Monday, March 24, 2014

Parasites, Ecology & the Goldilocks Principle

Would you have ever in your life considered parasites as “tiny, hidden architects” of biodiversity that run a service business for a sustainable global ecology ? The biggest problem for the Earth's natural world is that ever since human beings arrived on the earthly scene, as caretakers of the natural world, they've mucked things up so horribly by introducing parasites where they can & will cause not only the most harm to other living organisms within any and all ecosystems, but where they will cause pain and suffering to other human beings. Let's be totally honest here, as environmental stewards Humans stink at it. There are a number of fascinating studies which have been published recently over the past couple of years which shed light on the positive as opposed to the usual negative aspects of various parasites and their healthy function in the natural world when that world is in a stable balance. I'll simply list a few and you can follow the articles. A parasitologist name Tommy Leung, suggests that parasites don’t just rob and steal; they usually do good as functional players in an ecosystem.
“Parasites are thought of as free-loaders, but many contribute as much as they take,” “They service the ecosystem. From an ecological perspective, they are more like tiny, hidden architects that are overlooked by most people.”  - “Some parasites do have a negative impact on an ecosystem, especially when they are introduced to a new and unfamiliar environment.” (source)  
Credit: haquintero

The parasite a cricket’s nightmares are made of
"But the very act of forcing crickets to their watery grave actually functions as a kind of fast food delivery service for the fish living in those streams. Cricket do not normally jump into streams and a drowning cricket is usually a rare treat for any fish. But thanks to the hairworm, these fish get to feast regularly on these large insects and it has been calculated that this straight-to-your-stream food delivery service accounts for more than half of the trout population’s energy intake in some watersheds."
Watch this creepy but very kool video below here of what happens when the cricket is forced by it's parasitic hitchhiker to jump into water and drown itself.

Credit: Tommy Leung

(source) When microbes cause ants to become zombies
"Usually the enemy of an enemy is a friend, but that is of no consequence for a zombified ant. To these fungi the ant is but a stage upon which they play out their lives and conflicts, as they have been doing for millions of years."
Can you imagine the possibilities in dealing a blow to the out of control Argentine Ant Super Colony over-population of California and other areas of the west ? BTW, Mycologist Paul Stamets has brought this up before.
Photo: Andrew DunnEuropean Mistletoe (Viscum album) attached to a
silver birch (
Betula pendula)
"Plant parasites can also affect ecosystem processes. While most people associate mistletoe with Christmas, it is actually a parasitic plant that has special root-like structures called haustoria that burrow into the host tree to suck out water and other nutrients. But for all that it draws from the host, this parasite returns it to the ecosystem in the form of enriched leaf litter."
"A study published in the Proceeding of the Royal Society B shows that when mistletoes are removed from a forest, more than a quarter of the birds species also disappear. The enriched leaf litter allows the forest to support a richer community of insects, which in turn bring in more birds." 
I previously wrote about Mistletoe on January 3, 2013, but so did many other people. It was the same link above, but it was worth bringing up the subject again as a great reminder.
Mistletoe: Former Demonized Plant Turns Out to be a Great Helper 


New Zealand Cockle (Austrovenus stutchburyi)

Credit: Tommy Leung
There was a story of a parasitic fluke that infects shellfish helps deposit them on seashores where birds can eat them, and barnacles and limpets and live in the shells – increasing the biodiversity of a shore that would normally have only sand. To the right here in the photo image you can see the Cysts of Curtuteria australis (tagged with fluorescent dye) in the foot of a New Zealand cockle. As more and more parasites accumulate, the presence of those cysts causes the cockle’s foot muscle to degenerate. With a mangled foot, the clam loses its ability to dig and is left stranded on the surface of the mudflat, exposed to hungry shorebirds – just what the parasite Curtuteria australis wanted. The nature of the seashore changes from one covered mostly with mud and sand, to one paved with hard shells. This actually increases the overall level of biodiversity in the area since the shells of the stranded clams provide habitats for other animals like limpets and barncles.
Parasitism as a determinant of community structure on intertidal flats

Credit: Alvesgaspar/Wikipedia

Grassopper of Acrididae family: Anacridium aegyptium
"Scientists have known for some time that P. locustae infections in individual locusts leads to less swarming in locusts around them. What was not known was how it happened."
"The researchers are still puzzled as to why P. locustae would "want" to cause less swarming, as doing so would seem to lead to more difficulty in spreading from one of the insects to another." (No Kidding, why ????)
Team uncovers how microsporidian parasites prevent locust swarm behavior
Credit: Vittorio Baglione

A carrion Crow brood parasitized by a great spotted Cuckoo
"Most everyone knows that cuckoo birds are the ultimate free-loaders. Mothers lay their eggs in the nests of birds of different species, leaving them to raise their young for them. What many may not realize however, is that different kinds of cuckoo birds behave differently when they hatch. Some famously push all the other eggs out of the nest, leaving themselves as the sole survivor and beneficiary. Other's however, don't do that, instead, they leave the other chicks alone and share in food the mother brings, acting as an adopted sibling, of sorts. At first glance it would appear that the host birds gain no benefit from this arrangement, but upon closer inspection, that assumption has been proved wrong."
"The researchers in Spain were studying the relationship between cuckoos and host carrion crows. In so doing, they were surprised to find that survival rates for crow chicks in nests shared by a cuckoo, were actually higher than for cuckoo-less nests. Looking even closer they discovered that the cuckoos had a survival mechanism that crows did not—they gave off a stink when threatened that caused predators such as feral cats to stay away. The stink, the researchers found, was caused by a chemical mix of repulsive compounds that included indoles, acids, sulfur and phenols. Taken together it proved too much for cats and birds of prey which typically find chicks in a nest easy pickings when the mother is away gathering food."
Study shows some cuckoo birds may actually help their hosts 
The major sad thing here is that in most of the television documentaries (where the majority of people get their science education) which reference the Cuckoo or Cow Bird as a parasite that robs and steals from others, we almost never see this side of the story. 
Wasp parasitizing Gypsy Moth
So once again, how does it go ? Parasitism is bad. Parasitism is evil. Parasites wage war against innocent hosts. This is normal human  mindset. But what if parasites can actually do good ? If they are only suppose to be doing harm to the host, why do some biologists find that there are “positive benefits” which seem to be maintaining their hosts ? Ignorance has caused us to create an imbalance in nature by means of our horrible science-based agricultural practices which destroys both beneficial parasitic insects along with the bad. Our mind's naturally have a tendency to classify what we consider bizarre phenomena out in nature into moral categories: good kitty, bad doggie, so forth & so on. We do that with parasites all the time because we know how often some of them annoy, harm or kill us. I certainly don't want to suggest from these above articles that there is anything good about Mosquitos, Ticks, Fleas, Leeches, Roundworms or Malaria. But who knows how even these things behave when in a balanced system ? The majority of us have no clue as to what such a system would be like. I have found over the years that many things considered by humans to be plagues, cause famines and/or Pestilences are most often times the results of human ignorance, environmental sloppiness, lack of hygiene, etc. 

"Survival of the Fittest"
What’s instructive about many of these stories is that many of these research teams start with an assumption that parasites are bad. They are at war with the host, using the host’s resources for their own good. The evidence gathered above suggests the opposite; they might really be beneficial after all. Another organism we often demonize & insert into the “bad” category are Viruses. After all,  they do invade a host cell, hijack and use its replication machinery to make copies of themselves. Why, then, do only a small fraction of viruses cause disease ? What are the others out there doing ? Interestingly, many of them kill bacteria; that could be a good thing, couldn't it ?  Maybe we should take a fresh look at what we consider the creepy icky things of our natural World. In biology there are many pushes and pulls. But these pushes and pulls are not necessarily good or bad; they are simply opposite forces that maintain any ecosystem's homeostasis. Maybe by learning how nature really operates in a complete context, we can come to some conclusions of how to better deal with what has come to be termed invasive. These so-called invasive plants, insects, animals, birds, fish, etc are only a problem of ecosystem imbalance which resulted from some historical stupid decision made by humans which  created the problem in the first place. Nature had zero to do with it. Such findings by these researchers, do lend themselves to new ways of thinking about our natural world's parasites as designed mechanisms originally intended for health of the entire global ecosystem, a few of which have subsequently gone bad. For readers who cannot accept that, the story is a lesson about not trusting metaphors as reliable guides to understanding our natural world. You know many of these metaphors, some good and instructive, but some of these are horrible like "Survival of the Fittest". Okay, everybody for the most part completely understands how the best & healthiest seeds out perform sickly seeds and so forth. But people like Prof Suzanne Simard have revealed how bad and outdated that metaphor is from her research about "Mother Trees" in a forested Ecosystem where all the biological components have been observed working together to help each other survive as opposed to selfish competing individuals. This goes a long way in explaining the inept reforestation practices where the chaparral plant community is viewed as an enemy as opposed to an ally which actually insures a forest's natural rebuilding program. The reality is, this terrible religious metaphor has actually hindered our understanding as opposed to educating mankind by instilling respect for the natural world. A little over a decade ago, there was a great article I have never forgotten which puts things into perspective. It was called, Natural Enemies: Metaphor or Misconception ? ( in other words, is that a reality, or just another  metaphor ?), by Matthew K. Chew and Manfred D. Laubichler in the July 4, 2003 issue of , an online journal which discussed the usefulness and dangers of metaphors in the language of science. You know, like, "Survival of the Fittest" ? Please click and read the link below, but here are the two concluding paragraphs which I'll post here:
"What troubles us is that biology's metaphorical abstractions all too easily become concrete objects and substitute for specific, describable processes. Maximal diversity becomes evolution's telos instead of its tendency. Biogeographical frontiers become prescriptive and enforceable, rather than descriptive and conceptual. Seasonal “disturbances” such as floods interrupt normal ecological processes, instead of exemplifying them. Biological “productivity” and “diversity” become not only measurable, but virtuous."
Matt Chew's & Manfred Laubichler's essay provides many excellent metaphor examples like; ecology speaks of predator and prey, but these suggest one is good and the other evil. Hence we have Wolf versus Elk, Mountain Lion versus Big Horn Sheep, etc. You may also remember that metaphors have been used for describing the signalling and machinery that are used in cell biology, as well as being used to explain what goes on within DNA such as “coding” and "development". But for me personally, I find that bad metaphors associated with parasites have hindered us from viewing them in a way that helps us to better understand their roles in the Natural World. In conclusion, Chew & Laubichler warned: 
"Perhaps we cannot avoid metaphors altogether in scientific language. But scientists must be aware of the potential problems inherent in invoking the familiar as a convenient way for describing their ideas. At the very least, we should be concerned about what the frequent use of “natural enemies” (and the notable absence of “natural allies,” describing an equally familiar set of ecological interactions) reveals about the ways in which we interpret nature through metaphorical lenses, especially in the current historical situation."
(source: "Natural Enemies--Metaphor or Misconception ?")
BTW, Matthew Chew has an updated version from 2011 called, The Rise and Fall of Biotic Nativeness: a Historical Perspective 
So what really is this Goldilocks Principle ?
Well, we've all heard of the classic fairytale 'Goldilocks and the Three Bears' which tells us the story of a young fair golden haired Girl who wanders into a strange house in the woods. She finds one bowl of porridge too hot, another too cold and the third just right. Many Scientists sometimes apply the tale to a planet's ability to sustain life as we know it. In our own star system for example, Venus is too hot and Mars is too cold, but Earth is just right. But there's far more  here on the Earth itself which is loaded with the Goldilocks Principles. Hence even the subject of parasites. These ideas  haven't always been very popular, because it smacks of fine-tuning and the Earth being special and unique among other known planets and so forth. Broadly speaking, the Goldilocks Principle applies to any situation where only a particular range of conditions is acceptable or agreeable for a healthy ecosystem. The Earth's ability to perfectly recycle and maintain itself is now seriously being called into question. Here was an interesting read from just last week on this very subject: 
Goldilocks principle: Earth's continued habitability due to geologic cycles that act as climate control 
 So Parasites, Ecology & the Goldilocks Principle ?
File under: "Religion & other Metaphysics"

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Global Weirding (climate change) & stories that make it a tough sell

Image: The Daily Scoff

More like, C'MONNNN Scientists, quite pulling our legs!
In 2011, 2012 & early 2013 There were so many reports of how Dinosaur flatulence warmed the Earth and may even have caused their extinction. Conservation articles in the past about Ghenghis Khan butchering 40 million people , Black Plague killing millions and even the Empire building Spanish Conquistadors butchering people & destroying Central American civilizations by eliminating millions more people are said to have been a healthy thing environmentally speaking. Headlines such as these are more of a turn off to the public as opposed to getting them to take anything serious about Earth's environment. I actually don't wish to even elaborate on or discuss this as something deserving of consideration, but it is illustrative of where such off-topic storytelling masks the real serious issues. Indeed, Swamp Gas and flatulence of Livestock have also even seriously been attributed to climate change. Hey, even trees giving off natural aerosols, something which they have done for 10s of 1000s of years are now said to be partly to blame for Ozone pollution because they mix with man made pollutants and give us hazy skies. *sigh*

Update: March 24, 2014 Live Science: 

"Dinosaur Era Had 5 Times Today's CO2"
"Dinosaurs that roamed the Earth 250 million years ago knew a world with five times more carbon dioxide than is present on Earth today, researchers say, and new techniques for estimating the amount of carbon dioxide on prehistoric Earth may help scientists predict how Earth's climate may change in the future."
These studies coming out lately wreak of religiosity. File this under: 'Blind Faith'. The total tonnage of what these researchers don't understand or will admit they do not actually know is astounding. As time goes on and more and more science journal entertainment pieces come out, the less people will believe anything they say. One small paragraph reads like this:
"During this time, the Earth's interior was not standing still; rather, the supercontinent Pangaea had started to split into two smaller landmasses, called Laurasia and Gondwana." 
Unbelievable. The story here starts out reading something like this, "Once upon a time in a land far far away . . " I’m thinking about proposing a new Post title here above: 
Not Even Wrong: "Why Science Doesn’t Even Pretend to Be Truth" (Much Less, A Way of Knowing)  
I have never ever once observed Nature to be out of balance or at fault for this planet's problems. Generally it has always been inept decision making of humans ignorance which puts themselves and other living creatures in harms way. See the latest article from an online UK journal, The Guardian
Is this all humans are? Diminutive monsters of death and destruction? 
Subtitled: "New research suggests that there was never a state of grace. We have always been the nemesis of the planet's wildlife"
Although I do believe the present ecological mess can be attributed to the inept human leadership (political/religious/scientific-Business), the Earth truly has experienced such mismanagement from mankind's first real appearance (irrespective as to how or when anyone believes that appearance started) to the present. Something else out there in the Natural World though has come up which deserves a defense. Actually there are many things that deserve a defense in Nature, but let me start with the myth of Earthworms contributing to global warming and forest decline in North America. Over the past few years as I've read the stories where the reported research, rather than thorough scientific study, has become more and more storytelling fantasies. Once again, the Race Horse Blinkers remain glued to many researchers heads as they seem to still have a strong lack of peripheral vision. Many today, and perhaps this is where the public gets it, seem incapable of looking at any specific subject within a broader environmental context. To illustrate, we all know how the meaning of a specific written statement of text is best understood when we consider the context of paragraphs that surrounds it. So why shouldn't this also work when considering the environment ? (more on this later with a future epigenetics piece) 

This came out in 2012 in the UK Guardian based on this scientific study here written in Nature's climate change section:
Greenhouse-gas emissions from soils increased by earthworms 
"The presence of worms affects how much carbon dioxide is produced in the soil and how much escapes to the atmosphere. Scientists are concerned that earthworms increase greenhouse gas emissions - and that earthworm numbers are on the rise."
You might also take special note of UC Davis report on this:
'Global worming': Earthworms contribute to climate change 
 Incredible, so earthworms and other soil organisms are also at fault for greenhouse gases. This sounds more like something written by Mr Watts Up (if you know who I'm talking about). More later on the silly reasons it is believed earthworm populations are on the rise. There are a couple interesting quotes in that article's page, the first two showing stupidity in choice of words and the third quote was from one person in the comments section which made a great observation as to what such irresponsible reporting does to climate change education of the public in general. Here is one dumb quote first.
"Bacteria in the earthworms' gut produce nitrous oxide and emissions from worm-infested soil can be three times as high as from soil without any worms," the paper says.
I'm sorry, worm infested soil ??? Okay here is the other quote which is a real gem:
"The growing use of organic fertilisers increases will provide more food for earthworms, the study says. On top of that, the move away from conventional land cultivation could also boost numbers."
Unbelievable. So organic gardening and use of compost is an evil thing which helps these invasive earthworms thrive and increase. Wow, all this time people who have criticized Monsanto and Dow Chemical have had it all wrong all along. Those synthetic chemicals the Industrial Behemoths were manufacturing were actually helping stave off population explosions of earthworms and other beneficial soil microbes which also give off other deadly gaseous greenhouse emissions. And the reference to the move away from conventional land cultivation is alluding to a practice which is beneficial to soil called No-Till soil cultivation. Evidently the mechanized plowing of the land grinds up excessive invasive earthworms which actually saves the planet, if I'm to understand their reasoning here. Here is an interesting perspective from one commenter about the lack of any value coming from such an article being printed and used as fodder from Climate Change denialists. 
"If, as the Guardian writer above admits: "the vast majority of global warming is caused by human activities", then why on earth do you bother printing another uninteresting excuse story, probably originating from the desks of the rabid Daily Mail denialists !??"
(article source)
That article was in early 2012, and referenced a review of more than 200 published studies by Ingrid Lubbers of Wageningen University in the Netherlands and colleagues who concluded that worms increased CO2 emissions from soils by a third on average. I think the above speaks for itself. Actually a later article has come out later in a 2013 New Scientist post Worm turns from zero to climate change hero showing Earthworms can actually help store carbon within the soil. Certainly they also refine & break down the nutrients and make them more readily available to all manner of plant life who otherwise would miss out on such thorough nutrient uptake opportunities without them. But there was another side in the above link which touched on the subject about these creatures I've read on and off before as earthworms being invasive and destroying northern forests in the North American continent. There is the supposed myth of a glacial period which destroyed all of the North American earthworms which were said to dislike cold extremes. Let me quote some of the comments under that article's last sub-heading:
Danergous aliens
"For instance, following wipeout during the last ice age, large parts of North America were earthworm-free until Europeans brought soil from home. Old-world earthworms are still migrating north. Some researchers, such as Paul Hendrix of the University of Georgia in Athens, see their presence as a dangerous alien invasion." 
 "Farming, including ecological methods like no-till farming, promotes the spread of earthworms, says Lubbers. And global warming will likely make them more active." 
Indeed many many fables insist that these invasive earthworms are consuming all the forest litter for which trees like Maple need for their future seedling germination. Recently I stumbled upon a site owned by a group called the Macoun Wildlife Field Club . This conservation group conducted their own field study regarding the over population of Deer and so-called invasiveness of earthworms killing forests by scouring the forest floor of all biological living and dead materials. As you can see from the illustrative cross section of soil photo to the right here, this is the typical soil profile most of us are aware of and familiar with. For me there were the usual narrow mindedness and lack of common sense issues in their report. Not that they aren't well meaning people, but more was needed than heartfelt reading of things on the surface is what was lacking. The report read like some TV commercial advertisement in which some giant industrial chemical brand name insecticidal product attempts to persuade an ignorant gardening public that the only good bug is a dead bug. In no way do these chemical giants inform you that the overpowering concentrated potency of their various line of chemical fertilizers attracts massive amounts of specific insect depending on whether that product is high in nitrogen, phosphorus, etc. Like Mosquitoes drawn to and attracted by Carbon Dioxide, so specific high concentrations of any one nutrient element will bring differing specific pests to your garden. Then you have an infestation resulting from an imbalance in the system. Solution ? Kill them! In no way are you ever educated or informed through the Advertisement to look for an imbalance in the mini-ecosystem within your landscape. Hence blame and attack the symptom which is the lazy way out. So what if there is long term collateral damage, Industrial Scientists will find a way to correct that later. What this Group in the woodland study showed were before and after pictures of the same tree. Take a look at the same tree with and without forest liter a few years apart.

image: Macoun Field Club

image: Macoun Field Club
The link to their article here: Forests build soil. Ours is losing it! What's going on? . There are a few quotes I'd like to point out and then address. Like many of the major research projects undertaken by the professionals from many of the world's major Universities, they too have exhibited tunnel vision by simply focusing only on what appears on the surface to be the obvious. After explaining the complete removal of understory vegetation by Deer, which is in of itself a result of overpopulation and lack of predators for an organized behavior modification of the Deer, which they never address, they then focus on the earthworms. 
"We speak of worms invading because all earthworms in eastern Canada and the northeastern United States are alien, mainly European species. We don't know when they arrived in our Study Area -- it could have been in the 1800s. By 1989 they were numerous among our study trees, but for a few years to come, the leaf litter and duff were largely intact."
Okay, so this basically is how the story goes. Once upon a time North America was worm-free, there was a well functioning forest. But then there was a worm invasion from Europeans which resulted in the innocuous duff layer being destroyed below the leaf litter which further caused disruption of leaf litter (bare ground starts to show) with complete loss of leaf litter exposure, death, and disappearance of fine rootlets exposure of bare soil to rainfall with consequent erosion which continued lowering of the ground surface, exposing roots and rocks. I'll explain at the end here how those invasive earthworms which are of European origin function over here later. Now here is another quote:
"Earthworms, in contrast, chew their way through the litter and duff in a single pass. Gardeners and composters prize this speedy decomposition. But in the forest, the worms leave nothing for other forms of life, except bacteria."   
This quote was unbelievable and again I'm not making fun of these people, because after all they appreciate and love nature. But they have never ever been taught to train their perceptive powers of reason by actually viewing Nature in a wider context. Neither have most modern day researchers for that matter. Or for that matter, neither do many of the well known beloved myths & fables reflect this root cause analysis practice or they wouldn't still be with us. Never once are the subject of Earthworm predators dealt with regarding the system they clearly painstakingly study. For example, Moles! Don't they have moles back east and up north ? They thrive on earthworm abundance in ecosystems. Take a look at the video of a Mole eating an earthworm for breakfast here: Mole eating Earthworm . Nowhere in this Groups study did they even attempt to look for Mole activity or lack thereof. Funny, they must be back east, because they were even extremely abundant in Anza California up in high desert regions where I once lived. I had many on my property and unfortunately our cat took care of many of them. But Moles also eat grub and other insects as part of their diet. Unfortunately for the mole however, gardeners dislike them destroying their yards with their tunnels and eating their precious earthworms. Hence science has created a number of devices for the home gardener to rid themselves of this pest like traps and poisons. I highly doubt this was factored into these studies either.
image: Daily Express UK
But there is also another creature not mentioned which thrives on Earthworms, Badgers. Throughout central and north Europe there are loads of badgers in the countryside, though they also are not always liked by gardeners because of their foraging will often mess up a well manicured garden or landscape. Also they love earthworms, but so do gardeners. But badgers also love to eat snails as evidenced from shells in their dung, so there is a love/hate relationship with badgers & Gardeners. And that's where the problem comes. Like Moles, people will kill a Badger if they feel it is infringing upon their landscape sovereignty. Plus road kills are common especially at night. I use to see them around the open plains while traveling in early morning hours between Warner Springs and Lake Henshaw in San Diego County, so I know they are local to there. Once again, that group never looked at the absence of badgers nor any other predator. Here is a great reference link in the UK from a Badger organization regard Badgers & their earthworm diet.

Another animal over here in Europe is the cute little Hedgehog which kind of look like a mini-porcupine. Frogs are yet another Earthworm predator. Rather than continue with a long list of critters which were never considered missing in the target forest of abundant earthworms in that groups study, here is a gallery of things here in Europe which love those invasive earthworms. Take note how predators here keep the balance of Nature where forest floors remain intact. Funny, even toads & frogs if they find an earthworm outside of it's burrow in rainy weather which is common here will grab an easy bite. 

Common Shrew - photo Hania Berdys

image: Surrey Amphibian and Reptile Group

image: Wiki Common

image: Pakshi Loka

Eurasian Magpie of Sweden
This Magpie is extremely common around Sweden, especially around the suburban outskirts and fringes of woodlands. As I walked to the Tram stop yesterday I saw a group of five Magpies foraging for earthworms and other grubs, but mostly I see them with earthworms. These birds are tough and determined little buggers with a mind of their own. They don't scare easily. They will as a group or even single bird tear up a person's lawn thoroughly looking for Earthworms here, which makes them a nuisance to many gardeners. The link above is a great post for Magpies in Sweden. They and the Black Bird below which is really a type of Thrush are determined and thorough ground foragers. The European Robin also is a major player and no doubt so is it's American Robin cousin in North American forests.

image: 10,000 Birds

The national bird of Sweden is the Blackbird Turdus merula, otherwise known as the Common Blackbird or Eurasian Blackbird, though, of course, in Sweden it is not known by any of those names but as Koltrast.  The Blackbird became the Swedish national bird as a result of a newspaper poll in 1962.  Beyond the charisma and song of the species it is unclear why the Swedish people chose the Koltrast as their national bird.  It is common in Sweden but so are many other species.  This bird's singing is the same background sound of the song Blackbird by the Beatles. It's beautiful in Springtime as it's singing echoes in the forest.
For the record, and in case some folks from the United States read this and don’t know, the Blackbird being referenced here is actually a thrush, like our American Robins. Sweden is one of at least three countries that has a thrush as the national bird (Malta and Costa Rica do as well), but Sweden is the only country to have so honored Turdus merula.   
In different parts of Sweden there are different regional names including Svarttrast, Svartstare, Gråstare, Svartklera, Buskstare, Solsvärta, and Muskvipa. (Corey)
There are other creatures over here which forage off Earthworms as well like the Jackdaws and so forth. I also am aware that many of these same critters are native to these same regions being labeled as attacked by Earthworms in northeastern America. None of these creatures were even factored in by that study group, or other studies that I am aware of for the imbalance found within those North and eastern forests in the USA & Canada. This brings me to another flaw of the myths and fables told about the invasive European earthworm. The story goes that these earthworms were never a problem for decades until Global Warming set in and with rising temperatures have allowed these nonnative invasive pests to infiltrate northern forests. Remember the Ice Age Fable killing off the earthworms who use to live in North America ? What flabbergasts me is that here in Sweden we have ten godzillion earthworms everywhere here and the forest litter is fine. The animals keep a perfect balance in populations and the idea that warming Temps has made them increase is a joke. I seriously hate the weather here where I live. It stinks. I hate the constant cold frigid icy snowy weather which seems to last 6 months here sometimes. So the Ice Age storying leaves me to be suspicious that someone is trying to gain notoriety in publishing some outrageous explanation without facts and when they do this, especially when trying to tie in global warming, it gives the climate change deniers fodder to use in debates. It just doesn't fit their version of truth. No one it seems has considered the importance of various predators in stabilizing earthworm populations. I haven't found anything over there in the literature to suggest missing predators other than lack of common sense and close mindedness when it comes to reporting a sensational story. The bottom line here is that if they don't start doing the real science as it's supposed to be done, then why should anyone care or take them seriously about the real threat to global climate ? Clearly many leaders in the science industry are dropping the ball on this one. I'm confused as to why a story of fiction is opted for as opposed to real hard cold facts backed up by evidence. There may even be other factors I have not even considered, but the ones I've listed are clearly visible to anyone, let alone some elite researcher. I'll say one thing, I'm going to be curious after this years 2014 Arctic Vortex if these so-called earthworms have died off, because such cold and worse has never effected them here.

illustration: Albert Suckow

Every Researcher should be required to take a course
in Cause Mapping or Root Cause Analysis

What will happen as it always does is the solution will be to find a way to kill off the abundant populations of earthworms. You know, the old quick fix, like so many of the crackpot solutions being proposed for turning climate change around. Maybe conducting aerial drops of some kind with some science-based chemical invention by Dow or Monsanto to deal with  quelling the symptom as opposed to actually fixing the underlying cause as they almost never do. Home gardeners and Landscapers take their Que from the Experts and I have to tell you, they far out number all the Industrial and Government entities combined and will do far more damage to the landscape in the long run. Who knows, maybe all those public trappings and poisonings have created the problem of earthworm over population in the first place. But one thing you can count on, if history in research tells us one thing, a look at the underlying cause and rebuilding balance back into the system will most likely not be an option.
Update: University of southern Denmark (03-25-2014)
Pesticides make the life of earthworms miserable 
"Pesticides are sprayed on crops to help them grow, but the effect on earthworms living in the soil under the plants is devastating, new research reveals: The worms only grow to half their normal weight and they do not reproduce as well as worms in fields that are not sprayed." (science-based agriculture could be the answer to ridding North American of these invasive pests - sarcasm alert)
Sarcasm Alert!
Apparently, there are some old Soviet programs out there where misused and abused science has found a solution to invasive earthworm and other micro-organism over population problem:
Forests Around Chernobyl Aren’t Decaying Properly 
 Quote from end of article:
"According to a new study published in Oecologia, decomposers—organisms such as microbes, fungi and some types of insects that drive the process of decay—have also suffered from the contamination. These creatures are responsible for an essential component of any ecosystem: recycling organic matter back into the soil. Issues with such a basic-level process, the authors of the study think, could have compounding effects for the entire ecosystem."
Wow, so microbiological life including insects and even critters like Earthworms can be completely obliterated in almost an instant of time. Well, hey, at least the forest litter is untouched. It's beginning to look like this could be the situation across the globe with a slower process called overuse and abuse of chemical fertilizers.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Ongoing Mismanagement of Earth's Forested Ecosystems

The latest Burn Notice episodes:
I'll simply post a few of the usual outrageous quotes often parroted by an otherwise ignorant public who rely on out of touch with reality officials to do their outdoors thinking and study for them.
(1)"Prescribed burns reduce wildfire threat"
“Some plant communities and animal species rely on periodic fire for their existence. The prescribed burns also reduce the amount of potential wildfire fuel and protect a parks’ resources and neighboring areas if lightning, arson or carelessness sparks a wildfire.”
This is insane. These ongoing pulpit parroting of religious affirmations insisting that plants and animals need Fire in order to propagate. Yes, life goes on after fires, but plants and animals also have other ways of carrying on if no fire is present. An explosion of growth strategies with plants and wildlife encoded within their DNA as a direct response to a catastrophic events work well to get things back on track, but even these become null & void if such events are repeatedly experienced. Don't ever count on the Public to get any of this if Officials are out of touch with the reality of how most ecosystems actually work. 
“The point of this fire was to reduce the threat of wildfire. We’re burning it on our terms so a wildfire can’t burn on its terms,” Walker said Tuesday. “Our goal is to reduce small fuels by consuming them with fire. There will also be some benefits by reducing hardwood competition and making a more park-life appearance with general aesthetic quality.” 
That is nothing more than a "Palms to Pines" Mandate for recreational aesthetic appeal in mind for the Public's approval. The expression used here as, "reducing hardwood competition" is a code word for decadent brush or chaparral which are considered an invasive species, even though they may be Native to the area. The terms endemic & invasive have also become redefined.
(source: News Herald - March 4th 2014)
(2) "The answer to forest-destroying fires is more fire, researchers say"
The Southwest Fire Science Consortium, which held a three-day meeting in Tucson this week to address forest resiliency in the face of climate change and megafires.  More than 100 scientists, land managers and firefighters from government, academic and nongovernmental agencies gathered to brainstorm strategies for making forests resilient as big, hot fires threaten their very existence.
“More fire, not less” is one answer, the researchers said.”
“Treating and burning the landscape regularly, and using natural fire to accomplish those same ends will allow those changes to occur gradually." 
(Arizona Daily Star - February 28 2014)
In other Breaking News:
 "Ghenghis Khan was the Earth's 1st Eco-Warrior"
This absurd story floated around a few years back about the mass murdering of an estimated 40 million people by this Thug and how good it was for the planet back then because farmland turned back into forests. Along with this, other propagated myths and fables of the "Black Plague", Conquistadors destroying Central American Civilizations, etc were equally as beneficial to those ecosystems. These absurd asinine hypothesis of mass die-offs of human beings being good for Nature and Climate Change makes the 20th Century's Social Darwinism Eugenics programs look like Pollyanna & her friends playing "The Glad Game". Personally I find such crackpot theorizing to be nothing more than Parable of the Broken Window Fallacy if you know what I mean ? Okay, so I didn't really want to go there, but there was another updated article which came out on 11th of March 2014 with a climate related story where the theory has always been that this Mongol Thug and his hordes who lived in a barren dry wilderness was the reason for spreading their mighty Empire to wetter greener pastures just wasn't the case based on tree ring studies. The period of around 1200 C.E. was actually the wettest on record for Mongolia. In the Bloomberg article in the Energy, Resources and Sustainability section, the article about the Mongolian Empire had one interesting point in it which relates to fire history within the record of ancient tree rings. In fact, I think most people missed this point, which basically said there that fire was extremely rare or lacked fire altogether based on what they discovered in the tree rings. Here are a couple of the article quotes which I believe no one picks up on:
Amy Hessl, a physical geographer at West Virginia University, and her colleagues stumbled on the evidence for this ancient episode of unusual wetness by accident. In 2010, she was part of an expedition looking to understand the fire history of north-central Mongolia. The researchers were looking at tree rings, which represent a tree’s annual growth layers and show charring from ancient fires.
En route to the study site, the team was driving past an old lava flow, when Hessl noted a stand of pine trees amongst the rocks. She convinced the team to stop on the way back and take some samples. 
“They sat in the lab for four or five months,” co-author Neil Pederson, a scientist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory’sTree-Ring Laboratory, said in an interview.
When Pederson finally got around to analyzing them, he found they were much older than expected. One went all the way back to the 600s, and others to the 1100s.  Pederson didn’t find any evidence of fire, but he was surprised to see a series of unusually thick growth rings representing the years 1215–1226. 
(Story Source - March 11 2014)
The trees they mainly took samples from were mostly Scots Pine, Pinus sylvestris. It's incredible because all we hear today from the Experts on Fire Ecology is how Nature needs fires and how fire creates evolutionary adaptations, which is bunk. Fire does NOT create, it destroys, but Nature does have built in programs for dealing with a recovery from just such a natural catastrophe. Now this isn't to say fire has never been around in past history or that it does not create opportunities. However it's importance to the natural world has always been overblown and such cultural religiously motivated dogmatic views which are generally well entrenched are tough Brazilian Nuts to crack. Too much fire and those so-called amazing rebound mechanisms go out the window and that is what we are experiencing now. I won't elaborate anymore on this, but you can read and even bookmark some of these Tree Ring Lab studies and other research papers about Mongolia from the following links:
Timelines in Timber: Inside a Tree-Ring Laboratory
Fire, Climate, And Forest History In Mongolia
Reconstructing fire history in central Mongolia from tree-rings
Mongolian Climate, Ecology & Culture
Photo: Neil Pederson

The Logo Tree, a dead and likely ancient Siberian pine.

Interestingly, they found areas where fire had occurred in specific locations, but also other locations within the same geographical location had not had fire for hundreds of years. Incredibly, these ecosystems have done fine in the absence of fire which flies in the face of most of the fire ecology doctrines. But the single most important factor you will never once find taken into consideration either about the history of any region or as a solution for managing forested systems is real viable options for rebuilding an ecosystem is to consider utilizing animals like herbivores & predators as a complete complement package. Or how about using domestic animals responsibly with a hands on guidance management for mimicking the specific behavioral movements of creatures like wild herding and roaming herbivores ? No such luck where FIRE is considered King of maintenance. I have touched on this previously in my last post regarding the importance of studying the historical  herbivore effects with browsing on vegetative ecosystems such as the Yellowstone example of the Elk & Wolf combo. 
What is meant by the word "Natural" when it comes to Land Management?
Did you know ? Earth was once a much Crappier place to live than it is NOW!
Modern Day Field Research
The facts show that animals have a more positive impact on vegetation than fires. Not that fires don't provide some measure of environmental benefits, but those benefits are overblown in the propaganda department, especially when there are politcal-business agendas to be addressed. Along similar lines regarding the Elk-Wolf Combo environmental impact at Yellowstone and the effects Elk had on vegetation clearance, there have been articles floating around the Internet recently demonizing the Yellowstone Wolf impact study with regards to improved Forest health. As par for the way modern day research is generally conducted, tunnel vision and peripheral vision always seem to be at conflict with one another. Once again lack of common sense prevails. While some individuals have a natural ability view certain target wildlife within the context of an entire ecosystem, sadly the majority are incapable of this gift. For example criticism has been lodged against those who would call the Yellowstone Wolves heroes of the ecosystem improvement. For example, an article yesterday from the New Your Times had this to say in response:
"Initially, scientists suggested that wolves alone were responsible for this recovery. But ecology, as with all sciences, advances as new information comes to light, and recent findings indicate the Yellowstone story may be more nuanced than previously thought." 
New York Times (March 9, 2014)
The above article's author, Arthur Middleton expressed negativity was about another article Hunting Habits of Wolves Change Ecological Balance in Yellowstone in which he thought that the other author Jim Robbins and the Scientists who were cited tended to celebrate the Wolf contribution a little too much and neglected to credit other biological components within the Yellowstone ecosystem for the vegetation recovery success stories. This is untrue, I never once got that impression or found where they failed to credit other living components. But there even appears to be other researchers with their own slant and take on the subject who also take potshots in criticizing the original accounts and public information which in their opinion celebrated the wolf contribution way too much. Again, I never arrived at those conclusions. What I see more here and with other studies is a competition between egos motivated by envy, covetousness and jealousy which are in the long run counterproductive. But this immature behavioral phenomena can been seen in most scientific studies in any field these days. It is after all the nature I guess of not our modern day's intellectualism, but also a character flaw throughout history with regards human beings. For me the Yellowstone Ecology is like a brand new finely tuned complex Rolls Royce. Let's say the timing within the engine was off or one tire was missing and someone had the lame idea to use a ski plate to substitute for the missing wheel. Proper functionality would have been grossly missing. But replaced with the missing original parts designed within the system and the entire mechanism runs like a top. Everything else in the system would fall into place.
The biggest problem for me is that all this deflects attention away from more important issues like practical application in other areas of wildlands maintenance. Instead we're all treated to some jealous clown climbing a soapbox and hand waiving for attention. This application of animals in replacing Prescribed Burns could be used in correcting something else that has been in the News as of late. For example, from Cornell University came this article: Deer proliferation disrupts a forest’s natural growth . The Deer enclosure above right is an example of Deer eating too much plant biodivsersity on the one side of the fence as compared to the other side. But the ironic thing about this terrible environmental impact of large numbers of Herbivores (Elk & Deer) being demonized for conducting excessive house cleaning in Forested understories is because it prevents healthy biodivsersity of plant life (see the NPR story: Growing Deer Population Hurts Survival Of Forests ). Nevertheless this completely contradicts the two articles at the top of this post where other Ecology Scientists and Forest Researchers insist that fire is needed on an ongoing basis because dense biodiverse understories are bad because they harm more desirable trees and create fire hazards. Prescribed Fire or Control Burns they say would clean house and take care of all of that decadent brush. But is a clean Forest understory a bad thing or a good thing ? Depends on which church you attend I guess. If then Fire is a good thing after all, then why are they not considering more animal introductions into the trouble spot locations to be considered ? Or how about domesticated livestock more closely monitored like Joel Salatin's forest model of one month of disturbance followed by 11 months of rest and repair ? Actually, none of these options are ever on the table for official discussion. 

image: Marion Fayolle
I have to admit that what I found most interesting in the Wolf studies and impact in Yellowstone was the behavioral changes they actually created among the Elk. The painting above showing wolves hunting Elk and Deer with guns is supposed to illustrate that hunting and killing is what brought numbers of Elk down. Less Elf means Less Browsing. So the theory goes. Clearly there was more to it than that. This past January 2014 articles of studies showing just the mere presence of wolves within an area causes weight loss in Cattle and also some miscarriages. See Wolf predation of cattle affects calf weight in Montana . Could that also have contributed to Elk number declines ? Like Cattle, the pre-wolf reintroduction in Yellowstone would have created a sort of Elk with domestic livestock characteristics which without fear of predators, allowed them a comfortable carefree attitude to mow down all manner of vegetation without a care in the world and with such over abundance of food be more inclined to produce more offspring. This is often seen within insect populations in either your landscape or Agriculture where pesticides also kill natural predators to plant chewing which over populate and create needs for more pesticides because of an abnormal imbalance. Rather than reestablishing a previous balanced setting, home owners and farmers opt for quick mass kill fixes for which they have been marketed to do by large Commercial Corporate Interests.

With all the supposedly superior understanding of how Nature works by all the Experts out there today, very little Biomimicry which is replicating how nature works in land management is ever used or even considered as an option in the first place. The justification for utilizing more and more regular fire burns for maintenance in woodland areas is said to be justified because Indians did it to benefit herbivore wildlife who just love meadows and grasslands. But  clearly this has being proven a lie in the light of what Deer and Elk have been doing to Forest understories. Are we to believe that Native Americans over 100s of years never once observed any of this ? Do you realize that most people who envision Buffalo, Elk and Antelope out on the plains never once research and consider that they at one time made migrations through many dense forested areas in the eastern half of the United States with researchers telling us that at one time with all these species they numbered into the 10s of millions ? One or the other of all these Researchers & Scientists are lying in all these studies. So which one is it ? Again, it's that pick your favourite Church Preacher phenomena who tickles your ears the way you like it. Natives may and did use fire, but for reasons other than the popular Romance novels wants you to believe. Here is an interesting video which explains differences between having Tunnel Vision and the ability to view things in context called
 Peripheral Vision !
Next News Item up: Earthworms are invasive, cause climate change and deforestation. See the post below:
Global Weirding (climate change) & stories that make it a tough sell