January 2021 Newsletter

Monthly Recap & Happenings Around the World

Note from the Author

Happy New Year to all of you wonderful environmental enthusiasts out there! Where I’m at in the midwestern United States, we’ve been getting quite a bit of cold spells and a few sizeable snowfalls since entering 2021. Certainly a good mix of conditions for bundling up with a warm blanket and getting some research done for our latest posts on Prismatic Planet!

If you’re in a similar situation with the cold, I hope you’re staying warm and finding plenty to keep yourself busy. If you’re looking for something to keep your mind moving, I’ve found recently that thinking about two topics and how they intersect is a very helpful way to find something to read up on. It’s the whole premise behind my environmental series, Human Nature, where I look at some aspect of how humanity interacts with the environment. Oftentimes, when I’m feeling like I can’t find anything to write about, I take a step back, think of some random thing humans do, and find a way that intersects with nature. Let me tell you, it’s certainly led to some interesting research topics!

In any case, thank you for checking out the Prismatic Planet project and newsletter! I hope February treats you all especially well. We’ll catch you in the next one :)

~ Jon

~ And, as always, don’t forget to keep wondering ~

New from Prismatic Planet!


Antlered brow of bone

Each turn, time-telling wisdom

Spiraled majesty

Bark smoldered and doused

Snowfall upon hollow mound

Rests its shivered crown

No nobler a hill

The sky yet deems to fit a

Feather to its cap

Points of spiral buds

Each branch meandering to

Crimson-laced fireworks

Educational Topics

Breathing in The Oxygen Cycle

Being humans on Earth, we have an implicit understanding that oxygen is a pretty important thing for our survival.  Oxygen is a necessary part of how our bodies function, taking in breathable air, cycling oxygen through our internal systems, and exhaling carbon dioxide as the waste of that process.  Some of us may even be privy to the fact that plants help play a role in ensuring we're not just breathing out our ultimate demise by taking in our carbon dioxide waste for their own processes and expelling oxygen for us to breathe once more.

This is all a great way to understand that our very livelihood is possible thanks to a well-balanced system.  This system, the oxygen cycle, does get a bit more complex than simply our relationship with terrestrial plants, however.  In fact, what we described above only makes up about half of how oxygen moves around the Earth, and our atmospheric oxygen only makes up about 1% of the oxygen available on the planet.  I know, that was a bit of a surprise to me too!  So let's get started, there's a bit of ground to cover here.

Let’s dive in!

Keep Reading!

Human Nature

Garden Romanticism: A Haven Connecting Worlds

​Close your eyes and imagine yourself in a garden.  What do you see?  

Are you surrounded by towering trees, light peering through the canopy as shadows of leaves dance at your feet?  Are you under a solitary sycamore, grasses swaying in the breeze as clouds race overhead?  Perhaps you are upon a porch overlooking a vast collection of flowers on a light rainy day.

Are you sitting, head level with your surroundings?  Maybe you're standing to see as far as you possibly can.  Or perhaps you're lying on your back, viewing the world from the perspective of the plants themselves.

But most importantly, how do you feel?

Humans have quite a history with gardens and how they can act as a connection to the world around them.  How a garden makes one feel is an integral part of why people take the time to work and maintain these spaces.  While reading, I found that even though humanity's collective approach to gardening does change with time and culture, there is an underlying theme to our desire to garden.

Let's take a little journey together and rediscover the garden.

Keep Reading!

January Eco News

Pigments, Plants, and Pollination

Two new papers this month delve into the evolutionary arms race between plants and insects. Insects use color to find high-quality plants while plants are adapt to this behavior. The insects, in turn, keep changing to keep up. In a way, this co-evolution shows us how much nature values a teamwork-oriented approach to pollination!

The Puzzle of Butterfly Flight

Butterfly wings have long been considered an oddity among flighted species, usually touted for their seemingly inefficient design alongside the butterfly's body. A new study captured that butterflies actually cup their wings during at take-off to gather air and propel themselves forward with much more efficiency than expected. Turns out butterflies make tremendous use of their uniquely large and flexible wings!

A Crunching Good Time

In marine ecosystems where hard-shelled species are abound, predators must make use of a technique called "shell-crushing" to find their meals. This technique is notoriously hard to track in large, mobile animals, but a new study took an audio approach to identifying when this technique is used. Definitely check out the accompanying video to listen in on a whitespotted eagle ray's crunchy mealtime!

Birdsong Symphony

Keeping with the concept of sound, a birdsong researcher and music technologist from Western Australia is creating a suite of music where the bird is the composer! He captures the bird's song and uses it as the melody for music he writes accompaniment for with self-made instruments to complement the unique bird sound. He hopes this cross between humans and nature will bring attention to the need to protect our natural spaces so we can keep enjoying the wonderful sounds of nature.

Rules of (Green) Thumb

Planting trees is an excellent way to combat our climate crisis, but experts at the Kew Botanical Gardens express that not all trees can be planted anywhere. They offer a set of rules to be mindful of when starting and participating in tree-planting projects to help ensure their safety and success. Our planet is a complex and balanced system, and our influence needs to be careful and nuanced in turn.

Thank you for checking out the Prismatic Planet newsletter! For more environmental thoughts and stories, be sure to check out the Prismatic Planet website.

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~ And, as always, don’t forget to keep wondering ~