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He lush coastal rain forests of the temperate climate zones rank among the rarest and richest forests on earth. Although remnants survive along the west coasts of Norway, Chile, Tasmania, and New Zealand's South Island, more than half of the world's remaining temperate rain forests stretch along the Pacific coast of North America from southeast Alaska down through British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon to northern California.1 Cathedral groves of centuries-old Douglas firs still soar 15-30...

Opening the Black

Lego City Coast Guard Shinking Boat

Two golf cart-sized rovers named Opportunity and Spirit bounced to a landing on opposite sides of Mars in early 2004. From 200 million miles away, NASA scientists sent these robotic vehicles rolling about the rubble-strewn surface, poking their sophisticated instrument-tipped arms at rock outcrops, dunes, and dusty plains. Their mission to search for geologic evidence that Mars was once a warmer, wetter, and perhaps even habitable planet. The prospect of life on Mars has captivated dreamers and...

Where Nematodes Are Lions

On a brilliant mid-summer day in December, our helicopter lifts off from McMurdo Station, the largest outpost of the U.S. Antarctic Program, situated some 2,400 miles south of New Zealand. A quick 50-mile flight across frozen McMurdo Sound brings us to a dark rocky beach at the mouth of Taylor Valley, the southernmost of the Mc-Murdo Dry Valleys. These valleys are a unique creation of the Transantarctic Mountains, which form an i,8oo-mile-long spine separating East from West Antarctica and...

The Power of Ecosystem Engineers

Earthworm Mucus Composition

After 5 years exploring the world aboard the H.M.S. Beagle, English naturalist Charles Darwin retreated to a country home in Kent to ponder all that he had observed and to develop what would become his theory of evolution. Oddly enough, he also began then a lifetime study of earthworms. In 1837, only a year after stepping off the Beagle, Darwin appeared before the Geological Society of London and asserted that all the vegetable mould over the whole country has passed many times through, and...

Of Ferns Bears and Slime Molds

Newfound Gap Road twists for 26 breathtaking miles across the mountainous heart of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, climbing from the northern gateway at Gatlinburg, Tennessee, across a 5,ooo-foot divide to Newfound Gap, where it intersects the Appalachian Trail, and then on to join the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. This is the most visited national park in the United States, and most of the 10 million people who flock here each year will drive up at least as far as Newfound Gap to...

Grazers Grass and Microbes

Ellowstone National Park has been called America's Serengeti for a unique wildlife spectacle that rivals the annual migration of vast herds of zebra and wildebeest across the East African savanna. Each winter, elk and bison congregate by the thousands in the northern third of Yellowstone the relatively low-lying, sagebrush-dotted grasslands that stretch along the Lamar, Gardner, and Yellowstone rivers and extend across the northern park boundary into Montana. There the animals paw away the snow...

Microbes Muck and Dead Zones

How Sheep Excrete Excess Nitrogen

A few years ago, someone stenciled the sidewalks near my Montana home with footprint-sized silhouettes of trout. The symbols appeared at street corners near the openings of storm drains. The message Dump no waste, drains to river bracketed each fish symbol. The habitat of primary concern to the painters was the Gallatin River, a near-pristine trout stream that tumbles north out of Yellowstone National Park to form one of the three headwaters of the Missouri River. Lawn chemicals, road oil,...

Hp

Bioturbators

He 65-foot research vessel Squilla is idling in the lee of a stone jetty that shelters Plymouth Sound from the turbulent waters of the English Channel. On her aft deck, four men are hovering around a massive stainless steel tripod suspended from the Squilla's deck crane, ignoring the rain sheeting off their yellow rubber slickers and coveralls. It's a boy's toy, Melanie Austen quips as we watch from the partial shelter of a bulkhead. Austen is a marine ecologist at Plymouth Marine Laboratory,...