Saturday, October 19, 2013

Climate Change and "Ascension Island"

World's Collective Scientific Genius: "Incapable of Identifying Weather Mechanisms Through the Cloud Forest" !!!

image: David C. Catling (2013)

An acquaintance from the Google+ gang, Jean-Baptiste Pichancourt, posted a link on his BioCultural Landscapes & Seascapes (BCLS) group page to an article from Yale Environment 360, with the title, "On a Remote Island, Lessons In How Ecosystems Function". The opening caption read like this:
"Transformed by British sailors in the 19th century, Ascension Island in the South Atlantic has a unique tropical forest consisting almost entirely of alien species. Scientists say that what has happened there challenges some basic assumptions about ecosystems and evolution."
(article source)
Anytime or the next time you read words and phrases in any type of science journal or paper like, "challenges some basic assumptions", think of something ideologically driven and/or motivated and a paradigm dogmatically defended. It just doesn't get anymore religious than that despite insistence to the contrary. I would actually be happy if Science were truly ONLY about Physical and Naturalistic explanations, but it's not. The author of this article is Fred Pearce and as the Bio reveals, he is a freelance author and journalist based in the UK. His article on rethinking some of our understanding on invasive & native species sparked outrage by many of his readers who commented on how destructive his viewpoints were on how we should should be researching ways to eradicate what we can identify as an invasive species. The religious dogma with Native Plant Nazis is that there is no such thing as a good non-native plant. Whatever part of the globe a plant Nazi may be found, they resent any outside intrusion of any non-native. I'll deal further with that definition below with my own personal experience of past tunnel-visioned bigotry. I'm not going to deal with the criticism blasted towards the author of this article down which you yourself can read down in the comments section below where numerous anonymous Armchair Ideologue Biologists know more than than the Author. You can read that rubbish for yourself. Plus the incendiary article "Counterpoint: A Dissenting View" which is linked to the article's page. Again, you can read that article as well later.


This was once nothing more than barren
volcanic rock landscape 
In the early years of discovery of Ascension Island the landscape of the island was a dry barren wilderness and the descriptions by early explorers and travelers wasn't exactly flowery. Incredibly one of the things missing were viable and reliable water sources like Springs or any type of creeks or streams. When Charles Darwin visited Ascension Island aboard the Beagle in 1836, he complained about Ascension’s “naked hideousness.” Whatever! But it is what happened after these first visits that transformed this seemingly dry lifeless volcanic cinder rock island partially into a tropical paradise of sorts that is the most intriguing and most ignored by the world's so-called Eco-experts. The high elevation itself has been given the name "Green Mountain". Above about 660 meters, Green Mountain is now completely vegetated. What took place gradually, was that the early sailors over the following years brought with them such plants as coffee bushes, vines, monkey puzzle trees, jacaranda, juniper, bananas, buddleia, Japanese cherry trees, palm trees, clerodendrum, green aloe and the pretty pink flowers of the Madagascan periwinkles, Asian forms of Bamboo, etc. These plants eventually went beyond the confines of gardens or plantations and escaped into the wild to create a very unique healthy biodiverse ecosystem. Apparently, most visiting researchers are unconcerned with attempting any study of this because they consider it something unnatural.    

The Island's Conservation officer Stedson Stroud led the author up the mountain to view the Cloud Forest. Stroud explained to Fred Pearce that many of the endemic plants and other lifeforms seem to get along remarkably well with the motley collection of non-native invaders. He said that the ferns that once clung to the bare mountainside now prosper on the branches of introduced trees like bamboo. Pearce was shown ferns by Stroud that he believes now thrive only on the mosses that grow on such branches. Likewise, there is now a profusion of Ascension land crabs which are the island’s largest native land animals that now feast on the fruits of alien trees like the guava. The only researcher who has studied the land crabs in recent times, Richard Hartnoll of the University of Liverpool, says that the invasive vegetation “increases the area of shade and shelter for crabs, and also provides a large resource of food”, no doubt replacing the island's former scavenging seabird colonies. Author Fred Pearce said that a person might think that this ecological snugness would be of huge ecological interest? Yet, until now, as Pearce and Stroud pointed out, visiting scientists have ignored it. Most researchers who make the long journey the only practical way in to the island, doing so aboard a British military flight, have concentrated on the island’s charismatic populations of seabirds, green turtles, and the handful of endangered ferns. Unbelievable! And all because of Endemic Biota Nazism!
My Own Former Life as a Native Plant Nazi
Blue Mist (Caryopteris x clandonensis)
I've always in the past historically favoured natives over exotics when it comes to habitat restoration within any given area. Logically when it comes to rebuilding any type of ecosystem in a specific location, you look for existing endemic  plant mechanisms which are well adapted and suited to the area. I use the term Nazi, because it truly identifies the close minded attitude of such strict dogmatic adherents of any type of Native Plant movement across the globe within any geographical location. If you just look at the definition of Nazism itself, the movement represented intolerance of anything it considered impure. Over here in Sweden where I presently reside, there are several National Socialist movements that want immigrants gone from all of Scandinavia and populations brought back to what they label a more Homogeneous purity. Often times, Native Plant people can be just like that. They want no other plants than what they consider native. They dogmatically demand a pristine environment be re-established, but is there really such a thing anymore ? Was there ever truly such an ecosystem ? Considering that even without humankind in existence, there has always been an amazing ability for variation in Nature. I wasn't that extreme, but let me give you an example of something that once happened to me, that changed my whole perspective on the "Natives Only" movement. See that plant in the upper right hand corner here ? This plant was given to me by a friend in 1980 (Daniel Perreli) who was moving back up to Washington State. It looked kool and I thought it would fit in my wild landscape up in Anza California very well, since it had certain desirable Sage (Salvia) qualities about it. 

Washington State University
It grew very well with little care or watering up there in Anza CA. It seemed a perfect fit, not only because of it's drought tolerance, but also because even the various native bees and hummingbirds loved it. But one year it reseeded itself in two other locations and that actually got me researching where this plant was from. I knew the original name from the Nursery pot label it came from, Blue Mist  (Caryopteris x clandonensis). I found out that this was originally a plant from the Mediterranean. Wow, that was a non-native!!! So I ignorantly removed the parent plant which I loved and one of the newly germinated plants and left one down at the base of the rock steps I built. There were never any other plants that ever sprung up new anywhere else, just the one. So it really wasn't a bad invasive and so many other native lifeforms loved this plant, besides me. 
image by W.P. Armstrong
One little insect critter that I really enjoyed every hot summer day was a little insect I call a Hover fly or more commonly known as a Beefly (Bombylius montanus). These little cleverly maneuvering biological helicopters could do a go almost anywhere at angle. They were fun to watch and they loved another native plant up in Anza which also had gray green foliage with cobalt blue flowers just like the Blue Mist. For the life of me, I don't know what that little summer flowering plant was called because I never bothered to investigate. It never was more than a foot high. It's leaves were almost totally gray and very slender. Flowers always striking and loaded with the sound of high pitched buzzing on a hot day. Nevertheless, most people will recognize this little Hover Fly or Beefly from the picture above which was attracted to this summer blooming plant up in Anza Valley. It's only truly abundant during the really hot period of summer and the sound of high pitched buzzing is everywhere. But it was these types of experiences made me reassess my Native Only position. That Blue Mist shrub actually wasn't invasive, other than a small ability to naturalize and it had much to offer to the Native Critters who did live there. In fact I became more and more of a collector of plants from all over the southwest. I'll post a link to my post about problem with "ScrubJay Syndrome" below. Oh, and Wayne Armstrong's Palomar College page has a great read on the little Beefly for which my wife and I recently saw a kool documentary about recently. I'll link to at the bottom for those curious. I never knew these cute little guys were invaders of other ground Bee nests and their young parasitic.

There is also one other important reason I gave up Native Plant Nazism. The Fossil record. Ever notice in almost every article about amazing fossil discoveries how incredibly more biodiverse the Earth was than it is at present ? That's always fascinated me. Let me give just one example. Ellesmere & Axel Heiberg Islands in the extreme northern Canadian Archipelago near Greenland near the Arctic's North Pole. How is it that before whatever extinction event, the Earth was extremely biodiverse from Pole to Pole ? How is it that an ancient ecosystems had what we know as Boreal, Temperate and Tropical fauna and flora all living together ? The above photo appeared in many science journals and other news outlet venues reporting on the once biodiverse life of the bitter cold Arctic where there were found giant turtles, large snakes, alligators, flying lemurs, tapirs, and hippo- and rhino-like mammals roamed in places now favoured by muskox and hares. This is also an area where Boreal Forest environment existed with Dawn Redwood Trees, Larches, Aspens, Firs and even mummified wood of a Beaver Dam with Beaver's bones discovered along with a crocodile fossil. Seriously, what's up with that ? I mean the Homogeneous Eco-Landscape Nazis would freak at the suggestion of such an ecosystem. And yet such ecosystems were more common countless centuries ago. It's things like this that changed me. For example, one of my favourite places to visit is southeastern Arizona where Tropical and Temperate ecosystems of both flora and fauna clash and blend beautifully together. Yup, I have been cure, well sort of. I also respect that some things, like my beloved Mesquite from the southwest where I come from is a horrible invasive plant in Hawaii, Ethiopia, Australia etc and controls are important. But being stubbornly dogmatic and opinionated also needs limits. (See Link on Ellesmere Island below) 
Points missed in the Ascension Island Article
~"But the Royal Navy garrison, established in 1815, set about changing that. First, it put together a farm on the few patches of natural soil on the mountain. Then British colonial botanist Sir Joseph Hooker — a future head of the famous botanical gardens at Kew in London who visited the island in 1843 — came up with the idea of growing trees to green the arid island and increase its rainfall. The idea was that the new vegetation on the mountaintop would scavenge moisture from the passing clouds. Further down the slopes, planting would encourage soil growth. Hooker’s ambition was nothing less than “terra-forming” the volcanic island, says Stroud in a recent paper with David Catling of the University of Washington, Seattle."
"Today, the island has about 300 introduced species of plants to add to its 25 native species, says David Wilkinson of Liverpool John Moores University in the UK. Many are spreading. Above about 660 meters, Green Mountain is completely vegetated, with coffee bushes, vines, monkey puzzle trees, jacaranda, juniper, bananas, buddleia, Japanese cherry trees, palm trees, clerodendrum, green aloe and the pretty pink flowers of the Madagascan periwinkles. And Stroud says the vegetation captures more cloud moisture, just as Hooker had hoped, even though rainfall has declined in the lowlands around." 

(Photo credit: Fred Pearce)
Take specific care to look at the colour highlighted portions of the quoted paragraphs. There is not a single mention about the climate and localized weather transforming ability of the vegetation and it's mechanical nature for cloud creation. This isn't surprising since most ALL of the Climate Solution debates, there is never one viable project, scheme, plan, or discussion on rebuilding the Earth's vegetative systems to reboot the Earth's climate driving weather mechanisms. Nobody, not even the Native Plant Nazi Ideologues even remotely care about such consideration. Their attitude is that of the British government’s environmental policy for Ascension island is the “control and eradication of invasive species” in order to “ensure the protection and restoration of key habitats.” Apparently, they want everything returned to it's biological soil crust era. Nothing wrong with Soil Crust lifeforms, but they are merely the foundations of higher systems and will always be around in certain specific niches. The British Government eradication policy has nothing to say about the protection of or even ecological research into the extraordinary novel ecosystem which was accidentally created in their midst on which the indigenous species often depend. There are important lesson to be learn and this unique ecosystem on top of  Green Mountain may hold important lessons about how ecosystems around the world function and thrive and result in climate maintenance and moderation. Take a look at the photo above here. How much water do you suppose it takes to maintain such a water loving tropical ecosystem, even if it is considered impure by the "homogeneous only" Gangsters ? Seriously, would you say they are missing the climate driving mechanisms through the cloud forest here ? In an atmosphere of Global Warming Alarmism and we only have a short time left to fix things on earth activism outrage, what the heck are they waiting for ? Is it any wonder that skeptics will never take them serious ? From my vantage point, all I've ever seen with this whole ridiculous debate is backbiting by various ideological factions looking to acquire and keep power.

Sonoma State University
One of the funnier views by some in discrediting the effect of plants on the mountain was the naysayers pointing out that the cloud mist from the surrounding seas had always been around previously. Well, yes, of course. That's the nature of such geographical locations, I mean there is sea all around. Islands with large mountains (like volcanoes) have a geographical phenomena called Orographic lift which concentrates moist humid air at cooler elevations which  can create cloud mist. But seriously, there is more going on here on Ascension than mere physics of the Island's geographical landscape  phenomena of Orographic lift. As I've even previously written about in this blog, Cahuilla Mountain in Anza California had the amazing mechanical ability to create the beginnings of thunderstorms during monsoonal moisture movement weather events which come up from Mexico. The were other similar locations around Anza Valley, but Cahuilla Mountain was unique in this formation which was always precise and had a very mechanical conveyor patterned about it. An observation which could be seen for years until in 1996 when an arson set wildfire at Diego Flats changed everything. The old growth Chaparral along with Coulter Pine and various old growth Oak woodlands were almost completely destroyed on over half of this mountain. Thereafter the regular summer pattern of cloud formation was halted. The heavier vegetative pattern up on "Green Mountain" has actually magnified and increased the ability to form clouds and hence rainfall. Again, how much rain does it take to sustain a tropical forest ? Certainly more than the previous mist.

Link and image from
Now take a look at this Google Earth satellite image of Ascension Island's Green Mountain which was provided by the Invasive Plants website. Notice the cloud creation and formation caused by the vegetation below ? So is this some kind of an evil thing going on here ? Do you really believe such a system to be forced back into is previously dry barren condition because it would be restored to it's original unadulterated "pure and pristine" state ? That's like saying we should leave the Sahara pure and untouched, despite it's once being a subtropical Savanna paradise where biodiversity once ruled as King. Chaparral Plant Communities of California and other parts of the world accomplish and perform the very same thing as other Temperate, Tropical etc ecosystems if they are allowed to develop into an old growth state. Unfortunately, failed land management policies and perverted uneducated attitudes towards the value of such plant communities promoted by the flawed leadership in these regions have also formulated unhealthy opinions and understanding by many average citizens and property owners of these areas. These fascinating mechanisms are the whole reason I created this specific blog. In fact I even wrote about an incredible phenomena observed by some researchers where it has been observed that Tropical Storms linger over moist or wet areas than over dry areas. Not many people were interested in that subject (44 in total), but still, look at the Ascension Island example. (See the link below) I'm not going to link to any more of my other posts, you've got them all here within this blog if you're truly interested in mechanical nature of weather in which physics and biological mechanisms interact. Sadly, they'll be mostly ignored anyway and/or it's contents be buried in a plethora of intellect speak which benefits no one, with the exception of some anonymous ideologue who takes pleasure and delight in patting himself on the back after a combative anonymous exchange with a equally competitive idiot who enjoys the game playing. 
Important Update:
Emissions from forests influence very first stage of cloud formation 

Interestingly, another one of the other reasons this article caught my initial attention is because of a conversation I had with Chris Rohrer who owns, writes and photographs in the LAS AVENTURAS Blog Chris over a decade back, participated in a similar island chain environment where an experiment by the University of Arizona was to vegetate the landscape on a couple of the islands which are in an area further north of Ascension known as Cape Verde. They incorporated Arizona Native Plants on the island like Prosopis juliflora, or Mesquite because of it's deep rooting ability and even Palo Verde. Info on these projects is tough to find, but in a report from the U of A, called Draft Environment Report on Cape Verde (see link below), I found some interesting reasons which the Mesquite was chosen over the native Acacia from Africa. One major reason was that it was much more deeper rooted. That makes sense in a survival game, but there are more important mechanical component reasons for this. Mesquite is one of the best trees for not only Hydraulic Lift and Redistribution which benefit the surrounding plant community with shallower root systems, but it is also one of the best trees (even when dormant) at performing something called Hydraulic Descent. This is where it has the ability to capture and transport excesses of surface water during a rainy season and pump it deep into the earth well beyond where mere geological percolation takes place. The deep earth is the best place to store fresh water and understanding this should factor in to any habitat rebuilding program when selecting first, those dominant foundational plants which will help drive and sustain a ecosystem. Problem is, while some have studied this incredible phenomena, nobody ever really talks about it, references it or teaches it from school textbooks where it needs to be taught at an early age to instill deep appreciation for Earth's brilliantly put together natural environment. Although there are a tremendous amount of papers on these subjects, most seem to be buried and filed away in deep dark archived catacombs in some intellectual dungeon somewhere under, "Of Interesting Note", never to be actually acknowledged or talked about openly in any discussion or restoration program.

Fred Pearce showed that these researchers were missing a golden learning opportunity in rejecting any study of "Green Mountain". And Why is this ? Because they all consider it artificial or unnatural and that such change is suppose to happen on it's own over long periods of deep time or as Pearce put in the use of the term, "ecological fitting" as coined by evolutionary ecologist Dr. Daniel Janzen, where he believes as Fred Pearce put it, "ecological fitting holds that ecosystems are typically much more random. Stuff happens." Stuff Happens ? Our planet doesn't have time to wait and see how stuff will just happen. Humans presently are artificially accelerating the destruction of natural systems through the so-called brilliance of their technological innovative achievements of what is left of the viable biological world at an extremely rapid pace. Doing so in the justification and name of each country's own National Economies. As I've often stated before, when one’s theory-ladened paradigm reduces to random actions for no particular reason, then you've abandoned such excellent sciences like biomemetics and/or Biomimicry which are nothing more than discovering and observing how nature mechanically works and operates, then proceeding to make intelligent practical application in replication of what was discovered and observed. Around the Earth we have what are termed designated Wilderness Areas where there are strict Nazi-like policies of hands off, no disturbance allowed, even to fight wildfires or restore what was lost. They say it is important to allow Nature to take care of itself. I'm afraid such orthodox hardliner rules are going to have to change since globally all ecosystems are in trouble. But this narrow minded tunnel vision focus by a lot of researchers has to be dumped in favour of reality. They need to dump the tunnel vision blinders and start developing the ability to see and focus on an intuitive ecological peripheral vision. If all a person can do is say is “Stuff happens,” then they haven't learned nor explained anything to the rest of the world. Even the island's ecologist Stroud stated, “Green Mountain might help inform strategies to green some deserts or other barren locations in the world.” And even the environmental ecologist Dr David Wilkinson beautifully put it this way:
“Is it possible... to suggest, for example, that large deforested areas of Amazonia could be returned to functioning forest on a 100-year time-scale?”
And Fred Pearce followed up with: 
"And maybe not just former rainforests. If a forest can form so quickly and successfully on a volcano in the middle of the Atlantic, they why not in other unlikely places?"
Sadly, none of the article's readers, with the exception of a handful, ever got any of these important points. And neither did the Author's of those follow up dissenting articles. Oh, BTW, this came out recently from Princeton University: 
Without plants, Earth would cook under billions of tons of additional carbon
Sarcasm alert! Ah gee whiz, really ? No kidding ? Unbelievable! 
Further Reference Reading:
The parable of Green Mountain: Ascension Island, ecosystem construction and ecological ļ¬tting
Fossils from Ellesmere Island reveal a much-warmer past
Tropical Storms Linger Longer Over Wet Land & Fizzle Over Dry, But in Truth it's a Universal Phenomena Globally Speaking
Always Collecting Seeds & Plants even when I have no Place to put them


  1. Thank you for your article! Very refreshing compared to persistent ideology in Australia about “only native plants”.
    Adelia Bertetto (Bruxelles)

    1. It would be wrong to conclude that I have no use for a natives ONLY concept in creating or building (rebuilding) any given localized habitat. Not true. I am very conservative there, but open minded to plants which may work or help an ecosystem. That Native Plant Nazism I sarcastically used for illustrative purposes only would be the extreme close minded set, But what I am saying is that I am more open minded as opposed to the close mindedness of the follow-up dissenting articles and insulting comments by the so-called scientists in the comment section of Mr Pearce's article. Yes, I use to be a strict natives only person, but this was before further education and appreciation, plus my bias which was created as a result of observing first hand mankind's historical ignorance for which we and all of nature are now paying the proverbial price. Much of that bigotry to what has occurred on Ascension Island is the direct result of a religious and ideologically driven close-minded prejudice based on ignorance. What is shocking is it spews from world renown self-promoting intellects who should otherwise know better.

      I use to be appalled and shocked by the behavior of such well known intellectuals, but not anymore. I find their behavior quite common in many areas of scientific disciplines. Especially is this the case between competing researchers within the same field of interest and I think this is what happened here. Jealousy, envy, pride, suspect ethical misbehavior etc are the norm for many of these people.

      The island had no plants native to it which were displaced previously, with the exception of mosses and lichens, ferns and countless species of bacteria which have actually all benefited by the enhanced environment. They haven't gone extinct, they are still there functioning on a higher level after adapting to the newer system. What has been missed are all the rainfall mechanisms which were previously nonexistent on this island before. Now clouds form and rain falls, there are streams or small creeks and a fresh water source which previous did NOT exist, but none of the close minded bigots care to ask the why questions and provide long term studies to find answers and that was the point of Fred's article. It's also something for which I have been extremely focused on for decades, but you cannot seem to actually get anyone of import to take notice.

      The whole ridiculous reasoning is that it is unnatural and should be removed because nature has to evolve a system if that is what it wants to do. Well this is where the stupid religiosity comes in and hinders any discovery and practical application. Some of these people are so hung up on finding their religious fundy counterparts that they miss the entire import of their supposed occupation and careers. I'm so thoroughly disgusted with the misuse and abuse of science that it prevents me of late desiring to write anymore. If these knuckleheads don't get their collective act together on true reasons for climate change, then no one will ever take them serious again. Science is supposed to be neutral, unbiased and without religious bigotry of intolerance, but we all know this to be factually not true.


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