Peacocks no longer victims of evolution

Peacocks have long been considered the joke of evolution - their trains are glorious, but would get in the way if a leopard suddenly felt hungry. In many a biology class they have served as an example of natural selection favoring reproduction over an individual's survival.

A new study from the University of Leeds has changed our understanding of these birds.

"Intuitively you expect that the train would detrimentally affect flight performance," Dr Askew, one of the lead scientists, said in a press release. "These birds do not seem to be making quite the sacrifices to look attractive we thought they were. These results therefore have broader ramifications for evolutionary biology's understanding of sexual selection."

The train, which can stretch almost 5 feet (1.5 meters), grows during breeding season and then molts off. Considering that they have more than 150 feathers and that each feather weighs about 10.5 ounces (300 grams), it's hard to imagine how the train wouldn't have much of an impact on flight.

But when scientists studied videos of peacocks taking flight with and without the train, they found that peacocks' wing motions, power used to accelerate and center of mass...


Egg-shaped burial pods feed the trees and turn cemeteries into forests

In another twist on green funerals and eco-friendly burials, two Italian designers envision a new way of paying it forward, even after death.

In the attempt to make cemeteries, funerals, and burials greener, many different ideas have been put forth over the last couple of decades, including one which can turn your loved ones into compost, but this concept goes a step further and envisions planting "sacred forests" with the bodies of the deceased serving as fertilizer.

The Capsula Mundi concept, from designers Anna Citelli and Raoul Bretzel, uses an egg-shaped burial pod made from biodegradable starch plastic as the coffin, in which the body is placed in a fetal position and buried under the ground. A tree (or tree seed) is then planted over the top of the pod, which will use the nutrients from the decomposing body as fertilizer for its growth.

Although the Capsula Mundi is still a design concept, not an actual option for those planning for their funerals (in part because of regulations about burials and cemeteries), the designers hope that in the future, this type of burial will be allowed and "memory parks" full of trees will be planted. Instead of cemeteries full of...


Wisconsin Passivhaus combines three movements: green building, tiny house and sustainable living

Sonya Newenhouse practices what she preaches; She founded Madison Environmental, a green consulting firm, and now is putting her name to use by building and selling the NewenHouse, described as "superinsulated, sustainable, small kit homes that are furnace free, even in cold climates." The first NewenHouse was built a few years ago and was certified Passivhaus, German style in 2011.

© Tafline Laylin

Tafline Laylin of Inhabitat toured the house recently and did a slideshow; it's nice to see so many interior shots of what looks like a very comfortable home. It should be, sitting in a tub of 12" of expanded polystyrene foam below grade and surrounded by 16" of cellulose insulation above.

© Newenhouse

Like so many Passivhaus designs, it is simple and boxy. As one reviewer noted, "There are many reasons for this. First, the “cube” nature maximizes the ratio of volume to surface area, creating the most space per square foot of wall (where heat is transferred.) Second, it maximizes construction efficiency, few corners means fewer dollars." It also has the classic big windows facing south to maximize passive solar gain. The polished concrete floor provides the thermal mass to store...



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