Saturday, October 1, 2016

Tardigrades: pioneers in creating a new Earth ?

I've always thought that if ever I got hold of some land again for home & plant ecosystem development, I'd choose a blank canvas one!
 images and content © by Shuwen Lisa Wu - Borrego Badlands - San Diego County
The view above is a photograph taken by Shuwen Lisa Wu who has a passion for taking beautiful photograph landscapes. Her husband Alexander Kunz is likewise a very talented landscape photographer. I really like this one because it's a scene I've admired from many angles most of my adult life when exploring Anza Borrego. The view is from the Borrego Badlands towards what looks to be the Fish Creek Mountains with Whale Peak to the right. This is also where the Plaster City Gypsum Mine is located along the canyon bottom of Fish Creek (which no longer has fish). Beyond here is Imperial Valley farmland with Salton Sea on the left hand side in the distance. Then just in the distance on the lower horizon before the farmland are the low rise of sandy mesquite dunes of Superstition hills if you know here to look. Still, this landscape looks to be a challenge not only for humans, but even for nature to reclaim and rebuild with regards whole plant ecosystems. What intrigues me about this area is that much of the signage and literature describing the origins of these corrugated hills is that the material is not native soil from the Mountains that tower over them from the west, nor coastal California, but rather material scoured from the Grand Canyon itself. Even the tops of these mountains north of the town of Ococtillo have a plethora of different sea shell. Thiis is clearly something that ancient freshwater Lake Cahuilla never put there. But that's for another story. I mainly posted the photo for the challenge it would take to encourage and create a combination native desert-subtropical landscape which could transform such a bare geological pattern into something all other  life could thrive in. But then suddenly the other day, I saw this article in the online journal VOX in the news feed about a cute little microscopic critter called the Tadigrade
VOX: Tardigrades — the microscopic, oddly cute toughest animals on Earth — explained

Credit: Eye of Science/SPL)

A tardigrade (Macrobiotus sapiens)
They are also known by a common name of Water Bears. Here are some of the main points (there are six main points), which I'll list, but mostly expand on point #3. Here is the first one.
1) First things first: Tardigrades are uncannily cute
My comment, 'Yes they are' now lets move on. You can read the further details from the link above.
2) Tardigrades can transform into tuns — allowing them to survive just about anywhere
Definitely an interesting section. Found absolutely everywhere through the Earth in every ecosystem. Tough buggers to kill, but that's a good thing as they are important to our planet's health. They have been burned, frozen, drowned, starved, subjected to lack of water and even nuked in outspace and they still survived.
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Yes, tough buggers to Nuke even in Outerspace
#3) Tardigrades are often the first to pioneer new ecosystems
Source VOX: Tardigrades — the microscopic, oddly cute toughest animals on Earth
"Byron Adams, a Brigham Young University biologist, explains that tardigrades often are the first to colonize new, harsh environments. They act as the founding links in food chains."   
An example: "When a volcano erupts, and molten lava pours over everything in the ecosystem, everything in that ecosystem is dead," he writes in an email. "Tardigrades are among the very first multicellular animals to colonize. The tardigrades feed on the microbes that live in this environment. The tardigrades, in turn, accumulate the essential elements for life — such as nitrogen, carbon, and phosphorus -- that then allowplants and other life forms to move in." 
And that's always fascinated me. How does life moved back into areas which have been totally obliterated ? I think it's safe to say that after a massive volcanic eruption, pretty much all life including microbes are toast. And yet life moves back in stages. But which comes first ? The last thing I ever thought of were Tadigrades or Water Bears. Yet from the VOX article's description they can withstand almost everything. Even a sanitized landscape created by volcanoes.

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Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
"Adams has conducted fieldwork in Antarctica, studying how melting permafrost will impact the microscopic ecosystem there. Because tardigrades are ubiquitous, they're likely to play a role in how the Antarctic continent changes with a warming climate."   
"They set the stage for other organisms," Adams tells me on a static-filled phone call from Antarctica. "They created the niches in which other more complex organisms . . "
Yes they sure do set the stage for other life forms to move in. Even harsh desert climates like the one below in northern Sonora Mexico and Southwestern Arizona east of Yuma. Funny, I'm now picturing these guys laying dormant within the desert's biological soil crusts, just waiting for the right moment to do their job. But biological soil crusts are another one of those ecosystems which get no respect.

(Foto por Leonora Torres)

El Pinacate Biosphere Reserve - Sonora, Mexico
Not long ago I wrote an article about this area above called El Pinacate which is located southeast of Yuma Arizona and just across the border in Sonora, Mexico. The region is a National Park or Reserve in Mexico. It is a former explosive volcanic field where at one time the landscape was remolded into a sterile sanitized state. But things came back and do live here and more abundant things thrived here back in history as evidenced from Packrat middens found here. Things like Pinyon and Juniper trees. They are extinct from here today. But then there was a climate change and the Water Bears just have to wait. Here was that post that dealt with how Saguaros also benefit from Volcanic explosions which originate from clear around the other side of the globe.
Distant Volcano eruptions help Saguaro Nursery baby booms ?

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What's left of Krakatoa Volcano whoch blew it's top  in 1883
One of the most spectacular displays of destruction and obliteration of all life came in 1883 on the larger island of Krakatoa in Indonesia. The island had the appearance of true sterility and yet life came back. No doubt Tadigrades or Water Bears went to work immediately in the restoration process before the obvious physical appearance of plants into the new ecosystem.

4) Tardigrades may be "stealing" survival secrets from other bacteria
Interesting quote here from the article in Vox. This goes a long way in explaining how these creatures engineer themselves to adapt into any environmental circumstances. This is hardly dumb luck based on copying errors, but rather brilliant programming:
"One of the most tantalizing possibilities is that tardigrades may take DNA from bacteria and other organisms — perhaps even acquiring new abilities in the process."   
"When tardigrades go into tun mode, Bartels explains, a bit of their DNA gets damaged. When they wake up, that DNA is stitched back together. What biologists are now investigating is whether foreign DNA from bacteria or other organisms can hitch along as the tardigrade DNA gets repaired."   
"If so, this may explain how tardigrades developed their remarkable survival skills —they essentially steal them from bacteria."
Again, this stuff is fascinating. (epigenetics) Viewing Nature from a engineered biological perspective makes it far easier the replicate as opposed to dumb luck and happenstance. Much of the present day technological innovation and land management practices have been based on grossly erroneous dogmatic beliefs such as "Survival of the Fittest." If this were untrue, our planet would not look the way it does presently. Science now knows (possibly too late) that various components (plants, animals, birds, fish, microbes, etc) are in reality mutualistic in survival cooperation with each other. Man's inhumanity to fellow man centuries prior to this discipline called "Science" actually coloured how the natural world was viewed 100+ years ago. I really don't think most people understand how degenerative flawed human thinking and conduct was when creating the institution of Science and Academia. Over a century of this so-called enlightenment and look where our planet is today. Can you imagine the different turn out of events if real biomimicry was undertaken back before the industrial revolution ? 
4) Just about anyone can discover new tardigrade species

Yes, apparently anyone can do this. Their common habitat is mosses and lichens. Hmmm, this makes me think of Desert Biological Soil Crusts and dormant Tadigrades just waiting to go to work.             

 (See: Biological Soil Crusts: What Are They and Why Should I Care ?)                  

Carleton College has a handy field guide to help greenhorns find tardigrades. Just six easy steps!
1. Collect a clump of moss or lichen (dry or wet) and place in a shallow dish, such as a Petri dish.   
2. Soak in water (preferably rainwater or distilled water) for 3-24 hours.   
3. Remove and discard excess water from the dish.   
4. Shake or squeeze the moss/lichen clumps over another transparent dish to collect trapped water.   
5. Starting on a low objective lens, examine the water using a stereo microscope.   
6. Use a micropipette to transfer tardigrades to a slide, which can be observed with a higher power under a compound microscope.
(Source & Very Kool Link)
6) Did we mention they're oddly cute?
Yes you did. Now let's move along.
Some concluding reflection & various other Comments
photo by Terry Weiner - Desert Protective Council

 Slot Canyons in Calcite Mine Area of the Desert Cahuilla Area
See this photo above ? I once made a comment under the post on the Desert Protective Council's Facebook page about creating a green living desert landscape in such places which are usually nothing more than sand rock & mud. I got hammered by the Admin of that page and her followers who took offense to what they believed was my attempt at interfering with Nature. That was never my point at all. On most social media sites, people don't often read another person's entire response or even ask you to clarify what you meant. Sometimes I think people on social media are looking for an excuse to display self-righteous indignation or some sort of emotional outrage. But seriously, below here is the exact conversation which took place in 2012 and you can google it on the Desert Protective Council Facebook page. 
"Some people see a wasteland. I see potential . . "
 Admin Response:
"Timeless, we should talk off-line! TW"
Other member response:
"Timeless, that attitude worries me. Raw nature doesn't need 'improvement'. They ARE wildlife paradises for the organisms that live there."
Once again, I did attempt to give a further explanation of what I actually meant. I assumed they thought I was talking human development. I wasn't. Unfortunately the explanation was ignored as there were no further comments. This is a common attitude and behaviour these days with many in the environmental movement who view being eccentric and easily offended as a badge of honor. I seriously don't get this behaviour. Being overly sensitive over every little thing said and taking offense over trivial viewponts are the new abnormal in our world now. This narrow minded tunnel vision reminds me of something Paul Newman's character, "Butch Cassidy," said to Robert Redford's character, "Sundance Kid." Remember this line & the scene where they were riding back to their hide out, "Hole in the Wall" ???:

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That always was an awesome line. If you recall, Newman's character Butch wasn’t exactly the toughest guy in the 'Hole in the Wall Gang" [think Logan], and he wasn't even the fastest gun either [think Sundance], but like Robert Redford (Sundance) responded, “You just keep thinkin’, Butch. That’s what you’re good at.” And he was right, Butch always seemed to manage to out-think almost everyone else around him, and that was what gave him the edge in his keeping his leadership. Frankly, I'm not an owner of a much coveted credentialed title before my name, nor do I have alphabet soup initials (PhD, BS, MS, etc) after my name on some business card. Nope, I'm not credentialed and I'm proud of that. But I've been intrigued most of my life since the early 1960s on how nature really works and what biological mechanisms make nature succeed against sseemingly impossible  odds. That's my answer to the conventional science promoting critics. My response to critics is similar to how Butch took care of Logan by outsmarting him by not playing on his level. Well, figuratively speaking of course..

image: Arizona Geologist, Wayne Ranne

The photograph above was taken in India by Northern Arizona Geologist, Wayne Ranne. The trees are many species of Acacia and one species of native Mesquite tree from India. I even referenced this Sand Dune Acacia woodland in my post on my biomimicry concept of replacing non-native and invasive Tamarisk Windbreaks with real world right in front of you (bite you if it were a rattlesnake) natural barriers commonly found in the Imperial County deserts. The post was about (Mesquite Dune Project) in which physical soil and rock structures could be built and planted with countless varieties of southwestern native desert trees like Palo Verde, Desert Ironwood, Mesquite, pockets of California Fan Palms here and there. Can you imagine the mile after mile windbreak baarriers comprised of living native desert whole plant ecosystems not only helping keep nature intact, but acting as real world physical barriers which prevent agricultural field desiccation on a massive scale which would save water ? Not to mention these deeply rooted (meters deep) native desert trees would never need irrigation.
Update March 26, 2017 TED Ed

Can you imagine if I were to suggest rebuilding desert plant ecosystems on the backs of the eastern Imperial Valley, Algodone Dunes ? The Desert Protective Council would hold a public hanging in Glamis. Okay, just kidding! The only thing I could figure was that they were thinking I wanted to develop something like the Palm Springs type of construction setting below. Puleeeze, that would be the last thing I'd want or ever do. There's way too much of that now.

Image - Conestoga Golf Club 

But the dream of having a landscape as a blank canvas is still so appealing to me. The idea of starting from scratch and building slowly along with just enough knowledge and information on various step by step biological mechanisms and just enough tweaking here and there to reasonably speed things along responsibly. I've never pointed this out before, but the theme of this blog, "Earth's Internet," is not exactly the internet address I chose. Notice what the address bar says up above here ? "Creating a New Earth" followed by That is taken from a biblical text at Isaiah 65:17 which I always found refreshing:
"I’m creating new heavens and a new earth. All the earlier troubles, chaos, and pain are things of the past, to be forgotten."
Most people who claim to be Christian do not even believe in the above text. From talking to many, they believe their creator of the Earth is going to destroy it in a firey apocalypse. Apparently their hope is some other deminsion of space and time called Heaven. I've never really had a desire to go to such a place. No offesnse. I've always loved the Earth and the natural things in it. The idea of living on such a wonderful planet [minus all the insaneness of human leadership and social unrrest at present], has always appealed to me far more. Now on an interesting nore, there are many other famous well known biblical texts which are not respected either by those who claim to believe in the Bible's content. Take another example from Isaiah 2:4. Seriously, how many of you reading here actually knew that this very well known text is on a monument wall outside the United Nations building under a very famous statue:
"Then they will beat their swords into iron plows     and their spears into pruning tools. Nation will not take up sword against nation; they will no longer learn how to make war."
Image - Lotus Edtions

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You should know that this, "Let Us Beat Swords into Plowshares" statue was sculpted by Yevgeny Vuchetich. It was donated to the UN by of all ideologies, the USSR in 1959. The sculpture stands in the garden of the UN headquarters.   Now, you all know I'm right on this. Can anyone reading actually name one single country on Earth that does follow this biblical admonition ? Not only are there no religious countries who do, but also not one single secular atheistic country who practices this other than the proverbial lip service. Seriously folks, don't tell me about how both Switzerland or Sweden have always been on the neutral sidelines. Nobody historically has ever been truly neutral. Now let's fast forward to the present. Does anybody really want to actually remember and embrace the year 2016, let alone the coming year 2017 ??? In all my 60 years of life I've never seen such an insane crazy year as this on every conceivable level. Socially, politically, religiously, economically, and environmentally things are headed towards ruin by human beings from every single culture, not God.

So has anybody seen one single mighty nation take even one of their Aircraft Carriers and turn it into a Golf Course ??? Yeah, me neither. In 1982 I moved from the San Diego area to a high mountain valley called Anza which is just north of this Borrego Badlands area. I loved this rugged area of beauty. It use to be more beautiful. Not only from a standpoint of my research of historical first hand accounts written in journals 100s of years ago, but even in my own lifetime experience. Over time I've particularly watch entire whole plant ecosystems completely disappear from Borrego. I suppose the other appeal was the lack of other humans in such areas. Can you imagine what Juan Bautista de Anza and Fray Pedro Font would say if they could eyewitness the dramatic changes of today in contrast to the pristine wild landscape they both described back in 1775-76 ?

image by Arno Gourdol (Dec 22, 2008)
Borrego badlands from Font's Point
Yeah, I still want my blank Canvas. Tardigrades are clearly  just another piece of the puzzle in accomplishing an earthwide rebuild. But I think I'll take my time in making changes ever so gradually. After all, that's what makes the idea and promise of living forever so appealing. I will admit one additional construct on my blank canvas. Remember the Faux Van Damme house in that Alfred Hitchcock film "North By Northwest" ? I'd somehow incorporate that into my landscaped setting. Seriously, I've always loved that house's design even though the place was never real and only part of a movie set. Maybe Frank Lloyd Wright would help me when he comes back ? *smile*
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Further reference reading on Tadigrades
VOX: Tardigrades — the microscopic, oddly cute toughest animals on Earth — explained

Articles I've written on the area above called San Felipe Creek which has slowly crept towards balnds status

Anyone Really into Using Google Earth ? San Felipe Creek (2013) 

Scissors Crossing & San Felipe Creek Revisited (2014)

List of posts about the Spanish Expedition as authored by Juan Bautista de Anza & Fray Pedro Font
I'll ponder posting these. But for now there is plenty of material to read 


  1. Mark, I am trying to establish an urban permaculture demonstration/education site in the Imperial Valley. Please contact me at
    Thank you.

    1. Are you the same Gregorio Ponce from the Imperial Valley campus of SDSU ??? I've written a little bit about SDSU's Mesquite Dune Project along Hwy 78 & 86

      Lessons From a Mesquite Dune Project


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