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Why are bird eggs different colors?

Thu, 26 Oct 2017 00:00:00 -0400

(Oct 26, 2017) Why are bird eggs different colors? According to Dr. Curt Stager most of them start out white. Colors come later in development. Glands in the oviduct deposit color onto the eggs as they pass through to be laid. Speckled eggs are actually a little stronger than unspeckled ones. Emu eggs are almost black and some species have metallic colors. Individual variations in eggs of the same species can help parents return to the right nest.Martha Foley and Dr. Curt Stager talk about why birds' eggs look the way they do.(image)

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Strange relations: Birds get a whole new family tree

Thu, 19 Oct 2017 00:00:00 -0400

(Oct 19, 2017) Whippoorwills and hummingbirds are close kin. And penguins, who only walk and swim, are cousins to the albatross which only flies. Who knew? A new classification system for birds looks at their genetics as well as their anatomy.Dr. Curt Stager and Martha Foley discuss bird evolution.(image)

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How do you tell a raven from a crow?

Thu, 12 Oct 2017 00:00:00 -0400

(Oct 12, 2017) Ravens were once a rarity in the North Country, but now they are becoming a common sight. They have a similar appearance to crows, but if you see the two birds together the difference is obvious. For one thing, ravens are big. For another, crows caw, while the cry of a raven is more of a croak.Martha Foley and Curt Stager discuss other ways to tell the two apart, why ravens became a scarce presence in recent times, and why they might be making a comeback now.(image)

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Yellow perch - Adirondack natives after all

Thu, 05 Oct 2017 00:00:00 -0400

(Oct 5, 2017) For decades, Adirondack resource managers have blamed the yellow perch for the decline of heritage trout strains, believing that perch were introduced to Adirondack waters in recent times and have been displacing the native strains from their historic habitat.But lake sediment core samples taken by Curt Stager and his students at Paul Smiths College yield DNA evidence showing that trout have been co-existing with perch for at least 2,000 years there. While perch are aggressive competitors and native trout are in decline, the reason for the change in balance likely lies in other factors yet to be determined.(image)

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What happens if you press "reset" on evolution?

Thu, 28 Sep 2017 00:00:00 -0400

(Sep 28, 2017) When species move into a new habitat, some of the "tricks" their genes have learned no longer work to help them thrive. Some species will pick up new tricks - sometimes the same new trick more than once - and some will fail to adapt. Martha Foley and Curt Stager look at silent crickets and flightless birds.(image)

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How lichens live on next to nothing

Thu, 21 Sep 2017 00:00:00 -0400

(Sep 21, 2017) What we call reindeer moss is nothing of the kind. It's not even a plant; it's a lichen. Lichens, which account for half of the natural nitrogen fertilizer used by plants and animals, are a combination of a fungus colony with algae and cyanobacteria that can live on practically nothing - dust, pollen, rain and snow.Martha Foley and Curt Stager talk about nature's original minimalists.(image)

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Natural deceptions: crime (and punishment) among animals and plants

Thu, 14 Sep 2017 00:00:00 -0400

(Sep 14, 2017) Social primates are supposed to share when they find food, but some will cheat. If they are caught, the group will punish them. Some plants and fungi use a kind of barter system to swap nutrients, and some of them will also cheat. But they risk being caught and cut off.Martha Foley and Curt Stager look at crime and punishment in the natural world.(image)

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Natural Selections: natural deceptions

Thu, 07 Sep 2017 00:00:00 -0400

(Sep 7, 2017) Birds and other creatures have a sly side and will use deceptive communications to create an advantage for themselves in finding food and finding mates. Blue jays can imitate the sound of a hawk, scaring other species away from the feeder. Some birds mimic the alarm cries of other species, making them think that another of their kind is warning them about a predator.But they can't pull the trick too often. "Crying wolf" has the same consequences in the animal world as it does in the fairy tale. Martha Foley and Curt Stager discuss the "tricksy" side of birds, and of cuttlefish.(image)

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The tawny crazy ant is coming to America

Thu, 31 Aug 2017 00:00:00 -0400

(Aug 31, 2017) What can take on the big agressive poisonous fire ants that invaded the U.S. decades ago? The tawny crazy ant, also an import from South America. This new "superorganism" is immune to fire ant poison, and they are displacing the previous invaders.Martha Foley and Curt Stager discuss a new addition to the invasive species list.(image)

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Well-dressed birds of the North Country

Thu, 24 Aug 2017 00:00:00 -0400

(Aug 24, 2017) While the North Country is not exactly the tropics, we do have our share of exotically-colored birds. Blue creatures, for example, are rare in nature but we have the bluebird, the blue jay and the indigo bunting.Then there are the goldfinches and the cardinals, the ruby-throated hummingbird and more. Martha Foley and Curt Stager celebrate a little of the local color in colder climes.(image)

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Humans pass the smell test better than we think

Thu, 17 Aug 2017 00:00:00 -0400

(Aug 17, 2017) Contrary to longstanding theories, the human sense of smell is roughly as acute as that of other mammals, with an equivalent amount of neural hardware devoted to the detection of odors. So why do we seem to be so nose-blind compared to the family dog?Martha Foley quizzes Curt Stager about a sense that often operates unnoticed by our conscious minds.(image)

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What isn't a GMO?

Thu, 10 Aug 2017 00:00:00 -0400

(Aug 10, 2017) While genetically modified crops are the result of the intentional introduction of "foreign" genes by humans for a specific agricultural purpose, it turns out that nature uses the same trick all the time.Bacteria of different species share genes for antibiotic resistance. Longhorn beetles borrow bacterial and fungal DNA to digest wood. And some salamander species that produce only female offspring mate with other salamander species in order to continue their line.Even Martha Foley and Curt Stager are genetically modified organisms, carrying genes from other species - the Neanderthals and Denisovans.(image)

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Ferns pay off ants to protect them from caterpillars

Thu, 03 Aug 2017 00:00:00 -0400

(Aug 3, 2017) Ferns invented nectar - a sugary reward - long before flowering plants evolved. But instead of using it to attract pollinators, the bracken fern uses it as "protection money," paying off ants and other predatory insects that will keep voracious caterpillars away when the plants are young and vulnerable.Martha Foley and Curt Stager unveil the mobster economics of nature.(image)

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A graphic account: How Walden Pond has changed since Thoreau (the planet, too)

Thu, 27 Jul 2017 00:00:00 -0400

(Jul 27, 2017) Dr. Curt Stager took students to Walden Pond, the retreat of philosopher and citizen scientist Henry David Thoreau, to take sediment samples and compare modern observations with the meticulous records kept in Thoreau's journals.They found evidence of a changing climate and a lake ecology that has been altered by human use. The graphic novel that records the expedition might have bemused and amused the famed transcendentalist. Curt talks about the work with Martha Foley.(image)

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How Saharan dust makes our lives better

Thu, 20 Jul 2017 00:00:00 -0400

(Jul 20, 2017) The last time the climate warmed the Sahara was green and had a huge lake in the middle that left behind vast deposits of fine mineral-rich sediments. In these drier days the dust from that ancient lakebed now blows all the way across the Atlantic to nourish the Amazon with phosphorus and the ocean with iron.It also shades the patch of the Atlantic where hurricanes form, lessening the strength and frequency of tropical storms that reach the North Country. The current trend back toward a warmer world might be good for the Sahara, but not so good for us. Curt Stager and Martha Foley explain.(image)

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Human taste buds drive 4,000 years of citrus evolution

Thu, 13 Jul 2017 00:00:00 -0400

(Jul 13, 2017) The modern supermarket holds a bewildering variety of oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit, tangerines and more. But they are all the product of 4,000 years of selective breeding by humans to tease out tastier, larger, sweeter and juicier variations and hybrids from four ancestral Asian fruits. Dr. Curt Stager and Martha Foley climb back down the citrus family tree to look at the Mandarin orange, the pomelo, the citron and the papeda.(image)

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Plants that punk pollinators

Thu, 06 Jul 2017 00:00:00 -0400

(Jul 6, 2017) Flowers get pollinated, bees get nectar; that's supposed to be the deal. Except that some plants cheat. Known as "food decepters," they advertise rewards they don't deliver. Orchids are notorious for variations on bait and switch, with fully one-third of species giving bupkis to the hard-working insects that help them to propagate their kind.(image)

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Most widespread carnivore on the planet? The red fox

Thu, 29 Jun 2017 00:00:00 -0400

(Jun 29, 2017) The red fox isn't always red. The silver fox, for example, is the same species. But they will usually have a white tail tip and always wear black "boots." You can find the red fox pretty much everywhere, from the North Country back yard to the Australian Outback.(image)

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Two North Country foxes, but only one climbs trees

Thu, 22 Jun 2017 00:00:00 -0400

(Jun 22, 2017) The gray fox has been in North America for millions of years, but the more common red fox is a relative newcomer, crossing over during more recent Ice Ages. The two kinds of fox are not only different species, they do not even belong to the same genus.Besides differing in color and aggressiveness, the gray fox has semi-retractable claws that allow it climb trees to escape from predators. Martha Foley and Dr. Curt Stager discuss the slyer end of the canid family.As a bonus see the video below of baby gray foxes that live under Joel Hurd's barn in Pierrepont.(image)

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Red squirrels have a 50 spruce cone a day habit

Thu, 15 Jun 2017 00:00:00 -0400

(Jun 15, 2017) Red squirrels do well in an abundant year for spruce and balsam cones, eating as many as fifty a day. Introduced to Newfoundland for the first time in the 1960s, squirrels eat as much as two-thirds of all the black spruce cones produced. Dr. Curt Stager and Martha Foley talk about the eating habits of squirrels and their impact on the environment.(image)

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Natural Selections: Can you smell that?

Thu, 08 Jun 2017 00:00:00 -0400

(Jun 8, 2017) Humans aren't naturals at tracking smells like dogs, but they can, in fact, track by scent just like dogs. The main difference is humans get better with practice. Martha Foley and Dr. Curt Stager talk about people's sense of smell.(image)

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You don't need a microscope for "A Field Guide to Bacteria"

Thu, 01 Jun 2017 00:00:00 -0400

(Jun 1, 2017) Martha Foley and Dr. Curt Stager discuss Betsey Dexter Dyer's book, A Field Guide to Bacteria, and the distinctive traits of individual bacteria that are visible to the naked eye.(image)

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Muskie: the big toothy bad ass of Northern waters

Thu, 25 May 2017 00:00:00 -0400

(May 25, 2017) The muskellunge, or muskie, is a popular fighting fish found in Northern waters. Martha Foley and Paul Smiths College naturalist Dr. Curt Stager talk about this primitive fresh water predator.(image)

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Animals that make their living outside the box

Thu, 18 May 2017 00:00:00 -0400

(May 18, 2017) In general, plants make food from sunlight, and animals fuel themselves by "burning" oxygen. But some animals think outside the box.Curt stager and Martha Foley look at a photosynthetic slug that hijacks the genetic machinery of the algae in its diet, and at a jellyfish that needs no oxygen, burning the alternative fuels of hydrogen and sulfur.(image)

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Why pigeons feel at home in the city

Thu, 11 May 2017 00:00:00 -0400

(May 11, 2017) The ubiquitous bird of cities and towns was designed for a different environment. The pigeon's distinctive style of flight is adapted for maneuverability in tight places - near vertical takeoffs and quick changes of direction. This adaptation to cliff and mountainside environments serves them well among our urban cliff dwellings. Curt Stager and Martha Foley discuss.(image)

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Pigeons are doves, high-rises are cliffs

Thu, 04 May 2017 00:00:00 -0400

(May 4, 2017) Pigeons and doves, both domestic and feral, are the same species. Today's urban environment mimics their original favored habitat, seaside cliffs in Europe and Asia. Martha Foley and Curt Stager discuss this commonest bird companion in densely settled areas.(image)

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Hyenas get a bad rap

Thu, 27 Apr 2017 00:00:00 -0400

(Apr 27, 2017) Martha Foley wonders, "Is there a more maligned and mischaracterized animal than the hyena?" Dr. Curt Stager, a hyena fan, gives the real lowdown on this social animal.(image)

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Hermit thrush: often heard but seldom seen

Thu, 20 Apr 2017 00:00:00 -0400

(Apr 20, 2017) One of nature's most beautiful singers is the hermit thrush. The opposite of "good children," they are often heard but seldom seen. Martha Foley and Curt Stager talk about this elusive insectivore of northern forests.(image)

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Northern Flicker, the anteater of the woodpecker family

Thu, 13 Apr 2017 00:00:00 -0400

(Apr 13, 2017) The Northern Flicker is one of the most recognizable birds. This distinctly-marked member of the woodpecker family, instead of browsing wood for their food like their relatives, digs for food in the ground. Martha Foley and Curt Stager explore its habits.(image)

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Listen: Natural Selections Spring Call-in

Wed, 12 Apr 2017 00:00:00 -0400

(Apr 12, 2017) NCPR's Natural Selections team, Paul Smith's College naturalist Dr. Curt Stager and news director Martha Foley took calls from listeners about the natural world as the seasons change.Amazing things are happening out there.(image)

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The evolution of breathing

Thu, 06 Apr 2017 00:00:00 -0400

(Apr 6, 2017) All creatures breathe in some fashion, but how the job gets done has changed from fish to amphibian to reptile to mammal. Curt Stager and Martha Foley chart the evolution of animal respiration.(image)

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In the North Country, earthworms are an invasive species

Thu, 30 Mar 2017 00:00:00 -0400

(Mar 30, 2017) Earthworms, friend to lawn and garden, are actually an invasive species in northern forests, which developed in the worm-free environment of retreating glaciers 10,000 years ago. Martha Foley and Dr. Curt Stager discuss their return, and the consequences for boreal soil, trees and wildflowers.(image)

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Why are volcanic eruptions more common in winter?

Thu, 23 Mar 2017 00:00:00 -0400

(Mar 23, 2017) Database analysis shows that winter, in addition to its other woes, is volcano season. Martha Foley wonders why.Dr. Curt Stager points the finger at the Pacific Ocean, which piles water on the North American coast and lightens the load on Asia. The stress comes out it crustal acne.(image)

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Restoring nature is a lot harder than leaving it alone

Thu, 16 Mar 2017 00:00:00 -0400

(Mar 16, 2017) Trying to put nature back the way we found it can be more complicated than just leaving things alone. Dr. Curt Stager talks with Martha Foley about attempts to restore "green tree reservoirs," flood-plain forests that have been reduced 80 percent in size by human encroachment.(image)

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Everybody loves a winner, even fish

Thu, 09 Mar 2017 00:00:00 -0500

(Mar 9, 2017) Animals, like humans, keep an eye on their fellows, particularly when the action is hot. Siamese fighting fish who witness a conflict treat the winners and losers differently.Martha Foley and Dr. Curt Stager talk about nosiness in nature.(image)

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Female lions really go for the thick, dark mane

Thu, 02 Mar 2017 00:00:00 -0500

(Mar 2, 2017) Why would a heavy fur cape, like a lion's mane, be appropriate on a tropical savanna?As with male fashion in humans, it appears the that the lionesses of the Serengeti like it the thicker and darker, the better. Martha Foley and Dr. Curt Stager talk hair.(image)

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Natural Selections: You're welcome, Mother Nature

Thu, 23 Feb 2017 00:00:00 -0500

(Feb 23, 2017) Much of human activity has a big downside for the natural environment. But sometimes, the problems we pose to nature can give a leg up to certain species. Martha Foley and Dr. Curt Stager discuss the upside of light pollution and cigarette butts.(image)

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"Spying" jays and wren "lullabies"

Thu, 16 Feb 2017 00:00:00 -0500

(Feb 16, 2017) Bird songs do more just decorate the air. Dr. Curt Stager talks with Martha Foley about Eurasian jays, who "spy" on each other's sounds for clues on where they might be able to raid a little food, and about the fairy wren that teaches chicks still in the egg a "family song," preventing imposters in the nest.(image)

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Salt: you want it because it tastes good; it tastes good because you need it

Thu, 09 Feb 2017 00:00:00 -0500

(Feb 9, 2017) Besides making our food taste better, sodium chloride (salt) is necessary for our bodies to function. Martha Foley and Dr. Curt Stager whet their appetites on the science of salt.(image)

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Why do we crave salt?

Thu, 02 Feb 2017 00:00:00 -0500

(Feb 2, 2017) It's a delicious flavor, for humans and deer alike, but it's also so much more. There's just something special about salt, a naturally occurring mineral that humans and many animals crave. Found naturally in its crystalline solid form, sea water and rock deposits left behind by ancient oceans, this chemical compound is among those that many of our cells need to survive.Conversation with Martha Foley and Curt Stager gets a little salty.(image)

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Carbon in the body, carbon in the air

Thu, 26 Jan 2017 00:00:00 -0500

(Jan 26, 2017) Martha Foley talks with Dr. Curt Stager about how carbon cycles through the atmosphere and the bodies of all living things - why we need it to live, and how it also threatens the planet.(image)

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No nitrogen, no food, no life

Thu, 19 Jan 2017 00:00:00 -0500

(Jan 19, 2017) Our atmosphere is about 80 percent nitrogen. Martha Foley and Dr. Curt Stager explore the ways this common element and necessary component of all life forms interacts with the biosphere.(image)

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Cliff swallows grow smaller wings to dodge cars

Thu, 12 Jan 2017 00:00:00 -0500

(Jan 12, 2017) Researchers have found that variations in the wingspan of cliff swallows has a measurable impact on their survival in a human-dominated environment. In this week's Natural Selections, Dr. Curt Stager and Martha Foley discuss how cliff swallows living in a high traffic area have adapted to survive the conditions.(image)

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Bumblebees and "flower power"

Thu, 05 Jan 2017 00:00:00 -0500

(Jan 5, 2017) Static electricity plays a role in getting pollen to come loose from the blossom and to stick to the pollinator. According to a recent study using petunias and bumblebees, British researchers observed that the flowers increase their electrical charge in response to the presence of pollinating insects.The charge peaks in intensity just before the potential pollinator begins feeding on nectar, and decreases after they go away.Martha Foley and naturalist Curt Stager discuss this unique example of "flower power."(image)

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Flowers entice bees with nectar, and a little caffeine

Thu, 29 Dec 2016 00:00:00 -0500

(Dec 29, 2016) Plants have many strategies for manipulating animals to do their bidding. Some flowers focus the attention of their pollinators with a familiar pick-me-up: caffeine. Martha Foley and Dr. Curt Stager discuss the natural world.(image)

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Cryoseisms and other ominous sounds of ice

Thu, 22 Dec 2016 00:00:00 -0500

(Dec 22, 2016) One of the features of a hard winter can be loud spooky booming noises. These may be cryoseisms or "icequakes," caused when masses of ice expand and contract until they reach a breaking point. The sound signals the release of large amounts of energy.Lake ice can also make alarming noises; some expert skaters can accurately estimate the thickness of the ice from the pitch of the noise.Ice expansion within trees and within homes can also add to winter jitters. Martha Foley and Curt Stager listen to the winter.(image)

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How ice evolves over time

Thu, 15 Dec 2016 00:00:00 -0500

(Dec 15, 2016) Fresh ice, sometimes called black ice, can be nice and clear and great for skating, but after a while ice gets kind of funky. Freezes and thaws and snowfalls take their toll on ice, creating white ice, which contains a lot of trapped air and gases.Martha Foley and Curt Stager talk about the evolution of ice over the season.(image)

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Spiders cast a wide variety of nets

Thu, 01 Dec 2016 00:00:00 -0500

(Dec 1, 2016) Spiders from big to tiny use their webs to snag and trap prey in fascinating ways. One spider even reels in tiny gnats that come to "roost" on the web. The silky constructions are wonders of engineering and construction. They're also highly specialized, spider to spider. Martha Foley and Curt Stager talk about spiders and the tangled webs they weave.(image)

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If a porcupine climbs a tree, don't stand directly underneath

Thu, 24 Nov 2016 00:00:00 -0500

(Nov 24, 2016) Dr. Curt Stager and Martha Foley talk about porcupines: why (and how) they climb trees and why it can be a dangerous job. Plus, what to do when one lives under (and gnaws on) your porch.Get up close, but not too close, to porcupines.(image)

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Natural Selections: Fungus and forest

Thu, 17 Nov 2016 00:00:00 -0500

(Nov 17, 2016) Tall trees may be the kings of the forest, but there is another kingdom of forest life that passes unnoticed. Dr. Curt Stager and Martha Foley talk about the arboreal network of fungus.(image)

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The violent effects of slow continental drift

Thu, 10 Nov 2016 00:00:00 -0500

(Nov 10, 2016) The theory of continental drift, the idea that the continents are islands of rock adrift on the earth's molten core, first gained acceptance in the 1960s. Dr. Curt Stager and Martha Foley talk about the consequences of their extreme slow motion collisions - earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.(image)

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Leaf cutter ants are fungus farmers

Thu, 03 Nov 2016 00:00:00 -0400

(Nov 3, 2016) Why do leaf cutter ants cut leaves? Nesting material, food? As Martha Foley and Curt Stager explain, these ants are composting. What they actually eat grows on the rotting leaves.(image)

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Ancient "bones" of the Adirondacks

Thu, 27 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400

(Oct 27, 2016) "Old as the hills" is a relative term. The Adirondacks may be relatively young mountains, but their distinctive grey granite, anorthosite, originated 1.1 billion ago, so deep in the earth's crust that only continental collision could have formed it. Dr. Curt Stager and Martha Foley discuss Adirondack geology.(image)

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Natural Selections: The Treeline

Thu, 20 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400

(Oct 20, 2016) Martha Foley and Dr. Curt Stager talk about the timberline, the usually abrupt termination of forest growth above a certain altitude. While it results from a combination of unfavorable factors, the final straw seems to be the length of time free of hard frost. When the growing season is too short to overcome damage from the harsh climate, the trees die out.(image)

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Natural Selections: Solar Weather

Thu, 13 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400

(Oct 13, 2016) Solar weather does more than create light shows at polar latitudes. When the sun acts up, the effects can range from communications interference on earth to lethal doses of radiation for unprotected astronauts. Martha Foley and Dr. Curt Stager talk about heavenly weather.(image)

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Sunfish - is that a pumpkinseed or a bluegill?

Thu, 06 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400

(Oct 6, 2016) A common sight is fresh water shallows, sunfish provide an excellent opportunity to observe fish behavior. Dr. Curt Stager talks with Martha Foley about the two main varieties, the pumpkinseed and the bluegill. It may be hard to tell one from another, unless of course, you're a sunfish.(image)

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Why were mammals so mammoth during the last Ice Age?

Thu, 29 Sep 2016 00:00:00 -0400

(Sep 29, 2016) During the last Ice Age North America was home to many varieties of "super-sized" mammals, megafauna. Giant beaver, 'possums, bears, sloths and other creatures joined the more familiar wooly mammoth in the land bridge migration. Dr Curt Stager and Martha Foley look at the question, "Why so big?"(image)

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Crab spiders can be good or bad for flowers, depending on the season

Thu, 22 Sep 2016 00:00:00 -0400

(Sep 22, 2016) Crab spiders are small, camouflaged arachnids that drink nectar from flowers. They indirectly affect the pollination of flowers by eating different insects at different times of year. Martha Foley and Dr. Curt Stager discuss these "freeloaders."(image)

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Mole diversity: starry noses and hairy tails

Thu, 15 Sep 2016 00:00:00 -0400

(Sep 15, 2016) Martha Foley and Dr. Curt Stager talk more about three different types of moles that inhabit the region, and their habits. The Eastern American mole and the hairy-tailed mole prefer dryer soils and consume up to half their weight a day in worms and grubs. Their star-nosed cousin prefers a wetter environment.(image)

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Moles: tiny sharks "swimming" under your lawn

Thu, 08 Sep 2016 00:00:00 -0400

(Sep 8, 2016) Martha Foley and Dr. Curt Stager reveal some interesting facts about the insectivores that tear up your lawn every year - moles.The star-nosed mole, one of three species in the region, is semi-aquatic, but all varieties are lightning-fast foragers.(image)

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Ginkgo trees, one species from the age of dinosaurs

Thu, 01 Sep 2016 00:00:00 -0400

(Sep 1, 2016) Martha Foley and Dr Curt Stager talk about the ginkgo tree, an ancient species native to China. They do not spread naturally anymore, but during the time of the dinosaurs there were many types of ginkgo tree all over the world.(image)

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Helpful fungi lurk inside some plants

Thu, 25 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400

(Aug 25, 2016) Martha Foley and Dr Curt Stager discuss fungal lurkers - fungi that live inside plants. Fungal lurkers are a new discovery and scientists believe that this type of fungus helps the plant it lives on but may harm animals and people.(image)

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What is a flame?

Thu, 18 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400

(Aug 18, 2016) What is a flame? Why is it shaped like that? How does it keep going? Martha Foley and Dr. Curt Stager answer some burning questions about rapid oxidation.(image)

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Glitches? Could be gremlins, could be cosmic rays

Thu, 11 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400

(Aug 11, 2016) Martha Foley and Dr. Curt Stager discuss cosmic rays. While many people may think cosmic rays only affect astronauts or satellites - objects in space - computers and other electronic equipment on Earth can be affected, too.(image)

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Camels: the whole body is the canteen, the hump is trail mix

Thu, 04 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400

(Aug 4, 2016) Do camels really store water in their humps? Well, not really. And they aren't native to the deserts of the Middle East and Asia, either. Martha Foley and Dr. Curt Stager discuss the different ways camel physiology adapts them to survive in desert conditions, and where this family of mammals originated.(image)

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Is that a plant, or what?

Thu, 28 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400

(Jul 28, 2016) Mushrooms grow out of the soil like plants, but are fungi. Lichens may look leafy, but they are symbiotic colonies of fungi and algae. Seaweed looks like a plant, but is an algae colony. And Indian Pipe looks like a fungi, but is a plant. Martha Foley and Dr. Curt Stager discuss the ins and outs of botany.(image)

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Natural Selections: Three things about squids

Thu, 21 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400

(Jul 21, 2016) Squids are ten-tentacled cephalopod cousins to the octopus. They are remarkable in many ways, but three features stand out for Dr. Curt Stager, who fills in the details with Martha Foley: the way they propel themselves through the water, and the air, their amazing use of changing color, and their unique methods of self defense.(image)

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Why is the sky blue?, take 2

Thu, 14 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400

(Jul 14, 2016) Dr. Curt Stager tries once again to answer the classic child's question. It is a poser that was worthy of Einstein's time, who eventually came up with the best answer. But it's complicated. And when the sky isn't blue, why not? What's up with that? Martha Foley wants to know.(image)

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Did a dinosaur drink my water?

Thu, 07 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400

(Jul 7, 2016) In an earlier conversation on the natural world, Martha Foley and Dr. Curt Stager talked about the longevity of atoms, and how atoms within our body may have once been in the bodies of dinosaurs. But the question remains, is that true of water? How old is it, really?(image)

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When evolution goes wrong

Thu, 30 Jun 2016 00:00:00 -0400

(Jun 30, 2016) Not all evolutionary change is good. Genetic changes can be neutral or harmful, as well as beneficial. And some change can be both, conferring benefit when a single copy of a gene is present, and causing a life-threatening disease when copies are inherited from both parents. Martha Foley and Dr. Curt Stager roll the dice on evolution.(image)

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Alternation of generations makes for strange botany

Thu, 23 Jun 2016 00:00:00 -0400

(Jun 23, 2016) What if dogs gave birth to kittens, and those kittens grew up to have puppies? That's similar to what some species, such as haircap moss, do. Each alternate generation has a different form and function. Dr Curt Stager and Martha Foley explore the biological oddity "alternation of generations."(image)

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Long necks, dark water: lake monsters

Thu, 16 Jun 2016 00:00:00 -0400

(Jun 16, 2016) Dr. Curt Stager is back from a conference in Scotland where one of the topics was the possibility of lake monsters such as the famous denizen of Loch Ness, or Lake Champlain's Champy. Could the commonly reportedly long-necked monsters be plesiosaurs, left over from the Jurassic era? Probably not.(image)

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Why did whales return to the sea? To make a living

Thu, 09 Jun 2016 00:00:00 -0400

(Jun 9, 2016) Whales are relatively new to the ocean. Fossil evidence allows evolutionary biologists to trace the whale's transformation from land mammal into air-breathing ocean dweller. Today's whales still carry a legacy of their landed past in a vestigial pelvis, femur, and other typical anatomical traits. Martha Foley and Dr. Curt Stager dig into a big topic.(image)

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Burl: when wood strays from the straight and narrow

Thu, 02 Jun 2016 00:00:00 -0400

(Jun 2, 2016) Burl wood, the knobs of complex grain that some trees form, is prized by woodworkers for its beauty and utility. What causes wood grain to deviate from the straight and narrow in this way is something of a mystery. Martha Foley and Curt Stager try to untangle the knot.(image)

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It isn't really spring until the trillium bloom

Thu, 26 May 2016 00:00:00 -0400

(May 26, 2016) This has been a good year for the signature wildflower of the northern forest spring. The trillium is a long-lived perennial that may grow 15 years before it puts out a short-lived bloom. Curt Stager and Martha Foley discuss this fleeting ornament of the forest floor.(image)

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When there's a skunk under the porch

Thu, 19 May 2016 00:00:00 -0400

(May 19, 2016) This nocturnal nuisance can spray its cruel brew about as far as it can see: Ten feet. Martha Foley and Dr. Curt Stager get down to the basics: "How do you get rid of the skunk under the porch?(image)

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Swallowtail butterflies come for the early blooms

Thu, 12 May 2016 00:00:00 -0400

(May 12, 2016) Various species of swallowtail butterfly are a common sight in fields and woodlands early in the year. Martha Foley and Dr. Curt Stager talk about their varieties, and how apparently different forms can occur within the same species.(image)

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Black flies are an equal opportunity species tormenter

Thu, 05 May 2016 00:00:00 -0400

(May 5, 2016) This pest of the northern spring targets other species than humans. Some varieties annoy deer and some live in the tree canopy to bedevil the birds. Martha Foley and Dr. Curt Stager enumerate the victims.(image)

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Why don't trees just keep growing?

Thu, 28 Apr 2016 00:00:00 -0400

(Apr 28, 2016) Trees may live for hundreds, thousands of years, but there are limits on their growth. Trees can only move so much water, and only to a certain height. Martha Foley and Dr. Curt Stager discuss the hydrology of trees.(image)

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