29 March 2012

Pythons: flat snakes have a well-rounded diet

You are what you eat and this applies to snakes as well as people. We have just been through student orientation and as I cycle around the streets of Lincoln I could make a study on the diet of students by what they leave behind. Empty pizza boxes and beer bottles lie about and occasional patches of vomit tell a sorry tale of drinking and eating diced carrots. In much the same way, and far more interesting, we can find out about more exotic species than Homo studentis by looking at their detritus of eating. Tropical pythons, such as the scrub (Morelia kinghorni) and carpet (Morelia spilota) species, are spectacular species of snakes that live in Northern Queensland in the wet tropics. For various reasons (most to do with the fact that they are Big Giant Snakes - M kinghorni can reach 8 m and M spilota, while suffering from small python syndrome, still reaches 2.5 m) these species are little studied and this includes their diet. Given that diet is an essential component of a species ecology this is an important oversight.


Jennifer Fill (University of South Carolina, pictured with a roadkill carpet python), Alastair Freeman (Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service and former Lincoln University postgraduate and ecology technician) and Tim Curran (Lincoln University) along with several undergraduate students at the School for Field Studies in Queensland have investigated the diet of the scrub and carpet pythons. How does one go about sampling the diet of large and dangerous animals? Obviously, carefully. Pythons were being caught as part of another study which placed transmitters on the snakes in an attempt to follow where the snakes go when they move around the local habitat. While being handled, the pythons would occasionally defecate or regurgitate and this would provide a sample. Pythons are also susceptible to being hit by cars as they cross roads and individuals killed in this manner could be dissected and the stomach contents examined.

More...

In a paper published in Herpetological Review (43:30-34), the scientists report on samples from 23 scrub and 29 carpet python samples collected over the last decade. Not surprisingly, scrub pythons took the larger prey with Agile wallaby (15 kg) the biggest. The most common prey items for the scrub python were the red-legged pademelon (4.6 kg) and the long-nosed bandicoot (1 kg). Other items of interest were brushtail possums (2.9 kg, which makes a Kiwi happy), a domestic cat (4 kg) and domestic chickens. Carpet pythons took smaller prey, the largest being Northern brown bandicoot (1.6 kg), the most common the house mouse (0.016 kg) as well as several species of other rodents and marsupial mice. Both species took a mixture of native and exotic species and seemed to use both natural and modified habitats (indeed one carpet python with a transmitter spent time in the roof space of the house of one of the scientists!).


This research provides the basis for future research on foraging ecology and predator-prey relationships for the python species. For example, given the occurrence of rodents in the diet of the pythons, do they play role in restricting pest numbers in an area? The study also shows the value of using some of the biological detritus that we see around us. Maybe I should be thinking of the student rubbish as a possible study a bit more seriously....

13 March 2012

The 2011 Biodiversity Night-Out

In this age of iPhones and electric cars, it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that we are all animals in a food web. Despite our technological prowess, we are completely dependent on nature and the services provided by the world's biological diversity.

To appreciate just how interconnected each on of us is with the natural world, it is an interesting exercise to think about all the many species that contribute to any particular thing we do. This forms one of the the assignments in our second-year Biological Diversity course, Ecol202. We call it the biodiversity night out. Alone or in small groups, students are asked to collate a list of all the species that are directly or indirectly responsible for a fun thing they do.

Here are four of the best assignments from last year's class.

More...



Gerrit Roux (April 2011)


For the biodiversity night out, my family and I decided to have a barbeque. This was a great opportunity for me to use the steaks from the tahr that I had hunted during the summer break. With the tahr steaks we had baked potatoes with two different types of salads. For desert we had fruit salad with cream. The table we had dinner on, as well as the salt and pepper pots, are made from native wood from South Africa. 


Himalayan Tahr, Hemitragus jemlahicus (Chordata, Mammalia, Artiodactyla, Bovidae)

Origin: Indian introduction

Service: grilled steak

Potato, Solanum tuberosum (Angiosperms, Eudicots, Solanales, Solanaceae)

Origin: Americas

Service: baked potatoes

Lettuce, Luctuca sativa (Angiosperms, Eudicots, Asterales, Asteraceae)

Origin: Egypt

Service: part of salad

Cucumber, Cucumis sativus (Angiosperms, Eudicots, Cucurbitales, Cucurbitaceae)

Origin: India

Service: part of salad

Tomato, Solanum lycopersicum (Angiosperms, Eudicots, Solanales, Solanaceae)

Origin: South America

Service: part of salad

Avocado: Persea Americana (Angiosperms, Eudicots, Laurales, Lauraceae)

Origin: Mexico

Service: part of salad

Cotton plant, Gossypium hirsutum (Angiosperms, Eudicots, Malvales, Malvaceae)

Origin: Tropical and Subtropical regions of Africa and America

Service: Material for clothes and table cloth

Carrot, Daucas carota (Angiosperms, Eudicots, Apiales, Apiaceae)

Origin: Iran and Afghanistan

Service: carrot salad

Snow Tussock, Chionochloa spp. (Magnoliophyta, Liliopsida, Cyperales, Poaceae)

Origin: New Zealand native

Service: food for tahr

Tamboti, Spirostachys Africana (Angiosperms, Eudicots, Euphorbia, Euphorbiaceae)

Origin: South Africa

Service: wood that dinner table is made of

Zebrawood, Delbergia melanoxylon (Angiosperms, Eudicots, Legumino, Leguminoceae)

Origin: Southern Africa

Service: wood that salt and pepper pots are made of

Pineapple, Ananas comosum (Angiosperms, Monocots, Poales, Bromeliaceae)

Origin: Southern America

Service: Part of corrot salad

Orange, Citrus sinensis (Angiosperms, Eudicots, Sapindales, Rutaceae)

Origin: southern China

Service:fruit  juice

Peach, Prunis persica (Magnoliopsida, Rosales, Rosaceae)

Origin: China

Service:fruit juice and also part of fruit salad

Apple, Malus domestica (Angiosperms, Eudicots, Rosales, Rosaceae)

Origin: Central Asia

Service: part of fruit salad

Pear, Pyrus spp. (Magnoliopsida, Rosales, Rosaceae)

Origin: Sweden

Service: part of fruit salad

Cow, Bos taurus (Chordata, Mammalia, Artiodactyla, Bovidae)

Origin: Europe and Asia

Service: milk for cream with fruit salad

Rye grass, Lolium perenne (Angiosperm, Poales, Poaceae)

Origin: Euracia and northern Africa

Service: food for the cows

White clover, Trifoliumrepens (Angiosperm, Fabales, Fabaceae)

Origin: Euracia and northern Africa

Service: nitrogen fixation and food for cows

Honeybee, Apis mellifera (Arthropoda, Insecta, Hymenoptera, Apidae)

Origin: Europe

Service: pollination of plants


Overall, my family and I had a great night! Previously I had not really put any thought into what species contribute to my day-to-day life. While I was doing my research into the species that didn’t have a direct influence on my night, I realised that we as humans are very dependent on other species. Our very basic needs include food, clothing and shelter. Clothing can still possibly be made from synthetic materials, but the food we eat and the houses we live in, depend on other species to a great extent! Human survival would not be possible without other species, and I believe it is very clear that we are totally dependant on other species for our survival.




Leicester Murray (April 2011)


My evening of biodiversity fun took place with friends in our neighborhood around the table enjoying a meal and drinking wine.


Clothing. 

Leather shoes;

Cow: Bos taurus (Chordata, Mammalia, Artiodactyla, Bovidae)

Origin: Like most domestic animals, Bos taurus (domestic cow) is currently found throughout much of the world. The wild ancestors of cows were native to northern Africa, Europe, and southern Asia. 

Service: Provided the leather for my shoes.

Rye grass: Lolium perenne (Angiosperm, Poales, Poaceae)

Origin: domesticated from Eurasia and northern Africa.

Service: fed the cow that provided the leather for my shoes.

White clover: Trifolium repens, (Angiosperm, Fabales, Fabaceae)

Origin: domesticated from Eurasia and northern Africa.

Service: fertilised the rye grass and fed the cow that provided the leather for my shoes.

Honeybee: Apis mellifera, (Arthropoda, Insecta, Hymenoptera, Apidae)

Origin: Europe

Service: pollinated the clover that fertilised the rye grass and fed the cow that provided the leather for my shoes.

Denim jeans;

Cotton: Gossypium arboreum, Gossypium barbadense, Gossypium herbaceum, Gossypium hirsutum,  (Malvaceae)

Origin: South Asia, South America, Africa, and India.

Service: provided the cloth for my jeans.

Honeybee: Apis mellifera, (Arthropoda, Insecta, Hymenoptera, Apidae)

Origin: Europe.

Service: pollinated the cotton that provided the cloth for my jeans.

Cotton shirt;

Cotton: Gossypium arboreum, Gossypium barbadense, Gossypium herbaceum, Gossypium hirsutum,  (Malvaceae)

Origin: South Asia, South America, Africa, and India.

Service: provided the cloth for my jeans.

Honeybee: Apis mellifera, (Arthropoda, Insecta, Hymenoptera, Apidae)

Origin: Europe.

Service: pollinated the cotton that provided the cloth for my jeans.

Woolen jersey;

Sheep: Ovis aries (Ovis, Caprinae, Bovidae)

Origin: Middle East, Central Asia, and Southern Europe.

Service: Provided the wool for my jersey.

Rye grass: Lolium perenne (Angiosperm, Poales, Poaceae)

Origin: domesticated from Eurasia and northern Africa.

Service: fed the sheep that provided the wool for my jersey.

White clover: Trifolium repens, (Angiosperm, Fabales, Fabaceae)

 Origin: domesticated from Eurasia and northern Africa.

Service: fertilised the rye grass and fed the sheep that provided the wool for my jersey.

Honeybee: Apis mellifera, (Arthropoda, Insecta, Hymenoptera, Apidae)

Origin: Europe.

Service: pollinated the clover that fertilised the rye grass and fed the sheep that provided the wool for my jersey.

Cotton underwear;

Cotton: Gossypium arboreum, Gossypium barbadense, Gossypium herbaceum, Gossypium hirsutum,  (Malvaceae)

Origin: South Asia, South America, Africa, and India.

Service: provided the cloth for my underwear.

Honeybee: Apis mellifera, (Arthropoda, Insecta, Hymenoptera, Apidae)

Origin: Europe.

Service: pollinated the cotton that provided the cloth for my underwear.

Dinner. 

Starter.

Rice crackers:  Oryza sativa or Oryza glaberrima.(Poaceae)

Origin: Asia.

Service: provided the ingredient for the cracker.

NB.  Is a wind pollinated annual and is the most cultivated cereal crop in the world.

Wheat biscuits: Triticum spp.(Triticeae, Pooideae, Poaceae)

Origin: Fertile Crescent region of the Near East.

Service: provided the ingredient for the biscuit.

NB.  Is a self pollinated annual.

Goat’s Cheese: 

Goat: Capra aegagrus hircus (Capra, Caprinae, Bovidae)

Origin: Asia Minor across the Middle East to Sind.

Service: provided the milk for the goats cheese.

Rye grass: Lolium perenne (Angiosperm, Poales, Poaceae)

Origin: domesticated from Eurasia and northern Africa.

Service: fed the goat that provided the milk for the goats cheese.

White clover: Trifolium repens, (Angiosperm, Fabales, Fabaceae)

 Origin: domesticated from Eurasia and northern Africa.

Service: fertilised the rye grass and fed the goat that provided the milk for the goats cheese.

Honeybee: Apis mellifera, (Arthropoda, Insecta, Hymenoptera, Apidae)

Origin: Europe

Service: pollinated the clover that fertilised the rye grass and fed the goat that provided the milk for the goats cheese.

Quince pate.

Quince: Cydonia oblonga,(Maloideae or Spiraeoideae, Rosaceae) 

Origin: Caucasus region of Asia.

Service: Provided the fruit for the pate.

NB. Quince is used as a food plant by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species including Brown-tail, Bucculatrix bechsteinella, Bucculatrix pomifoliella, Coleophora cerasivorella, Coleophora malivorella, Green Pug and Winter Moth.

Main course:

Organic Pork: Domestic Pig Sus scrofa domesticus (Sus, suidae)

Origin: Archeological evidence suggests that pigs were domesticated from wild boar as early as 13,000–12,700 BC in the Near East in the Tigris Basin.

Service: Provided the pork meat.

Rye grass: Lolium perenne (Angiosperm, Poales, Poaceae)

Origin: domesticated from Eurasia and northern Africa.

Service: fed the goat that provided the milk for the goats cheese.

White clover: Trifolium repens, (Angiosperm, Fabales, Fabaceae)

 Origin: domesticated from Eurasia and northern Africa.

Service: fertilised the rye grass and fed the goat that provided the milk for the goats cheese.

Honeybee: Apis mellifera, (Arthropoda, Insecta, Hymenoptera, Apidae)

Origin: Europe

Service: pollinated the clover that fertilised the rye grass and fed the goat that provided the milk for the goats cheese.

Apple sauce:

Apple: Malus domestica (Maleae, Maloideae or Spiraeoideae, Rosaceae) 

Origin: Western Asia.

Service: Provided the fruit for the sauce.

NB. There are more than 7500 known cultivars of apple.

Honeybee: Apis mellifera, (Arthropoda, Insecta, Hymenoptera, Apidae)

Origin: Europe.

Service: most commonly used to pollinate the apple tree.

Potatos: Solanum tuberosum (Solanaceae)

Origin: Originated in the region of southern Peru

Service: Provided a vegetable.

Bumblebee: Bombus (Apinae, Apidae)

Origin: Europe

Service: Pollinated the potato.

Carrots: Daucus carota (Apiaceae)

Origin: Europe and Southwestern Asia.

Service: Provided a vegetable.

Lettuce: Lactuca sativa (Asteraceae)

Origin: Ancient Egypt.

Service: Provided a vegetable.

Dessert:

Roasted Fig: Ficus carica (Ficeae)

Origin: Asia and the Mediterranean.

Service: Provided a fruit (although it’s actually the inflorescence that we eat).

Honey:  Honeybee: Apis mellifera, (Arthropoda, Insecta, Hymenoptera, Apidae)

Origin: Europe.

Service: to sweeten the roasted figs.

Icecream: 

Cow: Bos taurus (Chordata, Mammalia, Artiodactyla, Bovidae)

Origin: Like most domestic animals, Bos taurus (domestic cow) is currently found throughout much of the world. The wild ancestors of cows were native to northern Africa, Europe, and southern Asia. 

Service: Provided the milk for the icecream.

Rye grass: Lolium perenne (Angiosperm, Poales, Poaceae)

Origin: domesticated from Eurasia and northern Africa.

Service: fed the cow that provided the milk for the icecream.

White clover: Trifolium repens, (Angiosperm, Fabales, Fabaceae)

 Origin: domesticated from Eurasia and northern Africa.

Service: fertilised the rye grass and fed the cow that provided the milk for the icecream.

Honeybee: Apis mellifera, (Arthropoda, Insecta, Hymenoptera, Apidae)

Origin: Europe

Service: pollinated the clover that fertilised the rye grass and fed the cow that 

provided the milk for the icecream.

Coffee:  Coffea arabica, (Coffeeae, Rubiaceae)

Origin: Ethiopia

Service: Provided a seed / bean for a drink.

Wines: 

Pinot noir: Vitis vinifera (Vitaceae)

Origin: Mediterranean region, central Europe, and southwestern Asia, from Morocco and Portugal north to southern Germany and east to northern Iran.

Service: Provided a fruit for a drink.

Table:

Oak: Quercus spp. (Fagaceae)

Origin: Eastern North America and Europe.

Service: Provided timber for the table.


Biological diversity played a paramount roll in our evening out.  The most interesting result I found was what a key role bees play in the ecosystems that we rely on to feed and clothe us.  The list could potentially be exhaustive and I refined some of the contents to our meal and enjoyment, however this was an interesting exercise and makes one aware of natures function to our everyday existence.    




Michael Smith, Sam Rumary, and Florian Risse (April 2011)


Meeting at Michael’s house for cooking dinner and having a nice evening while reflecting on how biodiversity affects this evening. 

For our night out, Sam and Flo, got the bus to my place(Michael). The Bus uses a combination of diesel and bio fuel. We cooked our meals using Rapeseed oil. As we cooked the meal we discussed the various layers of animals that contributed to our meal. It was evident that from the single celled eukaryotes to the multicellular plants and animals: that every meal we cooked was reliant on a number of different species. It was quite a cold night, so wearing merino and cotton layers was a must. Since jeans were worn some of us also required leather belts to hold them up. One person was wearing a leather jacket.

Night out involving the clothes that were worn, petrol for car and the inside of my house.

Cotton: Gossypium spp.( Magnoliophyta, Magnoliopsida, Malvales,  Malvaceae)

Origin: Arab merchants brought cotton cloth to Europe about 800 A.D.

Service: Provides us with thin material to make clothes. Largely self pollinated.

Sheep: Ovis aries (Chordata, Mammalia, Artiodactyla, Bovidae)

Origin: the sheep is supposed to have been domesticated in the Neolithic period about 10,000 years ago in Asia.

Service: Provide merino wool for carpets in our house, lining in cars and for human clothing. Curdled milk is used to make organic paint.

Rye grass: Lolium perenne (Angiosperm, Poales, Poaceae)

Origin: domesticated from Eurasia and northern Africa

Service: Provides food for cows and sheep.

White clover: Trifolium repens, (Angiosperm, Fabales, Fabaceae)

Origin: domesticated from Eurasia and northern Africa

Service: fertilised the rye grass and fed the cow and sheep.

Honeybee: Apis mellifera, (Arthropoda, Insecta, Hymenoptera, Apidae)

Origin: Europe

Service: pollinates the clover

Nitrogen fixing Bacteria: Rhizobium Sp.(Proteobacteria, Alphaproteobacteria, Rhizobium)

Origin: Bacteria were around well before humans.

Service: Fix nitrogen for clover

Milipedes : Diplopoda sp. ( Arthropoda, Diplopoda) 

Origin: Well before humans.

Service: Decompose plants, and other insects and leave the soil with nutritious organic matter.

Cow: Bos taurus (Chordata, Mammalia, Artiodactyla, Bovidae)

 Origin: domesticated from Europe and Asian wild species.

Service: Provides us with leather for shoes and jackets and belts. 

Geese : Branta canadensis, (Chordata, aves, anseriformes, anatidae)

Origin: This species of geese originate from the temperate and arctic regions of North America. 

Service: Provide down feathers for warmth in a assortment of clothing.

Corn : Zea mays L. ( Magnoliophya, liliopsida, Poales, Poaceae)

Origin: Indians in the Americas 5000 years ago.

Service: Crushed up corn is used to fatten up geese. Is self pollinated.

Wheat : Triticum aestivum L. (Magnoliophyta, Liliopsida,Poales, Poaceae)

Origin: Fertile Crescent in the Middle East.

Service: Feed for the geese. Is self pollinated.

Rapeseed: Sinaois arvensis L. (Magnoliophyta, magnoliopsida, Capparales, Brassicaceae.)

Origin: Was first used  for cars as a lubricant in steam engines, but the oil was first recorded in the 14th century.

Service: The oil is used as a mix with petrol to allow my friends to come to my house. It was also used for oil in our cooking.

Pollination is by the Honey bee (please see honey bee above).

Night out involving cooking fried rice.

(Consists of Chinese cabbage, peanuts, onions, garlic, chilli, chicken, rosemary and basil.)

Chinese cabbage, Brassica rapa chinensis (Spermatophyta, magnoliopsida, Capparales, Brassicaceae)

Origin: Were popular in southern China and SE Asia. Because of them being winter hardy, they were commonly grown in Northern Europe.

Service: Used World-wide in Chinese cuisine.

Peanut, Arachis hypogaea (Angiosperms, Eudicots, Rosids, Fabales, Fabaceae)

Origin: Came from South America. Thought to be first domesticated by the Inca people of ancient Peru. Was spread with the slave trade to many areas of the world. In the 20th Century it became popular world-wide as it was recognised as a health food.

Service: Used as a food and snack throughout the food. Also recognised for its oils as a health product. Used in our fried rice.

Onions, Allium cepa (Angiosperms, Monocots, Asparagales, Alliacaea)

Origin: Related to a wild species in central Asia called A. oschanini and thought to be from a hybrid form this region. Benn used for thousands of years, and thought to be first cultivated by the ancient Egyptians and also remnants of onions have been found dating back as far a 5000BC.

Service: Used world-wide as food flavouring and a vegetable. It is also recognised as a health food because it contains antioxidants and is believed to help with conditions such a common cold through to heart disease. 

Garlic, Allium sativum (Angiosperms, monocots, Asparagales, Alliaceae).

Origin: Thought to originate from central Asia. It is mentioned in the Bible. Grown globally but China the largest producer.

Service: Used as a spice in cooking. Also as a medicine for medical reasons such as reducing cholesterol or even helps prevent some cancers. Used in our fried rice

Chilli, Capsicum annuum L. (Magnoliophyta, Magnoliopsida, Solanales, Solanaceae). 

Origin: Originated in the Americas. Then varieties transported throughout the world.

Service: Used in medicine and in food for spice. Used in our Chinese takeaway.

Chicken, Gallus gallus domesticus (Animalia, Chordata, Aves, Galliformes, Phasianidae)

Origin: Chickens were first domesticated from Indian decent for the purpose of cock fighting.

Service: Chicken meat, eggs. Used in our fried rice

Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis (Plantae, Angiosperms, Eudicots, Asterids, Lamilales, Lamiaceae)

Origin: Native to Mediterranean region

Service: a spice in cooking. Used in our fried rice

Basil, Ocimum basilicum (Angiosperms, Eudicots, Asterids, Lamiales, Lamiales, Lamiaceae).

Origin: originates from India. Commonly used herb in Asian cuisine.

Service: Used in our fried rice as a herb.

Burger: Consists out of pork, lettuce, onion, garlic, cheese, egg and bread.

Pig, Sus scrofa domestica (Chordata, Mammalia, Artiodactyla, Suidae, Sus)

Origin: Today it is hold in life stocks and farmed in vast numbers all over the world. But the first domesticated examples were brought to Europe from the Near East centuries ago. 

Usage: Meat in the burger. 

Lettuce, Lactuca sativa L., (Magnoliophyla, Magnoliopsida, Asterales, Asteraceae, Lactuca)

Origin: Has many relative species all over the world.

Usage:  It is a typical salad seen on many different varieties of burgers. 

  • +Earthworm, Lumbricus terrestris, (Annelida, Clitellata, Haplotaxida, Lumbricina)

Origin: Native to Europe

Usage: Helps to aerate and mixes the soil in which plants including the lettuce, onions, garlic and grasses retrieve their nutrients and minerals from for growing. 

Onion, Allium cepa, (Angiosperms, Monocots, Asparagales, Alliaceae, Allium)

Origin: This is a cultivated species only but wild relatives occur in Central Asia. 

Usage: Gives nice flavour to the burger. 

Garlic, Allium sativum, ( Angiosperms, Monocots, Asparagales, Alliaceae, Subfam.: Allioidcae, Tribe: Allieae, Allium)

Origin: Native to Central Asia, but became naturalized in many areas worldwide.

Usage: Seasoning in the burger meat. 

Cheese, made from cow’s milk. 

  • Cow, Bos taurus taurus, ( Chordata, Mammalia, Artiodactyla, Bovidae, Bos)

Origin: Species of wild cattle could be found all over the world once. This is one under hundreds of different breeds and probably the most recognizable one. It is hard to tell where it was first bred. 

Usage: Production of milk which is in return used for producing different styles of cheese. 

  • Common Grass, Poaceae spp., ( Angiosperms, Monocots, Commelinids, Poales, Poaceae)

Origin: Hundreds of species dispersed around the globe. What is common to you depends on the part of the world you are in.  

Usage: Energy input for cow to produce milk. 

Egg from chicken

Chicken, G.g. domesticus, ( Chordata, Aves, Galliformes, Phasianidae, Gallus, Gallus gallus)

Origin: It originates from India where it was first known to be domesticated and was brought to Persia and South Asia for as fighting fowl. Later on it use as food supplier for eggs and meat became more important also to Europeans. 

Usage: Layer of the burger.

Bread

Wheat, Triticum spp.   (Angiosperms, Monocots, Commenlinids, Poales, Poaceae, Subfamily: Pooideae, Tribe: Triticeae, Triticum)

Origin: Fertile Crescent regions of the Near East. 

Usage: Used for producing flour to bake bread. This knowledge was setting the foundations for settlement because we were then able to remain at one place and produce food rather than hunting or gathering it. 


As seen at all these examples of species which have seemingly nothing to do with each other they are highly dependent on each other and this dependency will ultimately bind our survival as a species to theirs. Showing those examples not even scratches the surface of the most often highly complex interactions between different species. As different species rely heavily on others we do on them, too. Most of what we eat, wear or build our shelter with is made from living organisms which are taken out of a system. In order to keep our “life support”system running it is essential that we conserve and support biodiversity with all means. 




Cathy Mountier (April 2011)


I went out one afternoon with a friend on a motorbike, to a café. We sat in the sun and had a beer and talked. Later we had coffee and cake, then went for a walk in a nearby park.

I could have gone on and on with my list, with more obscure connections, but have other things to do!

(Maybe,.. the worms that live in the paddock of grass that made the silage that fed the cow….or  the lice on the seabirds that pooped onto a guano island which was harvested to make fertiliser to feed the grass that fed the cow whose hide was tanned to make the leather that made my shoes….or, the blueberries in the muesli that the waitress had for breakfast, who served my coffee…..or the squirrel that buried the acorn that grew the oak tree which was the great great grandparent of the one I walked under in the park….)


Thing Enjoyed

What it contained

Taxonomy

Origin

Service

People


Chordata, Mammalia, Primates, Hominidae, Homo sapiens Linnaeus, 1758

Europe

Companionship, symbiotic fun, entertainment

Beer

Barley

Magnoliophyta, Liliopsida Poales, 

Poaceae,Hordeum,

Hordeum vulgare L. 



Europe

Malted barley used to make beer


Hops

Magnoliophyta, Magnoliopsida, Urticales, Cannabaceae, Humulu,

Humulus lupulus L. 


North America

Ingredient in Beer


Yeast

Saccharomycetaceae

Saccharomyces Meyen ex E.C. Hansen 1838

Saccharomyces capensis Van der Walt & Tscheuschner 1956 


Europe

Ingredient in beer


Sugar

Magnoliophyta, Liliopsida, Poales

Poaceae Saccharum spp. 


South Asia

Ingredient in beer

Outdoor furniture

Pine

Pinophyta, Pinopsida, Pinales, Pinaceae,Pinus

Pinus radiata D. Don 


North America

Seating, and horizontal surface to put the beer on.

Cup of coffee

Coffee

Magnoliophyta, Magnoliopsida, Rubiales, Rubiaceae,Coffeeae,

Coffea

Coffea sp. Moloundou 


Africa

Stimulating drink


Milk from a cow

Chordata, Mammalia, Artiodactyla, Bovidae, Bos,

Bos taurus Linnaeus, 1758 

Taxonomy

Middle East

Included in coffee


Ryegrass

Magnoliophyta, Liliopsida, Poales

Poaceae, Lolium

Lolium perenne L. ssp. perenne 


UK

What the cow ate



White clover

Magnoliophyta, Magnoliopsida, Fabales, Fabaceae

Trifolium L.

Trifolium repens var. repens L


Europe

What the cow ate


Gingercrunch

Wheat flour

Magnoliophyta, Liliopsida, Poales Poaceae, Triticum

Triticum aestivum L. 


Middle East

Ingredient in ginger crunch


Sugar

As above


Ingredient in ginger crunch


Eggs from chickens

 Chordata, Aves, Galliformes,Phasianidae, Gallus

Gallus gallus (Linnaeus, 1758) 


South West Asia

Ingredient in ginger crunch


Butter from a cow

As for milk from a cow


Ingredient in ginger crunch


Ginger

Magnoliophyta, Liliopsida, Zingiberales, Zingiberaceae,

Zingiber

Zingiber officinale Roscoe 


South Asia

Ingredient in ginger crunch

Park 

Grass

Magnoliophyta, Liliopsida, Poales Poaceae,  various

Europe

Ground cover


Oak Trees

Eudicots,  Rosids, Fagales,  Fagaceae, Quercus, Quercus robur

Europe, North Africa

Shade, shelter, and aesthetics

Motorbike

Rubber Tyres, seals, etc

Magnoliophyta, Magnoliopsida, Malpighiales, Euphorbiaceae, Heavea sp

Taxonomy

Amazon

Transport


Fuel, vinyl, and other components made from oil

Prehistoric vegetation

Underground

Transport


Cork gaskets

Eudicots,  Rosids, Fagales,  Fagaceae, Quercus, Quercus suber

Europe

Transport

Bees, other insects


Arthropoda, Insecta, Hymenoptera, Apoidea, Apidae, Apis mellifera

Europe

Pollinating flowers of plants

Shoes

Leather  from cattle

As for cow


Footwear

Clothes

Cotton

Magnoliophyta, Magnoliopsida, Malvales,Malvaceae

Gossypium sp


Asia, South America

Warmth, protection


Wool from Sheep

Chordata, Mammalia, Artiodactyla, Bovidae, Ovis

Ovis aries Linnaeus, 1758 


Middle East, Central Asia

Warmth, protection

Yes, this short and enjoyable interlude in my life, did include the use of products derived from many species of plants and animals. And every species I listed is part of food webs and ecosystems that contain many other species. I have no doubt at all that I wouldn’t exist, let alone have fun, without the input of thousands, possibly zillions, of other life forms. Thanks to all!

This exercise reminds me of a Buddhist meditation practice that you look at something, eg a flower, and see in it everything that made it. Eg the rain, the clouds that brought the rain, the wind that brought the clouds, the plants and animals that decomposed to make the soil it grows in, the worms  and microbes etc that did the decomposing. This version includes abiotic factors as well as biotic.





12 March 2012

Just browsing thanks

At my house we have our own pest mammal species - teenage boys. Packs of them occasionally descend on our home and browse their way through the pantry. If we were to forbid them from our home would this be beneficial to our food stocks? Or would our resident teenagers simply consume more? Perhaps there are certain kinds of foods that might be eaten more in packs (chips and fizzy drinks) than in lower densities (2-minute noodles)?


When you have a pest species that forages on plants it seems like a no-brainer that controlling that species will be helpful to the plant species in an area. But is it helpful to all plant species, or all individuals, in all areas? In New Zealand we have a major pest species, the brushtail possum, that browses on plants as part of its diet. There are so many of these pests that they can have a major impact on our native flora. Because of this, possums are often controlled (through trapping and poisoning) over vast areas. However, we are not really sure how this reduction of pest numbers actually impacts on plant damage. We simply assume that it will help.

A group of researchers led by Richard Duncan from Lincoln University and colleagues from Landcare Research have looked at this issue in possums. They were interested in whether possum density affects browse damage in native forest. They needed to find a species in the Goldilocks zone: not too palatable, not inedible, just right. In our teenage boy example there would be no point in looking at impact on chocolate biscuits (as they will be all eaten if even one boy is around) or salad (as things would have to be very desperate for a teenage boy to consider that food). Perhaps tins of spaghetti or baked beans would be a good food to monitor. In much the same reasoning, Richard chose kamahi (Weinmannia racemosa) as their indicator species. This is a species that possums will browse but is not a particular favourite.

More...


Richard and his colleagues measured browse damage as well as trapping areas to find out the density of possums. Measurements were made at 21 sites around the North Island of New Zealand over 8 years. Possum numbers fluctuated a great deal over this time. In a paper published in Austral Ecology they found that where there were more possums there was also more browse damage but that damage was not consistently spread among individual kamahi at a site, nor was it consistent between years - damage was very patchy. Within any forest area, regardless of the density of possums there were kamahi with extensive browse damage. What the researchers concluded was that reducing the density of possums might reduce the overall level of browsing (fewer trees will be affected) but would not impact on heavily browsed kamahi (possums will still cause a lot of damage for certain kamahi). This has obvious implications for looking at which areas to put possum control into.


Does this help with our teenage boy infestation? Well it does suggest that larger packs will generally eat more but that certain foods will be heavily impacted regardless of the numbers of boys about. Which seems to fit our food shop - no matter how many 2-minute noodles we buy each week they are always consumed!

06 March 2012

Surviving in the big city

Humans have a lot of impacts on the world. While many types of habitat are in decline, there is one that continues to expand - urban areas. Here at Lincoln, even though we are 14 kms from the edge of Christchurch, there is a lot of development. Subdivisions with names like Lincolndale, The Grange and (improbably) Lincoln Palms have been sprouting up all around the village. This is a ongoing issue in much of the world as increasing populations, as well as increasing middle classes, require more urban space to live in. Of course there is a impact on the local ecosystem in all this with many species struggling to survive in these new habitats. Plant species often persist in areas of urban development but the unique pressures of living in close proximity to humans can make long term survival of species difficult. Perhaps there are traits thats some species have that allow them to do better in urban environments compared to other species? A group of international researchers, lead by Richard Duncan from the Bioprotection Centre at Lincoln University, have looked at plant species in eleven cities from around the world that are at least 160 years old and tried to identify traits that allow plants to avoid extinction.


Duncan and colleagues obtained information about the changes in plant species for at least the last 100 years from cities all around the world: Adelaide, Auckland, Chicago, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Melbourne, New York, San Diego, San Francisco, Singapore and Worcester, MA. The researchers wondered whether native floras in urban environments would become similar over time in the different cities as certain types of plant species did better than others. They were able to collect data on a number of plant traits that might increase or decrease the chances of a plant species surviving in these human-modified habitats. Traits included: plant height, seed mass, growth form, dispersal mode, longeviety, nutrient uptake strategy, pollination system, how prickly they were, and what habitat they preferred. Given that the cities were from all over the world, this resulted in a dataset with over 8000 plant species!

More...


The results, published in Global Ecology and Biogeography, were extremely variable between the cities. Extinction rates ranged from 28% (Singapore) to 1% (San Diego) although there were two major groups, one with low levels of extinction (Adelaide, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco) and the other with higher rates (the rest). Those cites with higher rates of extinction were generally those regions that had previously be cleared for agriculture before becoming urban. Of the traits associated with extinction, the biggest predictor was plant height (taller plants were less likely to go extinct - presumably because we like large trees and protect them). Species with lighter seeds and a preference for forest or riverside habitats were also more prone to extinction. Otherwise there were no consistent findings which surprised the researchers. These results suggest that there are few common pressures exerted by the urban environment at the global level.


This research suggests that it is difficult to predict which species will survive in an urban environment. This is probably because the ecology of urban areas is complex and also depends on the particular history of the area before and during urbanisation. So if you are looking for tips about surviving in the big city then it appears that there are few global answers.