Sandalwood in danger

For some reason or other, there’s been a lot in the news lately here in Kenya about sandalwood and its over-exploitation. There was a piece in the TV evening  news just the other day when a huge consignment of the stuff was found in a warehouse owned by an MP. Now here’s an article from The Nation, reproduced by the excellent


This story is not particularly agricultural, but I couldn’t resist it. Brazilian researchers extracted the essential oils from a Piper sp commonly eaten by bats and then smeared the stuff on plastic fruits, which they then distributed in areas of damaged rainforest. The bats were attracted to the fake fruits, though they wouldn’t normally fly in degraded forest. Why go to all this trouble? Because the bats spread lots of seeds via their faeces, and could thus be used to restore the vegetation.

Amazonian deforestation

Brazil’s National Statistics Office (IBGE) recently released a new set of maps of the Amazon showing how it is being converted to agricultural land. There’s a nice discussion over at And check out the post a few days back on the BBC radio programme on nuts in Brazil: I’ve just added a link to a short article.

Identifying trees from the air

We received the following request from Carlos E. Gonzalez of the Department of Geography, King’s College London in response to an earlier posting on botanical keys. I hope readers will be able to help him out.

As part of my PhD I have been developing an online taxonomic key for tree identification (higher taxa) on the basis on aerial photography. The taxonomic key uses some aerial photography over the Tiputini Biodiversity Station, and the user answers a series of questions on each crown in order to come to an identification. I am now testing this key in order to understand better (a) its success rate in the identification of trees using a large number of different observers and (b) the patterns of correct and erroneous identifications and implications for the key and for how different observers visualise and separate crown features in imagery. I would be very grateful if you would take a short time to identify 20 trees for me. You can find instructions and access to the key and imagery here. Your computer needs to have a copy of Google Earth version 4, available here. I cannot identify which users have given particular answers but will be able to provide some general feedback to the group of users as a whole. PLEASE ALSO FORWARD TO OTHERS WHO MIGHT CONTRIBUTE. Many thanks! Carlos