Two recent papers and comments + a new data site:
1) Tom Fiddaman on a new Nature paper (doi:10.1038/nature08932) from Eugene Stanley‘s lab on cascading failure in connected networks, that shows that feedbacks between connected networks can destabilize two stable networks.
2) Wired news article Lost Tribes Used Clever Tricks to Turn Amazon Wasteland to Farms by Brandon Keim, who is writing a book on ecological tipping points,describes recent research on newly discovered remains on novel agricultural systems in the coastal Amazon. Its based on a paper by Doyle McKey and others in PNAS – Pre-Columbian agricultural landscapes, ecosystem engineers, and self-organized patchiness in Amazonia (doi:10.1073/pnas.0908925107. The paper is really cool, combing an exploration of ecological memory with historical ecology. From the abstract:
… we show that pre-Columbian farmers of the Guianas coast constructed large raised-field complexes, growing on them crops including maize, manioc, and squash. Farmers created physical and biogeochemical heterogeneity in flat, marshy environments by constructing raised fields. When these fields were later abandoned, the mosaic of well-drained islands in the flooded matrix set in motion self-organizing processes driven by ecosystem engineers (ants, termites, earthworms, and woody plants) that occur preferentially on abandoned raised fields. Today, feedbacks generated by these ecosystem engineers maintain the human-initiated concentration of resources in these structures. Engineer organisms transport materials to abandoned raised fields and modify the structure and composition of their soils, reducing erodibility. The profound alteration of ecosystem functioning in these landscapes coconstructed by humans and nature has important implications for understanding Amazonian history and biodiversity. Furthermore, these landscapes show how sustainability of food-production systems can be enhanced by engineering into them fallows that maintain ecosystem services and biodiversity. Like anthropogenic dark earths in forested Amazonia, these self-organizing ecosystems illustrate the ecological complexity of the legacy of pre-Columbian land use.
3) The World Bank has launched a new web site: data.worldbank.org to provide free access to development data. Their data catalog provides access to over 2,000 indicators from World Bank data.