Thursday, December 27, 2012

Who Knew ? "Even in same vineyard, different microbes may create variations in wine grapes"

Credit: Wikipedia
"Depending on location in the picturesque rolling hills within a vineyard, the amount of sunshine or shade and a large host of other factors which effect microbial growth and association, differing species may effect taste and flavour of your flavourite wine. There clearly is more to choosing the best wine than knowing it's vintage and the Chateau it came from."
There was an incredible article or paper published recently which came out and revealed that different yeast species (microbes) may cause difference in wine batches even though they may be from the  same identical grapes grown out of the same vineyard. Incredibly as many of us know, any type of farming of crops, be they grains, vegetables or even orchard crops will be different depending on the growing conditions experienced even withing the same geographical area. Crops grown on a southern exposure will be different than those on a northern exposure and so forth. Microbe species apparently are no different, we just simply don't see them and never give thought nor attention for no other reason than out of sight out of mind. They clearly are effected by the geography and micro-climates of a given area. Many and most red wines for example do better in a warmer or even hot climate. White wines do better where the climate is more northern and cooler than others. We all understand how specific areas of the world are better for growing wine grapes than others and there are any number of physiological variables which influence this. Now we know that microbes are no different.
Photo Credit: Wine and Moore
"That white chalky looking substance on grapes is where the yeast lives which creates that fermentation of wine grapes. Not commonly known to many, almost all most fruits have the same colonization of microbial species living on the outer skin layers of their fruit skins."
Credit: The Wine Educators Toolbelt
"The tiny, single-celled fungi (I’ll spare you the bad joke) known as yeast are responsible for creating wine; without them, it would merely be grape juice. Simply put, the yeast consumes glucose and fructose in grapes, converting the sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide. The resulting product is much more complex and interesting than if the yeast had not intervened (thanks yeast!). These organisms exist throughout nature and are found on the skins of grapes (not a bad place to hang out if you’re looking for a free lunch), among other places."
Eureka Alert source:
"In the wine industry, the fungal communities on grapes are especially important. The microbial species present on the berry may contribute to the fermentation process, and therefore the aromatic properties of the resulting wine", the authors explain. For this study, the researchers sampled grapes from different vines in three well-established commercial vineyards, each of which used a different farming system - organic, traditional or biodynamic- to cultivate the grapes."
"Across the three cultivation practices, they found that the same yeast species dominated in all vineyards, but the least treated vineyard had more variety of fungal species than the other two. They also found that within a single vineyard, small differences between vines, such as in temperature or sun exposure, could significantly alter the composition of the fungal community on grape surfaces. Setati adds, "Our findings could help viticulturalists and winemakers plan microharvest better, and implement better wine blending strategies to ensure consistency."
I especially loved one particular sentence in the paper. After listing the three types of vineyards - Traditional approach (those that employ the more conventional Industrial Agricultural approach by use of chemical fertilizers and Pesticides) - Biodynamic approach (those that employ many of the organic practices, but controversially will also spray with various herbal and mineral potions on the plants to control pest, plus may even employ mystic beliefs such as grinding up quartz and packing it into cows horns to attract cosmic forces to enhance growth. Many other oddball practices as well, but you get the idea) - Organic approach (the practice of replicating nature for natural biological controls, such as planting of roses, lavender and/or other flowers that attract and benefit predatory wasps and other beneficial for pest control. The use of sheep for grazing weeds and other grasses between the rows. Even employing a method of Agroforestry around the vineyard to create a beneficial micro-climate) - Now look at the photo below and that last line in the report.

Photo Credit: Luis Felipe Edwards Wines

Photo Credit: King Estate Vineyards, Eugene, Oregon
The family winery has been producing wine for over two decades southwest of Eugene, Oregon. They are dedicated to certified organic and sustainable farming methods and they specialize in producing Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir as well as a small amount of Chardonnay. Take note of the rows of Lavender shrubs bordering the exterior of the Vineyard itself. Such plants will attract predatory insects to keep pests under control where pesticides won't be necessary anymore.
Photo Credit: Patianna Organic Vineyards using Chickens
And I really loved the last line in that report. 
"Across the three cultivation practices, they found that the same yeast species dominated in all vineyards, but the least treated vineyard had more variety of fungal species than the other two."
Can you guess which one ? No kidding ? For those who have an interest in further reading of more in depth material and don't mind a lot of  "Intellect Speak" , here are the further deeper reading of the study below. "The Vineyard Yeast Microbiome, a Mixed Model Microbial Map"
Vineyards harbour a wide variety of microorganisms that play a pivotal role in pre- and post-harvest grape quality and will contribute significantly to the final aromatic properties of wine. The aim of the current study was to investigate the spatial distribution of microbial communities within and between individual vineyard management units. For the first time in such a study, we applied the Theory of Sampling (TOS) to sample gapes from adjacent and well established commercial vineyards within the same terroir unit and from several sampling points within each individual vineyard. Cultivation-based and molecular data sets were generated to capture the spatial heterogeneity in microbial populations within and between vineyards and analysed with novel mixed-model networks, which combine sample correlations and microbial community distribution probabilities. The data demonstrate that farming systems have a significant impact on fungal diversity but more importantly that there is significant species heterogeneity between samples in the same vineyard. Cultivation-based methods confirmed that while the same oxidative yeast species dominated in all vineyards, the least treated vineyard displayed significantly higher species richness, including many yeasts with biocontrol potential. The cultivatable yeast population was not fully representative of the more complex populations seen with molecular methods, and only the molecular data allowed discrimination amongst farming practices with multivariate and network analysis methods. Importantly, yeast species distribution is subject to significant intra-vineyard spatial fluctuations and the frequently reported heterogeneity of tank samples of grapes harvested from single vineyards at the same stage of ripeness might therefore, at least in part, be due to the differing microbiota in different sections of the vineyard.
Now just some concluding comments about this phenomena of microbial species living on the skins of fruits. This is of course true of most any fruit or berry, even in the wild. No doubt fermentation processes were discovered thousands of years ago by accident. Further trail and error brought us many of the countless varieties of fermented beverages we all enjoy today. No doubt some have also been lost and buried along with their inventors. But consider how these differences in microbes species can influence differences in wines are very much like the differences in tastes of cheeses. Cheddar, Blue Cheese, etc etc etc, all get differing unique flavours from different yeast species and practices. But somewhere back in time by chance someone discovered somewhere something unique which made the difference. Take the chaparral plant community. There are countless berries from the Manzanitas, Lemonade Berry and others with a sticky tart substance on their fruit skins which can be utilized in similar ways.

Ben Larios Jr
Back when I first moved to Anza California, I befriended the Ben Larios family whose father worked for Jim Minor of Agri-Empire based in San Jacinto California. Originally Ben & Berta Larios were from a farming area of the state of Sonora Mexico and knew many traditional ways of food preparation and foraging for wild foods. In the early days, there were no grocery stores, which the exception of a Circle-K and a small old time market next to Frank Demartino Realty Office. There was no Mexican Foods to be bought, so most of the Farm Workers who worked for Agri-Empire went to the Larios family's old adobe home to purchase homemade (actually made by hand) flour and corn tortillas. They were wonderful. One day the mother, Berta Larios offered me to try her goat cheese. I never had goat cheese before and knew I didn't really like goat's milk, but I tried it. It was okay, but I wasn't crazy about it. Today however is a different story as I love both goat and sheep cheese and have it once or twice a week. She told me however that she didn't use the modern Rennet from the store to curdle the goat milk, she used instead dried Manzanita Berries which had substances on them for curdling the milk for making cheese. How cool was that ? I never knew that before. It's sad to say, but in this age of "Scientific Synthetic Artificial Biology", much of the old natural ways have been forgotten and most younger ones have been indoctrinated enough through consumerism marketing into not bothering with understanding how nature truly works, Big Corporations can provide convenience. The newer generations also have no clue as to how much better those foods also tasted way back when.

Can you imagine what a human being could learn and accomplish through a healthy type of trial and error ? I mean if they were able to live forever on this Earth there would be no end to what they could learn and do ? Think of all the perfected wine vintages, beer recipes or what ever an individual's heart desired to perfect. Of course, this devising and planning could be applied across the board for any practical worthwhile venture. The possibilities are endless!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

An Icon of the Old West, Sagebrush (Atermisia tridentata) is Still Demonized as a Competing Invasive in it's Own Native Habitat

Photo By Michael L. Charters
California State Route Hwy 74 running through Garner Valley in the San Jacinto Mountains of Southern California. Hwy 74 is to the left of the photo and heading west towards Lake Hemet, Idyllwild and beyond. Numerous Jeffrey Pine Reforestation tree planting projects have taken place on the south side of this Highway which would be on the left-hand side of this picture. In an effort to achieve plantation success, Authorities in charge have often mistakenly eradicated most all Chaparral (with the exception of a few large Scrub Oak specimens) believing the pseudo-science   view that Chaparral (which includes Big Sagebrush) is an invasive predator and competitor of forest movement, development, growth and maintenance for survival. However, modern day research and understanding of Artemisia tridentata (& other Chaparral), proves that these species of plants actually assist and promote young forest growth and development. Yet, despite all the good encouraging research papers currently available, which shed light on the truth of Chaparral benefits, old die hard ideological and economic agendas of business/political entities still pervades.

Photo by Michael L Charters

Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata)
Garner Valley, California
Though commonly thought of as a dominant species of the Nevada Great Basin and other interior mountain states, Artemisia Tridentata is closer to home than most Southern Californian's think. Often past by on a road trip and never given a second look for no other reason than it's viewed as mundane and boring to the uninformed car passenger, this plant among other important Chaparral Plant Community species, is so foundational to it's native habitat, that it's absence can lead to other critical environmental problems because unseen to many, it actually performs an amazing service to everything else around it.  This service of course is known as Hydraulic Lift & Redistribution . This is where a particular plant has the ability with it's deeper root system to actually pump water up from within deeper moisture rich soil layers and bring them vertically to the surface and then redistribute this water through it's horizontal lateral roots to other plants by means of an interconnecting mycorrhizal fungal grid network between differing plant species. The knowledge of this Chaparral species ability facilitate water transport from deeper subsoil layers to surface topsoil and sharing it with others in the plant community has been known since the 1980s. (See footnote references)

For the moment, let me review a few points from a USDA report written about some of the misinformation on Big Sagebrush and it's management or mismanagement. The paper is authored by Bruce L Welch  and Craig Criddle who authored the book, "Countering Misinformation Concerning Big Sagebrush" (July 2003) - Rocky Mountain Research Station (Fort Collins, Colorado). It deals with 8 commonly believed Axioms, which for those unfamiliar with the term, an Axiom could simply be described as a self-evident truth that requires no proof. Frankly there are many such Axioms in other areas of science, but let's focus on this one regarding Artemisia tridentata. I loved this read. It illustrates how bad science can be at times when biased and/or prejudiced by economic, political, religious or other ideological or philosophical motivations. They clearly expose the traditional long held pseudo-scientific flaws in the view of Artemisia tridentata and it's imagined damage to Livestock performance success. Keep in mind as you read the link to the study how this flawed thinking is also what drives the demonization of other plant species around the globe.
Countering Misinformation Concerning Big Sagebrush
"This paper examines the scientific merits of eight axioms of range or vegetative management pertaining to big sagebrush.  These axioms are: (1) Wyoming big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata ssp. wyomingensis) does not naturally exceed 10 percent canopy cover and mountain big sagebrush (A. t. ssp. vaseyana) does not naturally exceed 20 percent canopy cover; (2) As big sagebrush canopy cover increases over 12 to15 percent, bare ground increases and perennial grass cover decreases; (3) Removing, controlling, or killing big sagebrush will results in a two or three or more fold increase in perennial grass production; (4) Nothing eats it; (5) Biodiversity increases with removing, controlling, thinning, or killing of big sagebrush; (6) Mountain big sagebrush evolved in an environment with a mean fire interval of 20 to 30 years; (7) Big sagebrush is an agent of allelopathy; and (8) Big sagebrush is a highly competitive, dominating, suppressive plant species."
I going to touch on just a few of the Axioms which are pertinent to my own experience, but they are all clearly outstanding in their assessment by the authors. I also love the sarcastic sense of humor by the Authors in questioning some of the long held stupid ideological scientific beliefs motivated by money making ventures conducted on public and private land holdings. You may even see some similarities to the much demonized Mesquite in the southwest which has spread as a result of lousy land management and overgrazing.
Axiom Number 1
"Wyoming big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata ssp wyomingensis) does not naturally exceed 10 percent cover and mountain big sagebrush (A. t. ssp. vaseyana) does not naturally exceed 20 percent cover."
"This axiom is best verbalized by Miller and others (1994, p. 115): “In the early to mid 1800s, much of the sagebrush steppe was probably composed of open stands of shrubs with a strong component of longlived perennial grasses and forbs in the understory … Shrub canopy cover probably ranged between 5-10% in the drier Wyoming big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata ssp. wyomingensis) communities ..., to 10-20% on the more mesic sites, occupied by mountain big sagebrush.” Speaking of the present, they noted (p. 119): “Wyoming big sagebrush cover has increased from less than 10% to 20%, and mountain big sagebrush cover from less than 20% to 30% and 40%.” All due to overgrazing."
The authors then go on to ask a series of logical question that should have been asked in the original studies and observations. The then proceed to ask three very important questions.
"First, what do the wild animals which are adapted to this type of Big Sage Brush habitat suggest to us concerning this canopy cover ?" 
This first question is important in that how does the rest of natural world like animals, interact with such Big Sagebrush habitat which has been around for thousands of years and worked perfectly well ?
Second, what are the Big Sage Brush canopy cover values found in undisturbed relics and kiputkas  (undisturbed wildlife habitat islands left untouched by urban growth) and what do we observe from these semi-pristine islands ?
This is another very important question, as even southern California in Chaparral country still has some wildlife islands, but they are dwindling fast. Still they provide a far better observational venue than modern day disturbed sites which have been thrashed and forced to heal over and over countless times in just the last 150 years of human intervention and disruption of natural processes. It is almost impossible to study how things actually work in a pristine environment anymore. Mission Valley in San Diego has north and south facing examples which may yet reveal important clues about old growth coastal chaparral plant communities, even Cowles Mountain among others.
Third, what is the quality of the science used to support this flawed Axiom ?
No kidding. No further input by me is necessary here! But the authors then proceed to offer numerous studies which indicate that large numbers of wildlife actually prefer old growth Big Sagebrush habitats. Again, no kidding. This is almost identical to Chaparral Plant Communities.
Axiom Number 3
"Removing, controlling, or killing big sagebrush will result in a two, three or more fold increase in perennial grass production. 
Miller (1957, p. 18) states the axiom in these words: “Spraying sagebrush on a Washington range results in a three-fold increase of grass forage.” On the surface this sounds great if you are interested in livestock grazing, but there are some problems with the science."
Wow, where have we heard this it becomes necessary to destroy before it can get better dogma before ? The authors point out the flaws of both studies of chemical spraying and the comparisons of treated and untreated big sagebrush plots which were on overgrazed land where a comparison of overgrazed big sagebrush plots to treated plots with treated plots showing a substantial gain in perennial grass production. The authors then cite their own personal observations of several pristine isolated pristine areas which were protected from fire because they were fortunate enough to be surrounded geographically by ancient lava flows which prevented much historical burn activity. What they found was an abundance of biodiversity and as the author noted,
"there seem to be the usual complement of birds, small mammals (including foxes, rabbits, and coyotes), reptiles, insects, spiders, lichens, shrubs, grasses, forbs, and biological crusts. On one kipuka I observed deer tracks."
Axiom Number 4
Nothing eats it, or as expressed by Tueller (1985, p. 29): “It is ironic that the dominant plant and highest producer on this area of 30,000 square miles is essentially unpalatable.” This subject reminds us of an old bumper sticker that reads: “Eat lamb! A million coyotes can’t be wrong!” Paraphrasing, we could say “Eat big sagebrush! 52 species of aphids can’t be wrong!”

Pronghorn Antelope
This is absolutely funny. The Mesquite get the same exact ignorant vilification because it is believe nothing eats Mesquite. The funny thing though is that countless animals, including domestic Cattle eat Mesquite bean pods as they are very tasty and nutritious. Incredibly none of the people saying these things are embarrassed as a result of saying such stupid unscientific things. For the Artemisia tridentata, Pronghorn Antelope are a prime grazer of Big Sagebrush.  Even Bison, while no preferring the Big Sagebrush do seek it out for their rich understory treasure trove of many herbaceous plants and grasses which flourish under their canopies. Despite the lies being told that this plant toxic to others. The one thing that just keeps nagging me is, what would the health of these various vegetative plant communities still be like if many of the larger wildlife numbers still existed today ? We will never know or possibly understand this as we may never again see such numbers under the present System the entire world finds itself in.
Axiom Number 5
Biodiversity increases with the removal, controlling, thinning, or killing of big sagebrush. Olson and others (1994) reported that in their big sagebrush control plots, the number of plant species increased by three to four species over untreated big sagebrush plots, but they failed to name what species of plants and where they came from. Did the new unknown plant species seeds just float in, on the wind, like musk thistle (Carduus nutans), could or develop from long-lived dormant seeds formed from plants that have been grazed out before treatment? Are their comparisons between overgrazed big sagebrush sites versus treated sites proper, or should the comparisons be between undisturbed or never grazed by livestock big sagebrush sites versus treated sites? Should the measurement of biodiversity be determined only on number of plant species present or on total number of species of all life forms? What did the rebuttal of the last axiom number 4 tell us? That a large number of species consumes big sagebrush directly and indirectly. Is this not an expression of biodiversity?
This is another hilarious report which isn't even close to being founded in reality. Compare this to the southern California Chaparral Plant Community. This idiocy of spraying to kill Big Sagebrush would be to the present stripping the land by means of fires, bulldozing, brush grinders, crushers, chains and any irresponsible chemical treatments and then justifying it by saying plant biodiversity increased, but then not listing the plants that replaced and colonized former Chaparral Habitat, because the bogus embarrassment of a list would in reality be Mediterranean Wild Mustard, Wild Radish, Star Thistle, various species of non-native Foxtails and European Wild Oats etc etc etc would be absurd and asinine. And yet that has been the reality of So-Cal Fire mismanagement in the rural areas. 
Axiom Number 6
"Mountain big sagebrush evolved in an environment with a mean fire interval of 20 to 30 years (Winward 1984), or as expressed by Winward (1991, p.4): “These ecosystems, which have developed with an historical 10-40 year fire interval, were dependent on this periodic removal or thinning of sagebrush crowns to maintain their balanced understories.”
Once again, like the Chaparral Plant community, there is a deliberate attempt as misinformation on fire ecology and the myth and fables of prescribed or controlled burn necessity. Read the entire comments from the above link by the authors. It's unbelievable. The managers insisting on burns stated that the Big Sagebrush recovers rapidly after fire and the authors questioned: "How rapid is rapid?" This is because the Artemisia does NOT recover from it's base from fire as other chaparral plants do. It has to have seed wind blown in from outside locations.  One study of an area showed that after one burned area was observed, Big Sagebrush still hadn't returned even after 11 years. 

Axiom Number 7
"Big sagebrush is an agent of allelopathy"

Allelopathy is where a plant utilizes chemical strategies to further it's selfish gene survival as an area's dominant species and in this case it's a flat out false statement. This is so easy to understand by doing your own personal field observation on your next hike into these areas and again you should read what they author's site as examples of erroneous testing and other flawed experiments. The understory of the old growth Artemisia tridentata has some of the richest plant diversity in it's habitat. In actual fact the rich diversity is better there than out in the open. One important point I referenced at the outset of this post is the ability of Hydraulic lift and redistribution of deep underground subsoil moisture and giving it to other shallow rooted plants. One plant, Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea) is commonly seen flowering among Artemisia Sagebrush species. Why ? It is considered a partial root parasitic plant that must colonize the Artemisia in order to thrive. Many home gardeners have a tough time growing these plants on their own. Take a look at the advertisement below.

Image by Game Warden Bill Bish
What they are not telling you here is that the Indian Paintbrush actually needs the Artemisia sagebrush as a host, aside from the fact that it makes a great companion for stunning beauty. This next and final Axiom hits real close to home.
Axiom Number 8
Big sagebrush is a highly competitive, dominating, suppressive plant species. Winward (1991, p. 5) states: “Mountain and basin big sagebrush sites in best condition have cover values between 15-20 percent. Those numerous sites that support cover values in the 30 to 40 percent category have a much restricted herbaceous production and are essentially closed to recruitment of new herbaceous seedlings. Some type of shrub removal process will be needed before understory forbs and grasses can regain their natural prominence in these communities.”
"We have found in the field the seedlings of bigtooth maple-Acer grandidentatum, box elder-Acer negundo, singleleaf pinyon pine-Pinus monophylla, and Utah juniper-Juniperus osteosperma  growing under the canopy of mature big sagebrush plants. Diettert (1938, p. 5) observed: “Not only is it of direct value as a forage crop but in many places it provides shelter for tender and perhaps more useful plants.” Drivas and Everett (1987, 1988) and Callaway and others (1996) describe the use of big sagebrush as nurse plants for singleaf pinyon (Pinus monophylla) seedlings, Patten (1969) for lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta), and Schultz and others (1996) for curlleaf mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus ledifolius)."
What more can be said on this false assertion, that Sagebrush or Chaparral hinder the growth of more desirable plants and trees ? Presently the Chaparral Institute is engaged in a legal battle over the flaws in the reforestation projects which have actually destroyed Rancho Cuyamaca State Park by their mismanagement of the natural vegetation there called Ceanothus. This is another attempt to demonize a chaparral plant said to hinder growth of Pine, Oak, Fir, Incense Cedar and other more desirable eye appealing species. You may read about it here below.

Image - Chaparral Institute
Large stands of Ceanothus cut down as well as dead tress which provide valuable habitat. The area is being prepared for a prescribed burn. See fire line to the left.
Loss in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park - California State Parks Conducting Project Contrary to the Best Available Science

In the top photos of Garner Valley, it was common back in the 1980s and maybe early 1990s to promote forest growth by the old Penny Pines plantation projects. Several planting projects were mostly done on the south side of the Palms to Pines Scenic Highway 74. In fact for all those almost 24 years of my living there, I never saw a planting project on the north side. Mostly it was meadow and grasslands. I did however see one land preparation method of old small scale Farm Caterpillars being used to pull giant chains to cut off Chaparral at it's collar and burn the residue in piles. The ground was stripped bare as it was always assumed that seedling success would only be achieved by eliminating competing Chaparral species which would crowd them out. This has been proven over the past few decades to be false and continued bad land management practices with research papers justifying these flawed antiquated outdated techniques have further proved to be an ongoing lie in favour of promoting other economic agendas. One possible reasons for the methods in this area particularly may be the maintenance agenda for promoting business along the "Palms to Pines Scenic Highway". Take note below of the map and program's link which goes into depth of their Corridor Management Planning which wants the route to continually have public eye appeal. Pines, Oaks, Cedars, etc fit that agenda, chaparral doesn't.

Palms to Pines Scenic Highway Corridor Management Planning


Laurel Sumac (Malosma_laurina)
When I went to school, such land clearing techniques were what i was taught as a means of the reforestation programs I personally participated in. We were always taught that if success was to be achieved in reforestation, then ALL competing Chaparral species had to be eradicated. And that's what we did. Previously I have written of my own personal experiences as a youth in experimenting on my own in establishing a Torrey Pines (Pinus torreyana) wooded area up on Rattlesnake Mountain in El Cajon California. This started in the 1970s and I cleared land to the dirt by eradicating all California Sagebrush and California Buckwheat. I grew almost 20 seedlings and nurtured and watered them for a couple of years. They did okay, but did better when I applied a heavy layer of pine mulch which shaded the ground and helped retain water which had to be painstakingly hauled straight up a mountainside by hand. To make an already told before story shorter, I later inoculated the trees with ecto-mycorrhizal inoculum and also learned at that time that in nature Nurse trees are of benefit. At first I thought this was merely a shade issue which helped establishment, but it wasn't until almost over a decade later i found out about phenomena called Hydraulic Lift and Redistribution and/or Hydraulic Descent. But luckily for what ever reason, I planted two Torrey Pines in the shelter of an old growth Laurel Sumac (Malosma_laurina). Once again out of all that time and effort, only the two Torrey Pines have succeeded where the other babied trees died. BTW, I only watered the two Laurel Sumac planted pines the first year. after the failure of the other pines (some over 6 foot tall) that same hot summer, I said forget it and later moved to Idyllwild CA in 1981. It wasn't until a little over a decade later while visiting El Cajon in early 1990s and going for a hike up there with my son that I found both trees as tall as me and without any care. The foliage was bright and healthy. Before moving over here to Sweden, I had gone to Rattlesnake  mountain again in 2004 and they were between 15 and 20 foot in height. I went back for a visit last year for a summer visit in 2011 and photographed them for the first time and below is the result.

image: Mine
Torrey Pine Tree on Rattlesnake Mountain in  El Cajon California. Last year I actually saw  the early formation of it's first pine cones. It's truly incredible how these trees which by the Scientific Native Habitat rule have no  earthly reason for succeeding here are  indeed doing so well. Update (Sept 2013): The picture of the Torrey Pine above has been cut down with a chain saw. The residents of the new housing development Sky Ranch of  Santee California were offended by it and one other tree's presence and justified cutting it down because they were said to be known to caused fire hazards, which is an idiotic uneducated comment to make. Nevertheless, the trees are now gone. But the lessons learned will last forever. Laurel Sumac makes an excellent Mother Tree or Nurse plant for the establishment of not only Torrey Pines, but also any other tree normally associated with the Coastal Sage Scrub plant community. Trees like various Oak species.

image: Mine
This second tree is lower than the upper one and nearer to the wash below the Laurel  Sumac. The foliage of the Sumac was more  vigorous down there and  it shaped and contorted the tree into more picturesque shape and form. Since then I have learned that Laurel Sumac exhibits some of those Hydraulic Lift & Redistributing abilities. No Kidding! So here is a challenge to everyone reading this post. Where ever you are on planet Earth, test out some of the amazing findings of how nature works with regards nurse trees and their incredibly sophisticated underground networks for nurturing seedlings towards mature tree establishment. Find a suitable tree known in it's native habitat in your area for qualities of exhibiting Hydraulic Lift and Redistribution and plant a tree seedling and leave it alone after inoculating with mycorrhizae. Water the first year on and off and leave well enough alone after that. For folks in Southern California's Chaparral Plant Community, prove Chaparral's worth as an important piece of the ecological puzzle.

Good Luck and success with your own Guerrilla Habitat restoration project!
Further Reading References:
Hydraulic Lift: Substantial Nocturnal Water Transport between Soil Layers by Artemisia tridentata Roots
Hydraulic redistribution in a stand of Artemisia tridentata: evaluation of benefits to transpiration assessed with a simulation model

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The World's Biggest Trees are Dying - Sadly, No Surprise Here!

Photo Credit: Francis Eatherington (Oct 14, 2000)

Killing Incense Cedars

"This giant old growth Incense Cedar was killed by the U.S. Forest Service to create a "snag" (a dead tree). The bark is taken away so that the tree will starve to death. It's called girdling. The is part of their so-called "wildlife restoration" project. When the U.S. Forest Service clear cut behind this tree, they had to cut down all wildlife snags to protect loggers (a dead tree could fall on them). So the U.S. Forest Service kept a few live trees to be killed later to replace wildlife snags." by Francis Eatherington

The photo above seemed appropriate to the sad news coming from Australia's  Fenner School of Environment and Society  (About Fenner School)  which released a report titled: (Media Release) "The World's Big Trees Are Dying"   This was a great piece in that it is further evidence of the insatiable appetite for raw materials by all global industrial economies. There is no end to removal of old growth trees and with climate change now bulling ahead like a runaway freight train, their appears to be deaths of old growth trees even without direct contact to human beings.
Source: Fenner School

December 7, 2012 – for immediate release
The largest living organisms on the planet, the big, old trees that harbour and sustain countless birds and other wildlife, are dying.
 A report by three of the world’s leading ecologists in today’s issue of the journal Science warns of an alarming increase in deathrates among trees 100-300 years old in many of the world’s forests, woodlands, savannahs, farming areas and even in cities.
“It’s a worldwide problem and appears to be happening in most types of forest,” says lead author Professor David Lindenmayer of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED) and Australian National University.
 “Large old trees are critical in many natural and human-dominated environments. Studies of ecosystems around the world suggest populations of these trees are declining rapidly,” he and colleagues Professor Bill Laurance of James Cook University, Australia, and Professor Jerry Franklin of Washington University, USA, say in their Science report.
“Research is urgently needed to identify the causes of rapid losses of large old trees and strategies for improved management. Without… policy changes, large old trees will diminish or disappear in many ecosystems, leading to losses of their associated biota and ecosystem functions.”
Prof. Lindenmayer says they were first tipped off to the loss of big old trees while examining Swedish forestry records going back to the 1860s. Then a 30-year study of Mountain Ash (Eucalyptus regnans) forest in Australia confirmed not only that big old trees were dying en masse in forest fires, but also perishing at ten times the normal rate in non-fire years – apparently due to drought, high temperatures, logging and other causes.
Looking round the world, the scientists found similar trends at all latitudes, in California’s Yosemite National Park, on the African savannahs, in the rainforests of Brazil, the temperate forests of Europe and the boreal forests of the far north. Losses of large trees were also pronounced in agricultural landscapes and even cities, where people make efforts to preserve them.
“It is a very, very disturbing trend. We are talking about the loss of the biggest living organisms on the planet, of the largest flowering plants on the planet, of organisms that play a key role in regulating and enriching our world,” says Professor Bill Laurance of James Cook University.
“Large old trees play critical ecological roles. They provide nesting or sheltering cavities for up to 30% of all birds and animals in some ecosystems. They store huge amounts of carbon. They recycle soil nutrients, create rich patches for other life to thrive in, and influence the flow of water within landscapes and the local climate.
 “Big trees supply abundant food for numerous animals in the form of fruits, flowers, foliage and nectar. Their hollows offer nests and shelter for birds and animals like Australia’s endangered Leadbeater’s Possum (Gymnobelideus leadbeateri) – and their loss could mean extinction for such creatures.
 “In agricultural landscapes, large old trees can be focal points for vegetation restoration; they help connect the landscape by acting as stepping stones for many animals that disperse seeds and pollen,” he says.
The alarming decline in old trees in so many types of forest appears to be driven by a combination of forces, including land clearing, agricultural practices, man-made changes in fire regimes, logging and timber gathering, insect attack and rapid climatic changes, says Prof. Jerry Franklin.
“For example, populations of large old pines in the dry forests of western North America declined dramatically over the last century because of selective logging, uncharacteristically severe wildfires, and other causes,” he adds.
The researchers liken the global loss of big trees to the tragedy that has already befallen the world’s largest mammals, such as elephants, rhinos, tigers and whales, cautioning that almost nowhere do conservation programs have the time-frames lasting centuries, which are needed to assure the survival of old trees.
“Just as large-bodied animals such as elephants, tigers and cetaceans have declined drastically in many parts of the world, a growing body of evidence suggests that large old trees could be equally imperiled,” they warn.
 They call for an urgent world-wide investigation to assess the extent of big tree loss, and to identify areas where big trees have a better chance of survival.
Their paper “Rapid Worldwide Declines of Large Old Trees", by David B. Lindenmayer, William F. Laurance and Jerry F. Franklin appears in today’s issue of the journal Science.
Take a look at some of the photo gallery from the studies.

Photo by David Lindenmayer

Post Fire Logging Area, Victoria, Australia

Photo by David Lindenmayer

Large Old Growth Trees in Swedish 
hemi.Boreal Forests

Photo by David Lindenmayer

Large Old Growth Trees in Rare But 
Conservation-Significant Russian Forest

Photo by David Lindenmayer

Logged Forest, Southeastern Australia

Photo by David Lindenmayer

Collapsed Tree Used by Leadbeater's Possum

Photo by David Milledge

Burning Mountain Ash Trees After Logging, 

Victoria, Australia

Photo by Jerry Franklin

Giant Ponderosa Pine Trees

Photo by Bill Laurance

Baobab Trees, like this giant in Tanzania, are under threat from land clearing, droughts, fungal pathogens, and overharvesting of their bark for mat weaving by local villagers.

These above photographs & text are for use with information or publications relating to the paper published in _Science_ on 7 December 2012
entitled .Global Decline in Large Old Trees. by David B. Lindenmayer, William F Laurance and Jerry F Franklin. 
Further Reading References:

Friday, December 7, 2012

Mangroves: Earth's Most Misunderstood Forests

Update - August 16, 2016
Marine Heatwaves Are Spawning Unprecedented Climate Chaos in Mangroves
This photo, taken on June 9, 2016, shows dead mangroves lining the Gulf of Carpentaria, Australia. Large sections of prominent mangrove habitat in north Australia have died due to the marine heatwave.

photo credit: Scripts Institution of Oceanography
Red Mangrove Forest in Santispac, Baja California, Mexico
Scripps Study Sets High Economic Value on Threatened Mexican Mangroves
I love a quote from the above link which by the way is a good read along with a couple of short videos. It says this:
"Mangrove destruction not only comes with an ecological cost, but monetary as well; $37,500 per hectare each year, researchers say."
Very rarely do people pay attention to the destruction of any type of habitat by fire, storm damage or human activities such as urban sprawl or agricultural expansion. For many it's simply been an elimination of some kind of vegetation and perhaps some creatures who just happened to have once lived there at one time. It's the old catch phrase, "Water Off a Duck's Back". No one truly pays attention until it's too late or you attach a Dollar figure to the loss. Hit people in their economy and it's a 'horse of a different colour'. This is the same problem when Climate Scientists try and sell the public on Climate Change. Which BTW, I have no problem with. But they never deal with the value of various ecosystems and their vegetation losses in terms of explaining to the average world citizen that IT'S ALL vegetation that is what drives our climate and weather in general and it's destruction constitutes massive monetary loss to economies.  And the reasons why they never deal with the truth of the Earth's changing climate is because Left-Wingers are too hung up on defeating some Right-Wingers pushing their political agendas and none of this true important data gets published or promoted. So instead we are treated to mere arguing over silly symptoms like Temps & CO2s and this constant losing battle of Ideological wills which spin nowhere. Yawn!

Okay back to Mangroves. I'm going to focus attention on Baja California Mangrove Forest habitats because I highly doubt most people in the southwestern United States even know such an amazing tropical wonder actually exist around desert environments just to the south of them. I've often wonder if at one time such important forests didn't at one time exist in and around the Colorado River delta region in the huge tidal flats that must have existed there at one time. Many don't realize the vital roles they play as wildlife nurseries and coastal storm protection barriers. To quote another recent article from  Terra Daily  on the benefits, here is what experts from Forestry and Conservation organizations along with the United Nations have said about the importance of Mangrove Forest habitat:
* Mangrove forests serve as highly efficient carbon stores ans sinks. Alongside living biomass, mangrove soils are carbon rich, sequestering carbon over millennial timescales.
* Near shore fisheries among mangroves are well documented and are of critical importance to many communities, but large scale fisheries, such as commercial offshore shrimp fisheries are also highly dependent on mangroves as nursery or breeding grounds.
*  Mangroves provide rot resistant, high value timber and excellent fuelwood which has been harvested in sustainable silviculture programmes in some countries for over 120 years.
 * In many settings mangroves act as a form of natural coastal defense, reducing erosion, attenuating waves and even reducing the height of storm surges. Over the long term, they can also help to build up or maintain elevation in the face of rising seas.
National Academy of Sciences, PNAS/CONAPESCA

Everyone familiar with Sonoran and Baja Desert ecosystems and Geology will recognize the map area referenced here. The northern most Mangrove Forests are in the lower reaches of the Sonoran Desert system of which Arizona is a large part. 
Very Kool Gallery below illustrating Mangrove Forest
value and what organisms would be missing if such ecosystems didn't exist. There is some evidence that at one tome the Colorado River Delta had both Mangroves, Jaguars and even Crocodiles within that vast impressive delta system, but is now nothing more than dry desert mud flats. Of course there are some brave attempts to bring back a small portion of delta habitat, but it's only a speck on the map of what once was.

These Mangrove Forests are a huge deal, because mangrove forests worldwide are under serious threat.  Beside providing habitat and supporting unique ecosystems themselves, they also protect the a large amount of coastal areas from coastal erosion, a serious threat in many coastal areas. Above is a Scale Model showing how mangrove forests protect the coast from wave erosion, especially during storms. Here also is the link below: - Scale model showing how mangrove forests protect the coast from wave erosion. 
Photograph - Caroline Rogers
Prop roots of the  Red Mangrove (Rhizophora mangle)  tree to create thickets that harbor a wide variety  of creatures both above and below the water.
Photograph - Caroline Rogers
Pale-blue sponges  and multiple coral colonies  (Agairis agaricites) grow on mangrove prop roots. 
Soundwaves - USGS - Discovering the Secret Gardens in the Mangroves of St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands

Matthew D. Potenski

Shoal of baitfish swirling amongst
the mangrove forest roots
Important Mangrove habitat restoration techniques and other information can be found at the  Bashan Foundation  website. As this organization points out, uninformed opinions shackled by pursuits of wealth making ventures have resulted in the destruction of several Mangrove habitats down in Baja California. The coastal shorelines have been viewed as having more value by removal the Mangroves and beach sand replacement for Hotels, Condos, Country Clubs and other Commercial ventures, because these trees are looked upon as nothing more than invasive weeds working against human money making opportunities. This erroneous incorrect viewpoint has also been the fate of Southern California Chaparral Plant Community habitats. Below is a website link to Matthew Potenski's website and Mangrove forest exploration adventure."Mangroves: The Forest Through the Trees"

Matthew D. Potenski
An Ocean in Focus Conservation Photography Contest Essay  by Matthew D. Potenski

Not long ago I wrote a post about Underwater Electrical Networks: Possible Climate Driver Which Might Have Been Disrupted ?  and the possible implications towards climate mechanisms and underwater ecosystem habitat with regard the ocean floor's living biological networks. Clearly much of what has been discovered underwater seems to be an aqua environmental mirror to what takes place on the land surface. Since this is the main focus of this blog, then it brings along important questions that should be seriously answered in view of the trillions of things we don't know and should know before we destroy these complex networks. Admittedly, I have never pursued any in depth understanding before of Mangrove forests and their importance. Clearly everything is connected. The contribute not only to a major nursery for fisheries and other creatures, but also a filtering mechanism for water coming off  the landscape and heading out to sea. Many of these marshland filtering mechanism habitats along California's coasts have been destroyed or greatly reduced as a result of direct concrete channeling of long time ancient river and flood plain right of ways. Human commercial interests generally take precedent over ecology. Especially so in Southern California. Here is an illustrative photograph of a tree in the Ficus Family (Fig) which cleverly allows most people to experience what it would be like to be under water in and around mangrove root infrastructure.

Photograph - Okinawa Soba (Rob) - "The Patio Banyan"

I'd love to visit Baja and discover some of these pristine ecological sites, but the recent border violence over the past several years prevents me from even wanting to go through a border town. Last time I was down there was in 2003 where I gave a public talk in English at Rosarito Beach. Even then I was pulled over by a cop who wanted a bribe. Well, just biding my time. This system is almost finished and then there will be unlimited freedom to pursue all manner of fascinating study.
Further Reference Reading:
Mangroves in the Gulf of California increase fishery yields
Climate Adaptation Knowledge Exchange: "Gulf of California Mangrove Ecosystem Services"
The Encyclopedia of Earth: "Mangrove Ecology"
Bashan Foundation of La Paz, Baja California, Mexico
Mangroves in the Gulf of California increase fishery yields