Tag Archives: Environmental Science

Book Review (3): Green Planet How Plants Keep the Earth Alive by Stanley A. Rice

Author: Stanley A. Rice

Title of the Book: Green Planet How Plants Keep the Earth Alive

Publisher: Rutgers University Press

Pages: 314

Amazon.com || Barnes&Noble || Goodreads

This is the third part of my book review of a non-fiction book Green Planet How Plants Keep the Earth Alive by Stanley A. Rice. For the Book Review 1 and 2 links are Book Review 1 and Book Review 2.

This is the last part of this fabulous book that gives a different prospective about nature and compels us to think why we should take care of nature. Living in harmony with nature is what we need to understand and this book helps in doing that. In the last few chapters the author explains what needs to be done by humans. How we can impact the nature in better way?How can we save plants and the planet?

Front Cover

How Plants Heel the Landscape?

All of the natural habitats of the earth, determined by climatic conditions and defined by the plants that both grow in and shape them, have come and gone, and shifted in location, during just the past few thousand years.

Stanley A. Rice (Green Planets How Plants Keep the Earth Alive, pg: 171)

Plants are a good heeler. Plants heel the habitat, they also heel the landscape. The author focuses about these things in this chapter. He is concerned about the disturbances that human activity causes to the landscape and it becomes challenging for the plants to heel the landscape. He also describes the types of disturbances the humans and nature creates.

Human activities such as farming and the building of roads and towns create immense disturbance.

Stanley A. Rice (Green Planets How Plants Keep the Earth Alive, pg: 174)

Author explains the use of forest fire and how fire in a forest might help in landscape development as grasses are not killed and the plants that die in winter again bloom in spring. He also gives examples of Prairies of North America, Chaparrals of California, etc. The damages caused by humans are described in detail.

Human disturbances are more extensive and severe. Fires, floods, storms, landslides, and other disturbances have destroyed forests not very differently from the way humans do so.

Stanley A. Rice (Green Planets How Plants Keep the Earth Alive, pg: 190)

How Agriculture Changed the World?

In this chapter, the author gives a detailed explanation of how agriculture has changed the entire world by supporting the human economy. He starts with the history of agriculture and also gives the future future implications of agriculture.

Why Plant Diversity is Important?

Plank kingdom is very diverse. Variety of plants exist in the nature. The author explains the importance of plant diversity. He talks about the aspects of growing new species, hybrids through breeding by plant breeders using the concepts of biotechnology.

We have different types of apples, bananas, potatoes, rice, wheat, etc to consume. We have old varieties and new varieties. He also explains the importance of old and wild varieties of plants. He explains how plant breeders and organizations that work for plants, try to preserve the rare varieties of crops while producing new crops. He also explains the advantages of polyculture over monoculture.

Saving old crops can be as useful as finding new crops.

Stanley A. Rice (Green Planets How Plants Keep the Earth Alive, pg: 222)

Plant diversity is as much of blessing from the plant world as is the production of oxygen and food calories, the regulation of carbon dioxide, and the protection of water and soil.

Stanley A. Rice (Green Planets How Plants Keep the Earth Alive, pg: 227)

How Can We Help?

In this chapter, the author is on solving the problem mode. What we can do to help the plants, the nature and the planet on the whole? He gives some solutions such as

1. driving fuel efficient vehicles

2. using energy efficiently at home

3. recycling our resources before discarding

4. using alternative energy sources

Everything that we can do to reduce energy use and find sustainable and renewable energy sources is therefore an act of patriotism.

Stanley A. Rice (Green Planets How Plants Keep the Earth Alive, pg: 245)

Thus, there are several ways we can help the planet. The only thing that we lack is determination and dedication towards environmental issues.

This book is an eye-opener for everyone of us. The book encourages us to do something for the plants and the green planet. Take home message from this book is “that we should take care of our environment”.

With this I come to the end of my book review for this amazing book. I hope you all will like the detailed book review and it might help you all to be more respectful towards plants and nature.

Thank you for stopping by and reading the post.

Book Review (Part 1): Green Planet How Plants Keep the Earth Alive by Stanley A. Rice

Front Cover

Author: Stanley A. Rice

Title of the Book: Green Planet How Plants Keep the Earth Alive

Publisher: Rutgers University Press

Pages: 314

Amazon.com || Barnes&Noble || Goodreads

What if I say, we already know everything mentioned in this book? Being a biologist and having a keen interest in environment, the topic covered in this book is not new to me but what fascinates me is the detailed explanation of the topics with figures, data and numbers.

It is not likely a type of book to be read by a person who has interest in fiction as it is a nonfiction, pure botany. If you have some interest in the environment and the plants that surround us, this book is for you. I would recommend this book to each one of us so that we can understand how important plants are to us and our planet.

Stanley A. Rice has done a wonderful job by writing a book wholly and solely dedicated to plants. He talks about forests, agriculture, green house gases, green house effects, global warming, ecological footprints, carbon emission, soil erosion, etc. He explains everything in detail, and you will enjoy as you move from one chapter to another.

What topics are covered in this book?

The book includes almost everything that relates to plants and the benefits they do to us. The book is divided into 12 chapters and consists of 314 pages. All the 12 chapters talk about how plants are important to sustain life on the Earth. As I mentioned earlier, the chapters are dedicated to plants as to how plants produce oxygen, how plants remove carbon dioxide, how plants prevent soil erosion, how plants provide shade, how plants prevent floods and droughts, how plants restore the destroyed habitats and most importantly how plants provide food to all other living organisms.

I can easily do a one post review about this book, but that will not be the justice to the book and the author. The topics are covered in detail and it’s important for everyone of us to know some important things that are mentioned in this book. So, I thought of dividing my book review in 3 parts. In this part I would review the first 3 chapters from the book. I hope you wouldn’t mind me being so elaborate.

How Agriculture Destroyed Forests?

The first thing that the author tries to put forward is “an injured paradise”. He explains how the greed of humans in different civilizations ruthlessly cut the trees, cleared forests and made lands for agriculture practices. Destruction of forests for agricultural lands and lumber often led to droughts.

Agriculture is hard work – the biblical story calls it “the sweat of your brow” – compared with hunting and gathering is relatively easy work.

Stanley A. Rice (Green Planet How Plants Keep the Earth Alive, Pg: 15)

Had agricultural practices not destroyed the fields and forests, these civilizations might have been able to survive the droughts that ended up destroying them.

Stanley A. Rice (Green Planet How Plants Keep the Earth Alive, Pg: 17)

He further explains how the Europeans exploited the North American forests through extensive deforestation for lumber and agricultural land and simultaneously also brought few diseases with them.

The author then talks about the destruction of deciduous forests followed by the fall in the tropical forests due to farming and human infiltration into the jungles.

Not only are the modern forests and fields a pale reflection of what they once were, but they shattered. What was once a vast uninterrupted natural world is now fragmented. Even the largest state and the national parks are small parcels compared with the primeval forest.

Stanley A. Rice (Green Planet How Plants Keep the Earth Alive, Pg: 23)

So, the author wants to convey the message that once a forest is destroyed it cannot be recreated by human means. Then he raises a question, how can the forests be saved? This question is not only for the biologists, botanists or environmentalists. This question is for each of us. Each one of us need to think about this.

We need to do something before its too late. We need to minimize our needs and wants. We need to be more reasonable and accountable for the actions that we do on the daily basis. We need to be sensible and wise while using the natural resources.

Its not that we are ignorant of these facts. The problem is we try to ignore and unhear them and thus do not act.

Our head acknowledge the crisis; our hearts do not, and thus we hesitate.

Stanley A. Rice (Green Planet How Plants Keep the Earth Alive, Pg: 25)

To anyone who loves the forests and fields, it is sad to see what many centuries, and especially the past century, of human activity have done to the green world of plants. But it is not just a loss to those who feel inspired by a poetic spirit in the woods. It is a loss that threatens everyone who breathes, eats, and drinks – that is, everyone.

Stanley A. Rice (Green Planet How Plants Keep the Earth Alive, Pg: 25)

How Plants Produce Oxygen?

Have you ever wondered from where does so much oxygen comes that all of us are able to breathe? What will happen if our planet loses the oxygen we breathe? On the planet Earth, the life exists due to two things: oxygen and water. Who produces oxygen? None other than plants, the primary producers in our ecosystem.

Picture Curtsey: Wikimedia Commons

The next thing that the author talks about is how plants produce oxygen through photosynthesis. We all know photosynthesis is the process responsible for converting carbon dioxide to oxygen. He gives a detailed picture of this process, explaining the process on the molecular level.

In order to feel gratitude for the silent, clean, tireless work that plants perform, it is necessary to do no more than to take a deep breath.

Stanley A. Rice (Green Planet How Plants Keep the Earth Alive, Pg: 28)

The author explains how life originated on the Earth, how photosynthetic organisms made the Earth’s atmosphere rich in oxygen and how our planet differs from other planets in the solar system.

Photosynthetic organisms – the land plants and the plankton in the oceans – are the lungs of the world.

Stanley A. Rice (Green Planet How Plants Keep the Earth Alive, Pg: 32)

No matter what humans do to the earth, and probably no matter what happens to it from other causes, except for the final explosion of the Sun several billion years from now, the earth will recover.

Stanley A. Rice (Green Planet How Plants Keep the Earth Alive, Pg: 38)

The author also explains how atmospheric oxygen and ozone layer protects us from UV radiation. He talks about this in detail. So, there are many things that you can learn from this book. If you are an undergraduate student in science or biology, this book is a must for you. This book will give you a detailed idea of everything related to plants and environment in totality.

How Plants Remove the Greenhouse gases and Prevent the Earth from Overheating?

The second thing after photosynthesis that the author talks about in detail is the greenhouse effect and greenhouse gases. The author gives an overall idea about the greenhouse gases and relates them to the increase in the rising temperature of the Earth. The rise in temperature is leading to global warming. He also gives a detailed explanation of how global warming leads to rise in the water level in the sea and how the glaciers in Antarctica and Greenland are responsible for this rise.

Picture Curtsey: Wikimedia Commons

The sea level appears to be rising at a faster rate than in the past, as a result of global warming.

Stanley A. Rice (Green Planet How Plants Keep the Earth Alive, Pg: 55)

He further explains the effect of global warming on plants and animals. He explains how global warming is affecting the growth in some plants. There are numerous examples listed in the book as to how plants and animals are responding to global warming. I am including few examples from the book here.

Global warming is already having measurable effects on plants. Plant species are growing closer to the poles and further up to the mountains as a result of global warming.

Stanley A. Rice (Green Planet How Plants Keep the Earth Alive, Pg: 57)

Animals are also responding to climate changes. Armadillos have been expanding from their native habitats in the South, as far north as Illinois. Several bird species have moved their breeding ranges northward.

Stanley A. Rice (Green Planet How Plants Keep the Earth Alive, Pg: 58)

Which gas is responsible for global warming? None other than atmospheric carbon dioxide. The author explains the importance of greenhouse gases as to why these gases are important for the existence of life on the earth and how these gases maintain the temperature of the earth.

The greenhouse effect is, to certain extent, a good thing. Without it, the earth would be about as cold as Mars now is.

Stanley A. Rice (Green Planet How Plants Keep the Earth Alive, Pg: 66)

Too much carbon dioxide can cause earth to become too warm for the life forms that are now living on it.

Stanley A. Rice (Green Planet How Plants Keep the Earth Alive, Pg: 66)

The author goes on further to explain global warming and its effect on the ecosystem and about ecological footprints. Its beyond the scope of this blog-post to review what the author explained in his book. It would be wise to read the book itself. I think his way of explaining the topics are un-matchable.

For a new science ventures this book is an awesome read. Students who want to understand the concepts of plant physiology and its relationship with environment in detail, this book is a must. I connected to this book very easily as my PhD was on plants and air pollution. My connection is genuine and relatable due to liking of the subject.    

This was my review for the first three chapters of the book “Green Planet How Plants Keep the Earth Alive”. I hope you will like the review. May be its too much of science but we are already familiar with most of the terms mentioned in the post. Stay connected for the second part of this book review.

Please comment what do you think about the plants and environments? How can we protect our Green Planet? Thank you for stopping by and reading.

Air Pollution: Before and After Lockdown

In today’s world of modern society, various chemical compounds are present in the environment such as sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, carbon oxides, particulate matter (PM), etc emitted from the vehicles, industries, agricultural practices and burning of fossil fuels. These gaseous forms of chemical compounds constitute the air pollution and damage the flora, fauna and the ecosystem.

The government agencies and private companies monitor the level of air pollutants around the world. Countries have their own air pollution data recording agencies that collect, record and maintain data every year. Some of the reports collected from different websites, meetings and associations are detailed below.

Roaring Chimneys

Air pollution is a global problem and every year millions of people die due to indoor and outdoor air pollution. According to the research conducted in the University of British Columbia and Health Effects Institute, published in Science Daily “More than 5.5 million people die prematurely every year due to household and outdoor air pollution. More than half of deaths occur in two of the world’s fastest growing economies, China and India.”

NASA also tracked air pollution trends in terms of nitrogen dioxide over last decade (2005 – 2015) in various regions and around the globe emitted from cars, power plants and industrial activities revealing that USA, Europe and Japan had improved air quality due to emission control regulations while China, India and Middle East had more air pollution due to their growing economy.

The 2020 pandemic due to COVID-19 resulted in the lock-down around the world that is showing some positive effects on the nature. NASA satellite has reported significant reduction in the levels of air pollution on the global level. The picture below shows the reduction in the levels of NO2 in the Northeast states of the USA, as reported by NASA.

Picture Curtsey: NASA
Picture Curtsey: NASA

In the pictures shown above, the decrease in the levels of NO2 can be seen clearly. You can compare both the pictures and notice the difference.

The Washington Post on April 11, 2020 reported reduction in the air pollution level in New Delhi, India (one of the world’s polluted cities). The report not only shows the view of clear and blue India Gate but also a clean and clear water of Yamuna river. As people stay at home, cars, bikes and buses are not honking on the streets.

PC: The Yamuna River in New Delhi on March 21, 2018, and on April 8, 2020. (Adnan Abidi/Reuters)

Absence of vehicles on the streets, airplanes in the sky and people locked inside the house, the Nature is showing its best. The clean and blue water of Yamuna river confirms that not only air has become less polluted, the rivers are also clearing up their dirty water. Man is the only social animal that pollutes the nature. He derives the most from the nature and gives pollutants in return.

Lower levels of air pollution has also been reported in countries like China, Iran, etc. The personal, emotional, financial and economic loss caused by the pandemic is immense. The sufferings cannot be justified by any means. This post is not meant to glorify the pandemic 2020 in anyway. It is only trying to give a different prospective to the whole topic. The losses are definitely big.

What is the take home message then? Is the Nature restoring itself through COVID-19? Are we going to see a fresh and new world after Pandemic 2020? Is the Mother Earth trying to show what we have done to her? Is this an alarm for self-correction? Are we going to learn something from this or ignore and repeat the mistakes again?

Thank you for reading the post. Stay at home stay safe.

Effects of Air Pollution on Plants

In my recent post on Plants and Air Pollution, I have given a general idea about how plants are also affected by air pollution as we humans. For some, it might be a new concept but for environmentalists its a well known fact. I am here to provide you all with a more detailed idea about effects of air pollution on plants so that you might understand how plants are harmed by air pollution.

Air pollution, a worldwide concern, we have been reading about it since middle school. We even experience it everyday, thanks to the industrialization, urbanization and globalization. Plants and their importance is also well known to us. We are alive because of these producers in our food web. But, plants are taken for granted by humans as many other natural resources. And that’s the reason why we see natural calamities very often these days.

Effects of Air Pollution on Plants:

Now, coming on to the topic, effects of air pollution on plants. The gaseous effluents emitted from the vehicles and chimneys comprise of noxious gases such as sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, ground level ozone, etc. The dust particles, soot, etc are collectively known as particulate matter are also deleterious to the environment. Both gaseous effluents and particulate matter damage the plants. Let’s understand this in detail today.

Picture Curtsey: nps.gov

Reduction in Photosynthesis: Scientists report that due to reduction in leaf area, as an adaptive measure to air pollutants, the overall rate of photosynthesis reduces. This is reported in trees such as Mango tree (Mangifera indica), Neem tree (Azadirachta indica), etc. Increased concentrations of gaseous pollutants might lead to reduction in the photosynthetic efficiency of the leaves leading to reduced growth and productivity in plants.

Picture Curtsey: Wikipedia

Reduction in Plant Growth: In case of trees, this reduction refers to reduction in height of the plant, tree canopy, etc. Due to decrease in the photosynthetic activity of the plants, less food is prepared by the plant that leads to the reduction in the overall growth of the plant. Scientists also report that due to exposure to toxic dust particle, plants shed their leaves that result in the stunted growth of the plants.

Morphological Changes: The decrease in the leaf area, leaf length and leaf breadth correspond to the morphological changes in the plants. Some plants may have necrotic lesions, chlorosis, etc due to air pollution. These are also sometimes referred as morphological changes. The morphological changes are the result of the physiological and biochemical changes in the plants.  

Micro-morphological Changes: These changes are related to the stomata, epidermal cells and other related cells present in the leaves of a plant. Scientific studies reveal that changes take place in the size of stomata, size of epidermal cells, number of stomata, length and breadth of the epidermal cells due to air pollution. The size of stomata and the stomatal frequency decreases in the leaves of the plants growing in a polluted area when compared with a plant growing in a less polluted are or residential area.

Picture Curtsey: Wikipedia

Biochemical Changes: Reduction in photosynthesis is related to the reduction in chlorophyll concentration. Chlorophyll pigment is responsible for the food production in the plants. Scientists believe that as the chlorophyll content of plants reduce due to increased air pollutants, the rate of photosynthesis drastically decreases in the leaves. Some plants have also shown opposite results. Concentration of total soluble sugars and starch are also found to decrease significantly in the trees from the polluted regions. Not only these, the total protein content is also reduced in the trees exposed to polluted air.

Do All Plants Behave Similarly to Air Pollutants?

No, not all plants behave similarly to environmental changes. Some plants try to adapt themselves to the changing environment. Scientists report adaptation in plants to air pollutants. When plants are exposed to air pollutants for example, plants growing along the roadside or in the industrial belt, the plants adapt themselves to even sustain in adverse environmental conditions. The adaptive measures that can be seen in plants due to air pollutants are:

Reduced leaf structure: The plants might reduce their leaf structure in order to reduce the exposure of the pant to the air pollutants. Since, the leaf area gets reduced, the number of stomata (openings on the leaves) also lessen and less noxious gases enter the plant.

Increased Photosynthetic Activity: Not all plants show reduction in chlorophyll content due to air pollutants. Few plants have shown increased photosynthesis due to high availability of chlorophyll content as an effect of air pollution.

Alteration in Stomata: Some scientists have reported that plants can also alter the shape of stomata and the nearby cells to reduce interaction with the outer world.

Such plants that can tolerate poisonous gases and particulate matters are considered tolerant species. Scientists suggests that more and more such plants should be grown near the industries, factories and along the roadside to reduce air pollution. 

Conclusion:

The urban air pollution is affecting crops, plants, and trees significantly. Air pollution is causing both acute and chronic damage to morphological, anatomical and physiological characteristics of the leaves of plants growing in the polluted area. Measures should be taken to reduce air pollution. One of the most effective way to combat air pollution can be reforestation.

Plants and Air Pollution

Plants are an important part of our environment and the ecosystem. Plants are considered as the natural sink to the carbon dioxide and generator of oxygen. Trees are reported to be efficient filters of air borne particles because of their large size. Without plants, life on the Earth seems impossible. Plants keep us alive. The oxygen produced by the plants are used by other living beings to remain alive. The uses of plants are numerous to other animals like humans.

But the need and greed of humans have extensively cleared many dense forests by cutting down trees. In the name on agriculture, industrialization and modernization, the trees are cut everyday effortlessly. Afforestation is still a major concern today.

Air pollution is linked to afforestation. There are not enough trees to combat air pollution because the growth of industrialization is more than reforestation. In this post, I am going to address some problems that are less talked about in general. The problems that plants face due to increased release of gaseous effluents in the atmosphere should be know to everyone of us.

How Air Pollution Affects Plants?

Like animals, plants are also deleteriously affected by air pollution. Not only the gaseous effluents but the particulate matters also affect the plants. The noxious gases such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and ground level ozone present in the effluents interact with the physiology, biochemistry and metabolic functions of the plants. These gases enter through the small pores known as stomata, found on the leaves. Visible injuries on the leaves of plants are also related to exposure to air pollutants. Since the plants remain static, they are severely damaged by automobile exhausts.

Leaves being the exposed part of the plant, are the most sensitive organ. All the industrial and automobile exhausts are released in the air and transported inside the plants through leaves. Apart from the leaves, the trunk of the trees is also severely affected by air pollutants. The heavy metals from the vehicular effluents get stuck to the branches and trunk of the trees thereby affecting the trees.  The toxic gases released from vehicles and industries clog the pores present in the leaves and harm the plants. The dust particles and the particulate matters also cover the surface of the leaf and hamper the overall growth of the plant.

How two Plants React to Air Pollution?

Every plant reacts differently to the environment and environmental changes. Some plants are sensitive to air pollution while others are tolerant. There are different methods to estimate which plant is sensitive and which plant is tolerant to the pollutants. One of such method is called Air Pollution Tolerance Index (APTI). This method is used to categorize plants and trees into different categories on the level of their sensitivity to air pollutants. The plants are that less sensitive to gaseous pollutants are referred as tolerant species. This is a very important study in environmental biology. The plants that are tolerant to polluted air can be used to create a green belt around polluted industrial areas and along the roadside.

Biomonitoring Air Pollution:

Some scientists also use avenue trees to monitor the air pollution level in the locality. This is known as biomonitoring of air pollution. This study is also gaining popularity among environmentalists as it is cost effective and does not require installment of big machines and equipment.

This is a very vast topic to be discussed in a single post. In coming posts, I would be sharing more such interesting facts about plants and their relationship to air pollution. There is so much to be talked about plants and our environment. Let’s understand a different prospective of air pollution. Let’s understand that plants are equally affected by air pollutants like animals.