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Quick Six - September

Carbon reserves in Central American soils still adversely affected by Mayan civilisation deforestation

The Mayan began farming 4,000 years ago and converted native tropical rainforest to agricultural land to feed its growing population. Previous studies have shown how this deforestation contributed to the collapse of the Mayan civilisation, as this led to an inability to cope with drought when it arrived. A new study also shows that the ability of the soil to act as a carbon sink still hasn’t fully recovered after a millennium of reforestation. The researchers measured radiocarbon, an isotype that declines over time, to determine the age of wax molecules, and compared these with that of plant fossils deposited with the sediments. When deforestation began the age difference between the fossils and the plant waxes went from being very large to very small implying that carbon was being stored in the soils for much shorter periods of time. This adds another reason to the long list for protecting old-growth tropical forests.  

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Maple leaf extract could nip skin wrinkles in the bud

While maple trees are usually best known for maple syrup and striking autumn foliage, scientists report an extract from the leaves may prevent wrinkles. Skin elasticity is maintained by proteins such as elastin, and wrinkles form when the elastase enzyme breaks down elastin the skin. Phenolic compounds extracted from the leaves of red maple interact with elastase to block its activity. In prior work these compounds were shown to potentially protect skin from inflammation and lighten dark spots. The fact these extracts are derived from trees would be appreciated by consumers who are looking for natural, plant-based ingredients.

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NZ company XLam uses barbeque to demonstrate fire resistance properties of CLT panels

A New Zealand manufacturer of cross-laminated timber panels, XLam used an innovative approach to show the fire resistance characteristics of mass timber. People were so impressed a Chinese based company made a copycat and posted the images on its own social media account. Various levels of the Chinese government and architects are paying more attention to mass timber as its popularity increases.

Mobile app to identify plant species

Not every child can dream up a smartphone application and see it come to life. But that’s what happened when 8-year-old William Belhumeur suggested his father make an app that identifies plants using visual recognition technology. It helps that his dad Peter Belhumeur is a professor of computer science at the engineering school and director of Columbia’s Laboratory for the Study of Visual Appearance, and has worked on face recognition software since the mid-1990s. Peter teamed up with computer scientist David Jacobs at the University of Maryland and John Kress, research botanist and curator at the Smithsonian Institution, Belhumeur developed LeafSnap, an electronic field guide that is now available on the iPhone and iPad, and on Android phones later this year. It is easy enough for a child to use, but goes well beyond the basics for botanists. Could have done with this when we had plant identification exams at University. Although I don’t think I had a phone then, and I will be interested to see how accurate it is on Eucalypts!

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Forests for the Future Research Seminar Series-Australia

The USC Forest Industries Research Centre (FIRC) and Tropical Forests and People (TFAP) Research Centre coordinate the Forests for the Future Research Seminar Series. As part of the series, USC researchers present their current work. Emphasis is placed on innovative approaches to field research in actively managed forests with industry and communities, and presentations highlight the impact that research is having on practice and policy.

New University of Canterbury building advances multi-storey timber construction

A new four storey building on the science campus contrasts with steel framing typical in these buildings. The patented, tall timber-framing technology which uses laminated veneer lumber (LVL) was developed at UC by Civil and Natural Engineering professors Alessandro Palermo and Stefano Pampanin with support from Emeritus Professor of Timber Design Andy Buchanan. The structure uses timber framing technology called Pres-Lam which is a post tensioned seismic damage resistant system.