Cool cartograms

Cartograms are maps where the sizes of territories (countries, say) are proportional not to the surface area of their real-world counterparts, but rather to the value of some other attribute, like population or GDP or incidence of malaria. You can see lots of really wonderful examples on the Worldmapper website. That includes a few agricultural variables and some forestry stuff. Here’s an example of the former, net imports of vegetables by $ value.

As I said earlier in connection with Gapminder, wouldn’t it be great to be able to produce cartograms from FAOSTAT data? Or what about from the data in SINGER? Well actually that shouldn’t be all that difficult, the code for making your own cartograms is available, according to Worldmapper’s FAQ. Any volunteers?

Cartogram © Copyright 2006 SASI Group (University of Sheffield) and Mark Newman (University of Michigan), reproduced by permission. Worldmapper is at:

Climate change and extinction

Predicting the effects of climate change on biodiversity is very much a growth industry, and understandably so. I’ve contributed to it myself (together with lots of friends), as I immodestly noted here in a previous posting. Many studies have predicted drastic increases in rates of extinctions, but then, why have so few species gone extinct during the past 2.5 millions years of recurring ice ages? This “Quaternary conundrum” is addressed in a new paper announced, and available for downloading, here. The conclusion of the 19 co-authors is that current approaches do not adequately take into account the factors which allow species to persist when conditions change for the worse. They make eight recommendations for improving predictions, ranging from better models to better validation of model results. Well worth reading.


Yesterday’s post about Google and Yahoo Groups reminded me that I had planned to mention PestNet in this forum at some stage. “PestNet is an email network that helps people in the Pacific and South East Asia obtain rapid advice and information on plant protection, including quarantine.” The way it works is that you just send in your query by email, preferably with some photos attached, and, after moderation by dedicated and knowledgeable volunteers, your question is posted to all PestNet members (via a Yahoo Group). You can ask for help in identifying a pest or symptoms, or for advice on how to deal with a particular problem, anything to do with plant protection (which is interpreted pretty broadly). If anyone has an answer – and there are hundreds of PestNet members, so the chances are good that someone somewhere will know something that will be of help – they write back, and you’re hopefully on your way to a solution. I believe there is a similar service, which is completely free by the way, for the Caribbean and plans for something in Africa. I think it’s a really wonderful way of sharing knowledge in a very focused way. I wonder if something similar would be useful in plant genetic resources?

Coconut brandy

A bottle of brandy “distilled from the essence of the coconut flower and … matured for a minimum of two years” is going for sale for a million bucks. Talk about value adding!

The rich tapestry of life

I hope I can finish posting this before the battery runs out on my laptop. It’s been one long power cut after another for the past couple of days and the one we’re experiencing at the moment started more than three hours back. Anyway, I thought this piece in EurekAlert really interesting and I couldn’t wait to blog about it. There’s this rare endemic plant on Mauritius called Trochetia blackburniana, you see, and it happens to be pollinated by the equally endemic gecko Phelsuma cepediana. But this is a day gecko, which means that to avoid predators they have to spend a lot of time hiding, and their favourite place for doing that is among the spiky leaves of Pandanus shrubs. Now, I’m not sure about Mauritius, but in lots of other places around the Indian and Pacific Oceans, Pandanus is a really useful plant: the fruits are eaten, the leaves woven into mats, people recognize and maintain dozens of varieties etc etc. So here’s something else that Pandanus is important for: protecting the pollinators of a rare Mauritian endemic.

P.S. Incidentally, Trochetia blackburniana, which is in the Malvaceae, seems to be one of the very few species of plants with coloured nectar.

Correction: Trochetia is actually in the Sterculiaceae. Apologies. Please read the comments for more interesting stuff on this genus.