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Earth Science

Acorns Disappear Across the Country 474

Posted by kdawson
from the curiouser-and-curiouser dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Botanist Rod Simmons thought he was going crazy when couldn't find any acorns near his home in Arlington County, Virginia. 'I'm used to seeing so many acorns around and out in the field, it's something I just didn't believe,' said Simmons. Then calls started coming in about crazy squirrels. Starving, skinny squirrels eating garbage, inhaling bird feed, greedily demolishing pumpkins. Squirrels boldly scampering into the road. And a lot more calls about squirrel roadkill. Simmons and Naturalist Greg Zell began to do some research and found Internet discussion groups, including one on Topix called 'No acorns this year,' reporting the same thing from as far away as the Midwest up through New England and Nova Scotia. 'We live in Glenwood Landing, N.Y., and don't have any acorns this year. Really weird,' wrote one. 'None in Kansas either! Curiouser and curiouser.' The absence of acorns could have something to do with the weather and Simmons has a theory about the wet and dry cycles. But many skeptics say oaks in other regions are producing plenty of acorns, and the acorn bust is nothing more than the extreme of a natural boom-and-bust cycle. But the bottom line is that no one really knows. 'It's sort of a mystery,' Zell said."
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Acorns Disappear Across the Country

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  • Let me guess... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by daveschroeder (516195) * on Monday December 01, 2008 @09:12AM (#25942699)

    ...to what the majority of comments to this article will be related, given the delicious quotes like this in the article:'

    "I'm used to seeing so many acorns around and out in the field, it's something I just didn't believe. [...] But this is not just not a good year for oaks. It's a zero year. There's zero production. I've never seen anything like this before."

    [...]

    The absence of acorns could have something to do with the weather, Simmons thought. But he hoped it wasn't a climatic event. "Let's hope it's not something ghastly going on with the natural world."

    [...]

    "This is the first time I can remember in my lifetime not seeing any acorns drop in the fall and I'm 53. You have to wonder, is it global warming? Is it environmental? It makes you wonder what's going on."

    Of course, these will be ignored on page two of the story:

    Whatever the reason for no acorns, foresters and botanists are paying attention.

    But they say they're not worried yet. "What's there to worry about?" said Alan Whittemire, a botanist at the U.S. Arboretum. "If you're a squirrel, it's a big worry. But it's no problem for the oak tree. They live a long time. They'll produce acorns again when they're ready to."

    White oaks can live as long as 300 years. Faster-growing red oaks can reach 200. And it takes only one acorn to make a tree, he said, which in an urban area with little open space is often more than enough.

    "This is probably just a low year, a biological event, and it'll go away," Zimmer said. "But if this were to continue another two, three, four years, you might have to ask yourself what's going on, whether it is an indication of something bigger."

    I know it's not a popular sentiment here, but Beware the church of climate alarm [smh.com.au].

    [P]erhaps people are starting to wonder whether the so-called precautionary principle, which would have us accept enormous new taxes in the guise of an emissions trading scheme and curtail economic growth, is justified, based on what we actually know about climate.

    One of Australia's leading enviro-sceptics, the geologist and University of Adelaide professor Ian Plimer, 62, says he has noticed audiences becoming more receptive to his message that climate change has always occurred and there is nothing we can do to stop it.

    In a speech at the American Club in Sydney on Monday night for Quadrant magazine, titled Human-Induced Climate Change - A Lot Of Hot Air, Plimer debunked climate-change myths.

    "Climates always change," he said. Our climate has changed in cycles over millions of years, as the orbit of the planet wobbles and our distance from the sun changes, for instance, or as the sun itself produces variable amounts of radiation. "All of this affects climate. It is impossible to stop climate change. Climates have always changed and they always will.

    His two-hour presentation included more than 50 charts and graphs, as well as almost 40 pages of references. It is the basis of his new book, Heaven And Earth: The Missing Science Of Global Warming, to be published early next year.

    Plimer said one of the charts, which plots atmospheric carbon dioxide and temperature over 500 million years, with seemingly little correlation, demonstrates one of the "lessons from history" to which geologists are privy: "There is no relationship between CO2 and temperature."

    [...]

    Plimer says creationists and climate alarmists are quite similar in that "we're dealing with dogma and people who, when challenged, become quite vicious and irrational".

    Human-caused climate change is being "promoted with religious zeal ... there are fundamentalist organisations which will do anything to silence critics. They have their holy books, their prophet [is] Al Gore. And they are promoting a story which is frightening us witless [using] guilt [and urging

    • by wisty (1335733) on Monday December 01, 2008 @09:18AM (#25942765)

      Or maybe the squirrels had banked them in citi?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 01, 2008 @09:25AM (#25942847)

      Big Acorn needs a bailout.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by MaggieL (10193)

        They tried to put a lot of money for ACORN in the bailout, but the Republicans stopped them. Considering that a lot of the crap mortgages are ACORN's fault, it's only fair...

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Although I tend to side with the thesis of anthropogenic climate change I agree that there are too many alarmists who will draw an instant connection between occurances such as this and "global warming".

      That said, I would have hoped that you could dig up some better references to support your post; Miranda Divine is an ignoarmus and Kieth Windshuttle has only slightly more credibility than David Irving.

      ...to what the majority of comments to this article will be related, given the delicious quotes like this in the article:'

      "I'm used to seeing so many acorns around and out in the field, it's something I just didn't believe. [...] But this is not just not a good year for oaks. It's a zero year. There's zero production. I've never seen anything like this before."

      [...]

      The absence of acorns could have something to do with the weather, Simmons thought. But he hoped it wasn't a climatic event. "Let's hope it's not something ghastly going on with the natural world."

      [...]

      "This is the first time I can remember in my lifetime not seeing any acorns drop in the fall and I'm 53. You have to wonder, is it global warming? Is it environmental? It makes you wonder what's going on."

      Of course, these will be ignored on page two of the story:

      Whatever the reason for no acorns, foresters and botanists are paying attention.

      But they say they're not worried yet. "What's there to worry about?" said Alan Whittemire, a botanist at the U.S. Arboretum. "If you're a squirrel, it's a big worry. But it's no problem for the oak tree. They live a long time. They'll produce acorns again when they're ready to."

      White oaks can live as long as 300 years. Faster-growing red oaks can reach 200. And it takes only one acorn to make a tree, he said, which in an urban area with little open space is often more than enough.

      "This is probably just a low year, a biological event, and it'll go away," Zimmer said. "But if this were to continue another two, three, four years, you might have to ask yourself what's going on, whether it is an indication of something bigger."

      I know it's not a popular sentiment here, but Beware the church of climate alarm [smh.com.au].

      [P]erhaps people are starting to wonder whether the so-called precautionary principle, which would have us accept enormous new taxes in the guise of an emissions trading scheme and curtail economic growth, is justified, based on what we actually know about climate.

      One of Australia's leading enviro-sceptics, the geologist and University of Adelaide professor Ian Plimer, 62, says he has noticed audiences becoming more receptive to his message that climate change has always occurred and there is nothing we can do to stop it.

      In a speech at the American Club in Sydney on Monday night for Quadrant magazine, titled Human-Induced Climate Change - A Lot Of Hot Air, Plimer debunked climate-change myths.

      "Climates always change," he said. Our climate has changed in cycles over millions of years, as the orbit of the planet wobbles and our distance from the sun changes, for instance, or as the sun itself produces variable amounts of radiation. "All of this affects climate. It is impossible to stop climate change. Climates have always changed and they always will.

      His two-hour presentation included more than 50 charts and graphs, as well as almost 40 pages of references. It is the basis of his new book, Heaven And Earth: The Missing Science Of Global Warming, to be published early next year.

      Plimer said one of the charts, which plots atmospheric carbon dioxide and temperature over 500 million years, with seemingly little correlation, demonstrates one of the "lessons from history" to which geologists are privy: "There is no relationship between CO2 and temperature."

      [...]

      Plimer says creationists and climate alarmists are quite similar in that "we're dealing with dogma and people who, when challenged, become quite vicious and irrational".

      Human-caused climate change is being "promoted with religious zeal ... there are fundamentalist organisations which will do anything to silence critics. They have their holy books, their prophet [is] Al Gore. And they are promoting a story which is frightening us witless [using] guilt [and urging] penance."

      It is difficult for non-scientists to engage in the debate over what causes climate change and whether or not it can be stopped by new taxes and slower growth, because dissenting voices are shouted down by true believers in the scientific community who claim they alone have the authority to speak.

      Quadrant is under fire for publishing articles by sceptics but, as its editor, Keith Windschuttle, said on Monday night, "People who are really confident [of their facts] relish debate."

      Maybe -- and I know it's a fool's hope -- the comments on this article can actually include speculation on what may be occurring beyond climate change alarmism?

      However, I expect that "vicious and irrational" will win out.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by daveschroeder (516195) *

        That said, I would have hoped that you could dig up some better references to support your post; Miranda Divine is an ignoarmus and Kieth Windshuttle has only slightly more credibility than David Irving.

        It was more just that it was a very recent article (November 27, 2008) from a major media outlet, and very on point.

        It's the content of the article that matters, no matter who the author; "People who are really confident [of their facts] relish debate," is still true no matter whence it comes.

        • Re:Let me guess... (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Enter the Shoggoth (1362079) on Monday December 01, 2008 @09:44AM (#25943069)

          Au contraire, in an ideal world, or a close approximation (say a fully refereed journal) content can stand alone, but in any journalist outlet (especially from a so called "think tank") the content tends to be selective at best and is often down right fraudulent, now I admit that I haven't read the particular issue of Quadrant to which you refer but the journal definately sits in the former category and until I can see a fully referenced and sighted article from Mr. Windshuttle then I'm afraid his past transgressions will continue to weigh heavily.

          And as for Ms. Divine, an article written by an actual journalist from the SMH could fairly be described as originating from a major media outlet, but her piece is an Editorial comment placed in the paper to stir the pot from the right, just as say a Philip Adams editorial will stir from the left, I quite enjoy Mr Adams' rantings, but I admit the fact that it is an editorial opinion and cannot be fairly called journlism

          That said, I would have hoped that you could dig up some better references to support your post; Miranda Divine is an ignoarmus and Kieth Windshuttle has only slightly more credibility than David Irving.

          It was more just that it was a very recent article (November 27, 2008) from a major media outlet, and very on point.

          It's the content of the article that matters, no matter who the author; "People who are really confident [of their facts] relish debate," is still true no matter whence it comes.

        • Re:Let me guess... (Score:4, Insightful)

          by famebait (450028) on Monday December 01, 2008 @11:12AM (#25944305)

          It's the content of the article that matters, no
          matter who the author;

          Yes, but if the content incorporates more than facts widely known to be previously proven, and clear and verifiable logic building on those, evaluating the content is very far from trivial.

          If you are unable to, or cannot be expected to, do a thorough vetting of all remaining claims in the content, then you are in reality really also being asked to _believe_ the author's claims of knowledge, and to _trust_ his judgement in handling it.

          For that, reputation and past transgressions do indeed matter rather a lot.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by instarx (615765)

            Yes, but if the content incorporates more than facts widely known to be previously proven, and clear and verifiable logic building on those, evaluating the content is very far from trivial. [emphasis mine]

            The politically-driven global warming "skeptics" rely on the difficulty of verifying their claims. I recently spent most of a day chasing down and reading original scientific papers that had been cited as references on a professional-looking anti-global warming site. Without exception the papers did not reach the anti-warming conclusions the site claimed they reached. In at least one instance the paper came to the exact opposite conclusion and stated it very plainly in its conclusions section. Yet it was

        • Re:Let me guess... (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Ambitwistor (1041236) on Monday December 01, 2008 @11:36AM (#25944817)

          If you think climate scientists don't relish debate, you obviously haven't been to a scientific conference.

          What they relish, however, is honest debate by an informed opponent. As opposed to 95% of the so-called "skeptics" out there — like Plimer — who do little but repeat long-discredited misleading or wrong arguments. It's pretty much the same as the evolution-creation "debate". Evolutionary biologists argue all the time about evolutionary theory — witness the whole gradualism vs. punctuated equilibrium debate. But that doesn't mean they relish correcting creationist wackaloons, again and again, every time they drag out the same bad arguments. Bypassing the whole scientific debate in the first place by going straight to the media. The reason why creationists don't engage in real scientific debate is because their arguments are so poor they can't get published. Of course, they then cry that the orthodox gatekeepers are "silencing" them. Pretty much like most of the climate skeptics. There is legitimate scientific debate about, say, whether the equilibrium climate sensitivity to CO2 is closer to the lower or the upper end of the IPCC range. But you hardly ever see any of the real debate. Instead, you see the ridiculously wrong claims like "the geologic record proves that temperature is unrelated to CO2" or "all the global warming is an artifact of urban heat island contamination". It's a shame.

      • by wisty (1335733)

        Kieth Windshuttle has plenty of credibility. You don't have to agree with his interpretations, but he got the facts right. The reason he is so deeply unpopular with mainstream Australian historians is that he actually checked the facts, and found that most historians had gotten them wrong. He wasn't gracious about it either. I guess a lot of historians these days value a "correct" interpretation, over "correct" facts though.

      • Re:Let me guess... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by nahdude812 (88157) * on Monday December 01, 2008 @12:09PM (#25945575) Homepage

        I emailed my mom who lives in Pennsylvania (which was mentioned in the article), and who owns 5 acres of oak trees (terrible for raking in the fall - these leaves decay very slowly and lay very flat - each missed leaf is a dead bit of grass come the spring). She also lives on the edge of ~100 acres of forest composed largely of oak.

        Yes, we have lots of acorns - acorns are on a two-year cycle. It takes two years for an acorn to mature; so one year there are lots and the next year there are not very many. Our trees are not synchronized with each other, so we have pretty many acorns every year.

        The cicadas this year ate the tender tips of a lot of oak trees - that is where the acorns form.

        BUT the oak trees are in trouble. There is a disease called "Sudden Oak Death" that is doing a lot of damage and we have lost at least seven trees in our yard.

        She's a zoologist and not a botanist, though botany is a bit of a hobby of hers. This explanation sounds as plausible as any other, and more plausible than most.

        So I think that alarmism about this is overboard until there's more information. That said though, environmental concern under the guise of global warming is overall a good thing - it's causing people to pay attention to the impact of their actions on the world.

        Just like most main stream causes, the only way to maintain the public attention the cause requires is to either federally mandate the attention, or to engage in a lot of alarmism. The only way to get the federal mandate is to convince politicians that doing so is in their political career's best interest, so you need to engage the public with... alarmism.

    • Re:Let me guess... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Samschnooks (1415697) on Monday December 01, 2008 @09:37AM (#25942975)

      ...the comments on this article can actually include speculation on what may be occurring beyond climate change alarmism?

      That's the thing that kind of bugs me is that Global Climate change gets all of the attention at the expense, it seems, over other issues. For example, coal fired power plants. The argument usually boils down to green house gases and maybe air quality. But the issue of coal burning releasing mercury into the environment (why do you think predator fish are contaminated with the stuff?) is hardly ever brought up and if it is, it's just ignored.

      Unfortunately, global climate change has become a very politically polarizing issue and it drowns out any sort of rational discourse. Which means, regardless of what needs to be done, it won't get done because folks will spend all their time digging their heals in to be "right".

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by OriginalArlen (726444)

        That's the thing that kind of bugs me is that Global Climate change gets all of the attention at the expense, it seems, over other issues. For example, coal fired power plants.

        Coal-fired power-stations DO contribute to global warming. The down-wind mercury levels, whilst elevated, aren't high enough cause the well-known chronic toxity effects (google 'minimata' for the gory details), but they could (collectively) lead to TEOCAWKI. Which would be bad.

      • But the issue of coal burning releasing mercury into the environment (why do you think predator fish are contaminated with the stuff?) is hardly ever brought up and if it is, it's just ignored.

        Actually, it isn't [environmentmaine.org] ignored. You'll notice in that reference that the new Bush administration rules were struck down. That's hardly a surprise though, it seems like most everything they try to pass gets struck down.

    • Re:Let me guess... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 01, 2008 @09:38AM (#25942993)

      "However, I expect that "vicious and irrational" will win out."

      Duh. You've already built the strawman you've outwitted.

      It's idgits like you that poison the discussion by defining it as a contest between alarmists and anit-alarmists.

      get bent.

    • Maybe -- and I know it's a fool's hope -- the comments on this article can actually include speculation on what may be occurring beyond climate change alarmism?

      Actually, they should include "are the acorns even really disappearing?", which is the correct response to someone who questions accepted science.

      Throw in a reference to the "hyrocarbon cycle" and you'll be all set.

    • by Reality Master 201 (578873) on Monday December 01, 2008 @10:05AM (#25943317) Journal

      About your apparent need to deny, out of hand, even a remote possibility that this or any other event is linked to anthropogenic climate change.

      You appear to have decided a priori how things are, and seem to go into an intellectual panic when something comes up that challenges you understanding of thing. You're just as bad as you claim the global warming "alarmists" to be, worse perhaps. You're willing to cling to what a tiny fraction of people have to say about the topic because it suits what you want to hear.

    • by elrous0 (869638) *
      If it's one thing I've realized in years of working with a lot of freaky non-profits, it's that the only people on this planet more consistently and radically pessimistic than millennialist religious leaders and farmers are environmentalists. And all three believe with equal fervor that the world is about to end and the sky will fall anytime.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 01, 2008 @10:16AM (#25943429)

      Every so many years the Oak Trees cut off production of acorns. It has been documented and studied somewhat. I remember reading a scientific article about it in my bio class. The thinking is that there is a codependent relationship between Oak trees and squirrels. The oak trees depend on squirrels for new oak trees (squirrels disperse and plant seeds and forget where some of them are) and the squirrels depend largely on the acorns for food. the Acorn production increases year to year, creating a population increase for the squirrels. (stable food = more babies, more babies that survive) This goes on until there is a population boom of squirrels. At about this time the oak trees halt acorn production, producing a mass die off of squirrels. From the human point of view this seems highly ungrateful of the oak tree. After all the squirrels are busy helping the trees reproduce and now the trees repay the squirrels by making them starve. But the thinking is that if the oak trees didn't do this the squirrel population would reach an equilibrium with the oak tree population's acorn production. Each and every (or nearly every) acorn would get eaten, and next to none of the acorns would result in new oak trees. This local population of oak trees would die out. So it is only the oak trees that are "underhanded" that survive and make new trees. It shouldn't be hard to find more information on this; probably under ecology literature.

      • by tbo (35008) on Monday December 01, 2008 @12:09PM (#25945573) Journal

        The AC is right. In grad school, my wife studied population genetics of coast live oak (quercus agrifolia), and she saw the same boom-and-bust cycles of acorn production. The boom years are known as "mast" years--not sure what the bust years are called.

        This is just a normal cycle, and, as usual, the media's reporting of science is atrocious.

        • by rve (4436) on Monday December 01, 2008 @04:56PM (#25951099)

          So I'm not the only geek in the world who takes an interest in trees after all?

          I knew about mast years, and the following meagre years. This is a common adaptation to predation pressure or parasites. An extreme example of this are cicadas; predators don't live long enough for their population cycle to become synchronized with that of the cicada.

          I'm curious what the synchronization mechanism could be. In my area (north western Europe), last year was a mast year ... for beeches, chestnuts and all four species of oak growing in my area. This fall I found only a handfull of chestnuts, no beech nuts and hardly any acorns.

          While hiking in North Carolina this fall, I didn't see a lot of acorn remains either, but I attributed that to having been a bit late in the season.

          I'm surprised and intrigued that the phenomenon appears coincided on both sides of the Atlantic this year. Are the cycles synchronized via some global (solar?) external trigger, or is this just coincidence? I always assumed it must be the weather, but that isn't even remotely similar on both sides of the Atlantic.

    • This likely has nothing at all to do with climate change, but there's always some moron trying to connect every "abnormal" occurrence with it. Regardless, the fact that there are climate change Chicken Littles doesn't prove or disprove the existence of climate change any more than the fact that there are hypochondriacs proves or disproves the existence of cancer or autism.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Ambitwistor (1041236)

      I agree that no one should be jumping to attribute this particular event to climate change. Climate change is generally slow, and something that abruptly shows up in a particular year probably isn't climate related. If the acorns have been gradually disappearing over the past few decades, that would be another matter.

      That being said, most of what Plimer says about climate change is misleading at best, and dishonest nonsense at worst. (But it sure does sell books, doesn't it?) Climate change is real and

  • Anecdotal data point (Score:5, Informative)

    by Muad'Dave (255648) on Monday December 01, 2008 @09:16AM (#25942739) Homepage
    Here in the Hanover county north of Richmond Va, we had an early and massive acorn crop. It would be interesting to correlate some weather phenomenon to acorns (long drought in late summer = early crop, very wet spring = huge crop, etc).
    • Seems like there are plenty of acorns here.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jav1231 (539129)
      The problem is a lone observer in a single locale can muster up a climate scare like this and apparently get attention. Here in my area we too saw a large crop of at least the large variety of acorns. These are the kinds of things that we'll find Al Gore referencing if we're not careful.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by StrawberryFrog (67065)

        Here in my area we too saw a large crop of at least the large variety of acorns.

        And a lone observer like you can dismiss it with an anecdote. Which is why people have to compare notes across wide areas ... which is pretty much what they're doing, if you read the article.

        These are the kinds of things that we'll find Al Gore referencing if we're not careful.

        Oh look, I just fed a troll.

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          Oh look, I just fed a troll.

          Like rats, they can live on garbage. You have to be careful not to try to drop a banana peel in their path, because it only makes them stronger. And by stronger, I mean more stupid.

  • In Boston 2 years ago we were walkign on acorns, last year was a lower year, this year barely an acorn can be found. makes walking a bit safer :)

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Hao Wu (652581)
      Same thing happens with hickory nuts.

      I can't believe how a little farmers' knowledge sends today's kids into desperate panic.

      These editors think they are smart because they can program, yet a little thing like this requires PhD climatology research to explain to them. (And some sort of political action no doubt.)
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by jcnnghm (538570)

      Having just walked across my patio barefoot yesterday, I can confirm that there are plenty of acorns in Maryland.

  • Weird... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by $1uck (710826) on Monday December 01, 2008 @09:19AM (#25942775)

    I remember one year growing up the Oaks in my backyard didn't produce any acorns, instead they produced these strange green globes that were soft almost like a grape except more spherical and speckled. When I split one open there was something akin to what cotton wood trees put out or dandylions, a soft fluffy thing. I wonder if the Oaks have a secondary seed production mechanism? Is that what I saw? that was probably 20 years or more ago so the memory is a little hazy. I wonder if the oaks are producing those things? or nothing at all.

  • by PinkyDead (862370) on Monday December 01, 2008 @09:20AM (#25942777) Journal

    This really puts a causality twist on that old chestnut.

  • Nothing new (Score:5, Interesting)

    by paiute (550198) on Monday December 01, 2008 @09:20AM (#25942779)

    I have noticed this cycle in the Boston area over the last 20 years. The squirrel population will follow the acorn yield. Some years there are very few squirrels about, and the chipmunk population seems to boom. Then the squirrels will have a great year and have too many little ones. Some of the babies will end up on the ground, pushed out by the others.

    Don't let your kids adopt them or talk you into taking them to a wildlife shelter. Believe me. All you have to do is put them back into a tree in a basket. The mommy squirrel will come find them and take them home by the scruff like a kitten.

  • These sort of things go in cycles. This year was insane for the maple tree seeds (whirlybirds), they were everywhere in the midwest and Pa. Much heavier crop than usual. I know, I had to clean my gutters.

    So if we had a heavy whirlybird crop, then we could just as easily have a light acorn crop that the squirrels gobbled up. Or it's aliens, one of the two...

    Sheldon

  • Weighty (Score:3, Funny)

    by symes (835608) on Monday December 01, 2008 @09:22AM (#25942797) Journal
    I bet they'll find a couple of really greedy overweight squirrels up in them woods.
  • by Lumpy (12016) on Monday December 01, 2008 @09:22AM (#25942799) Homepage

    I had what felt like a metric ton in my yard this year.

    All over my state we have the typical ton of acorns.. Some are freaking huge compared to previous years.

    • I live in the southeastern USA and have more oak trees in my yard than I would like. I hate them with a passion, but that's another story. I have not noticed any difference in the number of acorns in my yard over previous years and they seem to be the same size as normal. Maybe this botanist is just observing some sort of local phenomena.
  • Acorn boom (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ericferris (1087061) on Monday December 01, 2008 @09:23AM (#25942821) Homepage

    For the record, there was an acorn boom a couple of years ago that was responsible for an increase of Lyme disease. Apparently, when you get more acorn, you get more ticks the next season.

  • by Crock23A (1124275) on Monday December 01, 2008 @09:24AM (#25942835)
    Every Autumn, my brothers and I get into a nice acorn fight at Grandma's house in North Jersey. There was no shortage of ammunition this year.
  • Seems to be the same distribution as in years past in Georgia and South Carolina (visited in-laws in South Cack-o-lacky for the holidays...)

  • I have acorns. Actually, depending on the type of oak tree, there are certain years when the trees do not produce acorns as expected. If you have several species that are not producing all at once, then you have an acorn famine. If you have the same problem next year, then we've got a problem.

  • by mr_lizard13 (882373) on Monday December 01, 2008 @09:33AM (#25942943)
    this guy's got em all

    http://www.old-computers.com/club/collectors/ordis.asp?c=3664 [old-computers.com]
  • Remember all those adverts with an acorn that grows into an oak tree and some voice over about safe investments that flourish?

    Yes folks it turns out the banks really were just investing money in acorns and have now created an "acorn bubble" which has driven all of the squirrels into poverty.

    Simple explanation really.

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Yes folks it turns out the banks really were just investing money in acorns and have now created an "acorn bubble" which has driven all of the squirrels into poverty.

      My understanding is that the squirrels are starving because we're making their primary food source (the acorns) into biofuel, which also accounts for the scarcity. Acorn-based ethanol, coming to a pump near you.

  • We had noticed that squirrels had eaten into almost every pumpkin put out on steps in my area and were stumped as to why we hadn't ever seen it before. This is an explanation.

  • Acorn is a long-forgotten, but actually tremendously influential company. Had Acorn not made the Acorn Electron [wikipedia.org], and subsequently the BBC Micro [wikipedia.org], I'm sure British IT would not be what it is today. Oh wait... this article is about a nut. Silly me, I thought I was on Slashdot.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Ciarang (967337)
      You've got your subsequently backwards. The BBC Micro came first - the Electron was a cut-down budget version.
  • by bhunachchicken (834243) on Monday December 01, 2008 @09:43AM (#25943059) Homepage

    Panic when the dolphins decide its time to leave.

  • We had them ankle deep in our yard, our squirrels are fat lazy and happy.

  • Tons of acorns in rural Indiana. Couldn't walk a step in the brush without crushing a few dozen.
  • by samwichse (1056268) on Monday December 01, 2008 @09:48AM (#25943125)

    There are really two groups of oaks: the red and the white oaks.

    The white oaks are generally preferred by most small animals (and deer!), as their acorns are lower in tannins and produced much more regularly (a good crop approximately every other year, and less difference between a good year and a bad year).

    Red oaks have a less palatable acorn and can go up to 7 years between heavy mast years (with up to a 135x difference between a bad and a good year).

    Oddly, with all the research done on the topic, there's little that can be done to predict a future crop, as cyclic production varies so widely and seems dependant on such a myriad of factors. In areas heavily dominated by oaks, we still even have to "wait and see" for a harvest... otherwise it's a game of roulette, and you might have such poor production you don't get a forest of oak back at all (but red maple is a whole other can of worms).

    Sam

  • Feel free to come pick them up (along with all the ()*#!@!@ squirrels).

  • leading to completely spurious hypotheses

    let me throw my hat in the ring with an equally valid conclusion by saying COULD IT BE BATMAN?!

  • I'd blame Secret Squirrel
  • Complete BS. I live in the DC area too. Front of my yard was covered in acorns from just one 30' tree. The squirrels were having a field day. So were the deer.

  • They are probably off celibrating the voting win. Give them a few days and things will be back to normal. [lvrj.com]
  • I live in the Fairfax area of NoVA, and while I haven't seen the massive piles of acorns like last year, there's no shortage of squirrels running around....And they all look large, bushy-tailed, and energetic.

  • by erikdalen (99500) <erik.dalen@mensa.se> on Monday December 01, 2008 @10:00AM (#25943267) Homepage

    I haven't seen them in a while either. But my first thought was these:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acorn_Computers [wikipedia.org]

  • by AdmiralXyz (1378985) on Monday December 01, 2008 @10:01AM (#25943281)
    This sounds like the beginning of an M. Night Shyamalan movie.
  • I'm in an inner ring suburb of Minneapolis, and I have 4 white oaks in my yard. A couple of these hang over my story and a half home, and every fall my wife and I are used to hearing them drop on our roof at night, tumble down the slope and then *tink* hit the gutter. It keeps you up some nights. Ever since we bought the house 5 years ago I've had to collect all these off the patio and out of the gutters.

    This year -- Zero. Not a one.

  • by hey! (33014) on Monday December 01, 2008 @10:17AM (#25943433) Homepage Journal

    I chose trees as my area of natural science geekdom, because I couldn't stand those snotty birders who take a glance at a streak through the trees that an ordinary mortal couldn't narrow down to "bird" then say something like, "Ah, a Stimpson's downy breasted tit." Trees stand still long enough to put an identification to an objective test.

    Oak species often display yearly variations in acorn production. This may be helpful in that you want surplus acorns from the point of view of squirrels; producing lots of acorns every year means you get lots of squirrels. Producing a bumper crop every three or four years and a small crop otherwise maximizes the number of surplus acorns you make.

    I've heard some say that White Oaks (with smoothly rounded leaf lobes) have three to four year cycles and Red Oaks (with pointy veins that stick out past the end of the leaf lobes) are acyclic. I've also heard the opposite, that White Oaks produce acorns every year and Red Oaks have longer cycles of five or even six years. My own experience is that the White Oaks I know produce bumper crops ever several years, and the Red Oaks seem to produce reliably every year. However, individual trees often vary considerably from the normal habit of their species. In my experience the yearly variations in the Red Oaks I know are small, and the acorns produced are always extremely bitter, however some Red Oaks seem to produce acorns like White Oaks: sweet, and in bumper crops.

    That said, the Red Oaks in my yard have for the last fourteen years produced healthy crops of extremely bitter acorns every year. I've lived in this house fifteen years and every year, like clockwork, there has been a night in early November where I've woken up to a continual refrain of "pok-pok-pok-tumble", as the oaks shed the bulk of their acorns in one day.

    It didn't happen this year. This article made me go out an look, and the tree is completely bare and there is very little acorn debris around the tree or the gutters.

    Weird.

    Still, the Northern Red Oak species is reported by some as having long annual crop cycles, and nobody really knows what might trigger a good or bad year. It stands to reason that trees in an area ought to have some kind of climatic trigger for coordinating their production variations. Otherwise, the winner would be a tree that produces lots of acorns every year.

    This could be a situation where a meme gains steam because somebody reports a mysterious lack of acorns, and then others (like me) run out and look at their tree and say, "good lord, there aren't any acorns." Chance are if we'd been paying attention, we'd have noticed that there is occasionally a year in which the trees don't produce many acorns.

    It's still a weird feeling, though, to read this story and realize that my trees produced hardly any acorns this year.

    If this is real, it may be trees responding to a common climatic cue, a cue which is not necessarily a sign of a widespread disaster (unless you are a squirrel). I'd hypothesize that they ought to have some kind of cue that helps keep the squirrel population in check.

  • Since Arlington is only 15 minutes from here, I have to wonder what they're doing down there... there are plenty of acorns here in McLean, VA. For that matter, the squirrels have been highly active in this area, and I see them burying acorns all the time. Maybe they've stolen them all from Arlington?

  • It's a plot (Score:4, Insightful)

    by confused one (671304) on Monday December 01, 2008 @10:22AM (#25943509)
    It's part of a plot developed by the squirrels. They want us to feel sorry for them, feed them, and invite them into our homes. They've become jealous of what the dogs and cats have, and they want in...
  • They all came here (Score:3, Interesting)

    by alta (1263) on Monday December 01, 2008 @10:43AM (#25943799) Homepage Journal
    I don't know about where you guys are at, but we are having exactly the opposite problem. I'm in Mobile, Alabama, and I have heard MANY people comment on the HUGE amount of acorns we are getting this year. My wife and I tried to sit on the deck yesterday and watch the kids play, but every time a kid came buy we would get pelted. I raked the yard and after I was done, I had about 30lbs of acorns I had to get up with a shovel. I have noticed fewer squirrels around though.
  • Outside of Raleigh, NC they had a bumper crop this year. easily 2 to 4 times the normal level. Enough that it came up in casual conversation a number of times.

    In MD, the maple trees produced a lot more seeds than normal this year.

  • by 2gravey (959785)
    Really weird. We have about 15 oak trees on our lot in Nashua, NH and we had noticed the complete absence of acorns this year as well.
  • Come to my house (Score:3, Informative)

    by beavis88 (25983) on Monday December 01, 2008 @10:54AM (#25943967)

    We've got a bumper crop of acorns this year. I've never seen anything like it - my front yard is almost literally paved with acorn bits and pieces now. And we're less than 200 miles from the supposed VA dead zone in the article...

  • by Electric Eye (5518) on Monday December 01, 2008 @11:15AM (#25944373)

    I think a lot of these problems stem back to the ridiculously warm weather we had late last January. It was in the 60s and 70's for nearly a week. Fucked up a lot of my plants and killed many of them once it returned to normal cold a week or so later. I've talked to several people who've had similar problems this year with various plants likely due to that warm spell.

  • by Deputy Doodah (745441) on Monday December 01, 2008 @11:21AM (#25944515)
    It's no mystery.
    There's a bumper crop of acorns on my property this year and last year there were almost none.

    Why? Last year we had a late freeze followed by a drought.
    The volume of mast crop always varies, but during bad years there's very little production. The people screaming and hollering about it need to go outside more.

    So this educated fool has a "theory" about wet and dry cycles, does he? Any rube farmer or hunter out there can tell you that the mast crop is directly related to wet and dry cycles. Any botanist who doesn't know that already shouldn't be able to call himself one.

    I guess it's much less fun to understand the workings of nature than it is to lay the blame on a favorite political cause.
  • Squirrels: (Score:5, Funny)

    by ciderVisor (1318765) on Monday December 01, 2008 @11:23AM (#25944553)
    Squirrels are just rats with good PR.
  • by Elder Lazarus (1033500) on Monday December 01, 2008 @12:11PM (#25945621)

    "LONG-TERM PATTERNS OF ACORN PRODUCTION FOR FIVE OAK SPECIES IN XERIC FLORIDA UPLANDS"

    Study of acorn production across several species in FL from 1969 to 1996 http://www.esajournals.org/doi/abs/10.1890/01-0707 [esajournals.org]

    From the abstract: We identified regular cycles of acorn production ... and found evidence that annual acorn production is affected by the interactions of precipitation, which is highly variable ..., with endogenous reproductive patterns. In contrast, acorn production showed no significant association with minimum winter temperatures.

  • No Pecans Either (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ranger (1783) on Monday December 01, 2008 @01:06PM (#25946853) Homepage
    Here in Tulsa, none of the pecan trees in our backyard produced any pecans this year, though we had a bumper crop last year. They were big enough to be edible. I collected about 20 pounds but could have collected a lot more. The park near our house used to be a pecan orchard and it too has no pecans this year. I don't know why. I suspected it was because of the terrible ice storm we had last year [google.com] damaging the trees, but someone told me that sometimes after a bumper crop they don't produce.

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