Friday, August 5, 2016

Biomimicry: Streamlining Innovation for Environmentally Sustainable Products

Bio-mimicry @ Polyface Farms

"In this interview with Joel Salatin, Joel talks about how the regeneration of his family farm utilized the patterns discovered from observing natural grazing and migration of wild animals in native plant communities. This discussion unlocks the secrets of Nature to create a system of pasture based agriculture that actually builds soil, diversity and interdependent relationships between farming and God. In respecting the natural process of Nature, Joel and his family have built a thriving  farm business, while restoring ecological integrity to the land. This method of farm management creates community amongst its workers and consumers and provides a spiritual connection to the land and its inhabitants." 
By Karen Rybold-Chin
Here are a couple other video links from the Mother Earth News fair, West Bend, Wisconsin and videos featuring Joel Salatin who continues on about biomimicry of Nature as opposed to working against Nature. 
Joel Salatin, Sacrifice and Sacredness of food
Joel Salatin: Synergy between Nature, Science and Technology
More examples of biomimicry of nature regarding agriculture. Industrial agriculture's worldview is about feeding crop plants with unnatural synthetic fertilizers. Natures way of feeding the plant is rather feeding the microbiome which in turn feeds the plant. There is no money in this for the Industrial Agricultural business model, hence their vicious resistence. Will Harris, owner of White Oak Pastures down in Georgia, tells us about his movement away from industrial agriculture to regenerative farmer. 
VIMEO: One Hundred Thousand Beating Hearts
Nice video interviews and stories on Biomimicry with Will Harris, owner of White Oak Pastures and Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms in Swoop, Virginia which was released yesterday and this comes off the heals of a newly released research paper published entitled:
Industrial Research Institute: Biomimicry: Streamlining the Front End of Innovation for Environmentally Sustainable Products
Overview: "Biomimicry, defined as innovation through the emulation of biological forms, processes, patterns, and systems, is particularly valuable for its focus on solution discovery, as opposed to solution validation. GOJO Industries, Inc., used biomimicry to drive environmentally sustainable product innovation. The approach proved both efficient and effective: in comparison to a historical new product development project with a similar objective and scope, the biomimicry-driven project produced double the intellectual property and, based on a preliminary assessment of lead product concepts, at least double the energy savings for just one-sixth the resource commitment. Biomimicry also showed potential to increase the overall speed of front-end innovation. This case study suggests that biomimicry may be a highly promising approach for driving innovation, and particularly environmentally sustainable innovation, but further investigation is needed to validate the conclusions of this single case study. The authors will discuss their study in more detail at an IRI-sponsored webinar, October 7, 2016, 12–1 pm EST. For more information, visit;
Brown Bag - Biomimicry: Streamlining the Front End of Innovation for Environmentally Sustainable Products

Heart-inspired double-acting bladder pump
Other Designs in Nature for Inspirations in Technological  Innovation
Nature-Inspired Biomimicry from the Sea!
image - Treehugger

 Mercedes-Benz looked towards the boxfish for their bionic car concept. Noting the aerodynamics and efficiency of the boxfish's shape, the engineers decided to apply the characteristics of the fish to a car. The result is a very streamlined vehicle with a 65% lower drag coefficient than other compact cars out at the time (2005).
How to Biomimic Desert Plants to stay COOL!

Saguaro Cactus stays cool by having ribs that provide shade and enhance heat radiation
"The same applies to the intricate structural designs of cacti, which are exposed to a great deal of heat pressure in the desert. Their heat-reflecting capacity is low, since their surface is greatly reduced so as to cut down on evaporation. Nature has solved the problem by equipping many cacti with cooling ribs. These shade the cactus's surface against the scorching sun and simultaneously improve heat radiation. The alternating planes of light and shade of the vertical cooling ribs of the torch thistle produce rising and falling air currents, which improve heat radiation. And when the sun reaches its highest position, it hits the torch thistle from above, where it presents its smallest surface. A botanist discovered that torch thistles perish of burns when they are placed horizontally in the sun."
Kingfisher - Bullet Trains & Tunnel Speed
Image - 500 Series Shinkansen / Sam Doshi

Species 2000 & ITIS Catalogue of Life: 2008 Annual Checklist 
Excerpt: "[W]e had another challenge that we pursued to the test run phase. Half of the entire Sanyo Shinkansen Line (from Osaka to Hakata) is made up of tunnel sections. When a train rushes into a narrow tunnel at high speed, this generates atmospheric pressure waves that gradually grow into waves like tidal waves. These reach the tunnel exit at the speed of sound, generating low-frequency waves that produce a large boom and aerodynamic vibration so intense that residents 400 meters away have registered complaints. For this reason, we gave up doing test runs at over 350 km/h.

"Then, one of our young engineers told me that when the train rushes into a tunnel, he felt as if the train had shrunk. This must be due to a sudden change in air resistance, I thought. The question the occurred to me - is there some living thing that manages sudden changes in air resistance as a part of daily life?"

"Yes, there is, the kingfisher. To catch its prey, a kingfisher dives from the air, which has low resistance, into high-resistance water, and moreover does this without splashing. I wondered if this is possible because of the keen edge and streamlined shape of its beak. The beak of kingfishers allows splashless entry into water due to the wedge shape it makes with the head that is round in cross section. 

"So we conducted tests to measure pressure waves arising from shooting bullets of various shapes into a pipe and a thorough series of simulation tests of running the trains in tunnels, using a space research super-computer system. Data analysis showed that the ideal shape for this Shinkansen is almost identical to a kingfisher's beak.  

"I was once again experiencing what it is to learn from Nature, seeing first hand that a solution obtained through large-scale tests and analysis by a state-of-the-art super-computer turned out to be very similar to a shape developed by a living creature in the natural world. The nose of our new 500-Series Shinkansens has a streamline shape that is 15m in length and almost round in cross section. - Beak Provides Streamlining: Common Kingfisher
Read more about the bioinspiration behind the Shinkansen Train in Zygote Quarterly

Animated Illustration - Artist: Emily Harrington

Take about 15 minutes here and watch Janine Benyus talk about biomimicry of designs found out in Nature. It's a 17 minute TED Talk where Janine Benyus provides a message for inventors. When solving a design problem, look to nature first. There you'll find inspired designs for making things waterproof, aerodynamic, solar-powered and more. Here she reveals dozens of new products that take their cue from nature with spectacular results.
TEDGlobal 2009: Janine Benyus: Biomimicry in action
This video above is great as far as an explanation of why we should copy designs found out in Nature first. For exampe, one presenter named Janine Benyus who I commend for her work and efforts, makes an excellent point. She reference the idea that medicines from the Rain Forests and she clarifies this by saying it's not so much identifying some molecule for a cure, but rather an 'idea' for the cure. But the problem here is, ideas as we know them only come from an intelligent Mind, not blind unguided forces without purpose or goals. With that in mind there's a caveat or warning or proviso of specific stipulations, conditions, or limitations that come with such a statement. What Janine Benyus is saying is in direct conflict with the Theory of Evolution proponents who have for decades pushed the "Argument from Poor Design" strategy to pimp a worldview. The problem is that it's Nature who's been given the shaft, not the rightwinger fundies they are attempting they are targeting in debates. I appreciate many ToE followers here won't like this, but this biased religious outlook goes back all the way to Darwin and his writings which are loaded with metaphysical religious assumptions and asserted that, "If their were a God he never would have created things in such and such a way." Take note, I find this viewpoint question to be a legitimate one to ask, but it has nothing to do with Science. Science cannot answer what an intelligent entity it's believers say doesn't exist in the first place would or wouldn't do in any given situation. I mean seriously, what repeatable experiment have they offered thus far ? None! This doesn't mean that we can't practice biomimicry, because we can. But irrespective of how anybody on this planet thinks or believes how life's origins came about, the harmonious way life in all ecosystems operates is in no way flawed or badly designed as this world's elites have shoved down people's throats and coerced them to believe. What has resulted is the degraded natureal world we all live in now. Climate Change ? It's easy to blame humans as many scientists do, but maybe they should start pointing fingers first at their fellow bought and paid for corporate scientist brothers who have developed irresponsible technology which has brought natural systems to it's knees. 

Scientific American
Ponder for a moment how much eco-friendly sustainable technological innovation has been held back because a Scientific Orthodoxy [every bit the mirror image of Christendom's Ecclesiastical Hierachical Structure when they ran Academia] with power and authority has controlled for 100+ years how mankind should view our natural world ? Take these present Biotechnology and Agro-Chemical Companies. Their worldview of Nature is that it's flawed, inept, inefficient and badly designed and the only way the world will be saved is through the superior genius of their guiding hand. Did you know, most of their geneticists generally have no clue as to how whole plant systems work in cooperation with other plants within any ecosystem outside the Lab ? Their belief about the informational content of DNA is that it's not information as we know it at all, but rather nothing more than copying errors, random meaningless patterns, most of which they insist is nothing more than Junk. But the latest scientific research is now proving otherwise. Take the findings of ENCODE. And there have always been other science disciplines which have revealed the truth, but they haven't always had the powerful backing and financial resources to move forward against the tidal wave of Industrial Science.

Responsible Scientific researchers have shown that Mycorrhizal Fungi and Beneficial Bacteria and a host of other critters living in the soil have been perfectly maintaining the natural world's soils for possibly countless milleniums of time. We really don't know for how long, other than the usual blind faith speculations of deep time thrown in for eye candy in a research paper. Those in power and authority and with a financial stake in keeping the status quo are bent on keeping things as they are. But their actions are in direct conflict with Science disciplines like mycology, ecology, entomology, soil science, etc, etc, etc. This creates conflict of loyalties for many environmental activists who are immersed in this culture of science, but fear to criticize industrial science because of being labeled an Anti-Science Luddite. At least biomimicry or biomimetics separates and defines itself. Take this graphic below. The historical pattern timeline shows us when the well known Biotechnology companies and Agro-Chemical corporations actually took power and control over food production in the early 1990s when they manipulated politicians and directly wrote the book on regulations of their genetically modifying organisms to work in conjunction with industrially produced synthetics which work directly against ecosystem designs found out in Nature. Now take a look at how far the superweed problem has become as a result of increased pesticide usage. This is wasn't supposed to have happened given all the public relations and damage control propaganda they spewed into the Media and it's all worldview driven folks.

Graph from Iowa State University

People are going to have to start making responsible personal decisions soon. Who's side on the issue of universal soverignty are you going to choose ? Science claims that life on Earth has been around for over 100 millions years and that's fine. But an article dealing with important research on the stability of all earthwide ecosystems showed that during  all those millions of years life the natural systems were always stable. But it references human beings creating agriculture 6,000 years ago and from that point on as people spread out across the planet taking thier agriculture with them, they have been making bad decisions ever since and all life has been greatly effected in a negative way. And horrifically, it has been the past 100+ years of this imaginary enlightenment and free thought that has brought our world climate change, various forms of pollution and species extinction to the point of where many experts say it is irreversible. Unfortunately most of those "Culture of Science" people don't want to admit this flaw in the past few decades of Scientific thinking and practice. Keep watch, the latest phrase in many science journals being used more often now is "Beyond the Point of no Return." Take a look at the graph here below. This isn't my made up invention or research, this came from Scientists who are being forced to admit the flaw of a 20th century which has championed free thought and critical thinking. 

Graphic from Smithsonian Magazine

Smithsonian Magazine: Humans Caused a Major Shift in Earth's Ecosystems 6,000 Years Ago

None of the clearly negative effects of human leadership and present consequences should prevent any reader here from practicng biomimicry within their own personal sphere of endeavours with regards to habitat restoration, agriculture, urban landscaping and home gardening. Everybody has a choice. The main problem is everyone on the planet has to do this.
References & Links on Biomimetics

Clarification on the differences between Science and Corporations in creating intellectual property in the form of patented products for obscene profit.
Very little of what is being discussed with regards to the biotechnology industry is actually "Sciences" or even "one of the sciences". What we're really talking about isn't any of the sciences at all, but rather technology or to be more specific using their own words, engineering. Most all true sciences are about studying things out in the natural world and figuring out how they work. The "scientific method" deals with how we successively refine our understanding of natural phenomena. It does not say anything about how this knowledge can, could, or should be applied. The sciences are essentially analytic in nature.
It's our world's corporations who along with their lawyers have created this idea of intellectual property based on the scientific work of others. Their research engineers were more interested in creating products to be patented. Yet their work was all based on the information provided by researchers funded by Academia.  Their researchers may even use scientific methods in obtaining their goals, but they are not so much interested in the discovery of knowledge and the wisdom in using that knowledge as they are in focussing attention on creating something for profit.
In the process of misusing abd abusing ´this scientific knowledge, our natural world has been introduce to genetically modified organisms, , Nuclear Weapons, BPA in drinking water. We now have climate change, destruction of the Ozone, melting Arctic & Antarctic glaciers, Chernobyl, Thalidomide, Fukashima, plastic pollution in the oceans and dead zones, etc. All of these symptoms and negative consequences are the result of various irresponsible  technological innovation brought to us by modern industrial engineering. Yes, they used information obtained from science, but they cannot lay the fault at the feet of science which was always  about discovery and wonder. Science simply enabled these efforts by providing the basic knowledge needed, but the downside from what they created has produced unforeseen and unintended consequences in their various attempts to use that knowledge to satify this economic thing called consumerism. Biomimicry is really not all that expensive. In many cases it's a matter of changing one's practices and management without purchasing products and that is what nakes biomimetics unattractive to corporations.

Remember the movie Jurassic Park and that lunch room debate scene where actor Jeff Goldblum plays this highly articulate four-eyed genius (Dr Ian Malcolm) who tries to warn everyone about the dangers of playing God ? Of all the scenes in that movie, this one sticks with me the most because it is so accurate in it's content and reflective of today's reality. The Jurassic Park Technicians did not actually research all the science behind the genetics, but they did they misuse and abuse the discoveries of others for creating intellectual property and patented products (Dinosaurs). Biotechs are the same, they engineer product for profit. If they actually cared about feeding mankind and becoming proper custodians of the Earth, they would have pursued more of a mirror of how Nature accomplishes this through biomimicry. Instead, they are infected with the ideological doctrine that Nature is flawed, imperfect and poorly designed. Only they can fix it and anyone who tries to get in their way is an Anti-Science Luddite. It matters not that these people in opposition to their business model are indeed interested in other responsible sciences like Mycology, Soil Biology, etc, etc, etc. Here's the story line below. See if you recognize it better now.
Dr Ian Malcolm: "Don't you see the danger, John, inherent in what you're doing here? Genetic power is the most awesome force the planet's ever seen, but you wield it like a kid that's found his dad's gun."
The Jurassic Park Lawyer, Donald Gennaro:  "It's hardly appropriate to start hurling generalizations..."
Dr Ian Malcolm: "If I may... Um, I'll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you're using here, it didn't require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn't earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don't take any responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you patented it, and packaged it, and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now you're selling it, you wanna sell it." 
Jurassic Park Owner/CEO, John Hammond: "I don't think you're giving us our due credit. Our scientists have done things which nobody's ever done before . . " 
Dr Ian Malcolm: "Yeah, yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should." 

Pausing here for a moment to fast forward. After trying to justify his technology by saying he could bring back California Condors and hearing Dr Ian Malcolm's continued resistence to the Jurassic Park's genetic modification technology, CEO John Hammond (Richard Attenborough), uses the same identical cowardly strategy often employed by most biotech apologists against the opponents of their technology. 
CEO John Hammond: "I simply don't understand this Luddite attitude, especially from a scientist. I mean, how can we stand in the light of discovery, and not act?"  

Dr Ian Malcolm: "What's so great about discovery? It's a violent penetrating act that scars what it explores. What you call discovery, I call the rape of the natural world."
 (Jurassic Park Lunch Debate - 3:55 minutes)

Image - Oregon State University
I read one article recently by a major GMO apologist, Henry L. Miller, who was championing GM technology for Climate Change and creating drought resistant crops. Hence the need to genetically manipulate crop plant genomes to better withstand heat and drought. Monsanto for example has already done this with their Drought Guard patented crop seeds. This is not biomimicry. Biomimicry would be utilizing Nature's toolkit which has existed for 1000s of years. Mycorrhizal fungi act as an extension of a plant's root system and increase water and nutrient uptake anywhere from 200% to 800%. And it costs far less, often if managed properly after the initial soil inoculation, it's free. And ultimately that is the major reason for the major stumbling block and why the Biotechs and Agrochemical Corporations refuse to go down that road. Opportunities for biomimicry are all around everyone in the natural world. The problem is that they are not opportunities for most of this world's giant corporations and the governments that support them. Their geneticists know very little about how whole plant systems work outside their Lab. There is still very little these biotechs and their engineers know about the very organism, Agrobacterium, they have in the past used to infect target crop genomes with the transgenes. There have been some concerns with their use of the Agrobacterium which is a naturally occcuring soil organism. In fact take note of what one research paper said about our scientific understanding of Agrobacterium:
"Many of the blockbuster discoveries on Agrobacterium-plant interaction have been cited briefly in this narrative. However, much remains to be learned. The chemical signaling between Agrobacterium and plants in the natural environment of the plant’s rhizosphere has yet to be fully explored. In addition, the trafficking of the T-strand from the inception of the transfer process to the plant cell nucleus provides an area of fruitful research opportunities for interdisciplinary investigations. The full potential of using Agrobacterium as a mutagen and a transfer system for genes into an ever expanding number of eukaryotic cells has yet to be realized. After 100 years, the tale of Agrobacterium is not yet finished."
Agrobacterium: The Natural Genetic Engineer 100 Years Later
So apparently after all this time, there is still so much they do not know about this organism, but they're using it anyway. But wait, this version of the technology has to be regulated and it's really imperfect because they really have no clue where the information of the transgene will end up within the genome. In other words, in what context of other genes does this gene end up working with ? No problem they say, CRISPR will save the day. It's promoted as more precise and accurate and because the biotechs will only be editing and deleting genes instead of introducing foreign genes by means of a viral facilitator, they've now convinced the government it has no need of regulation. This ignorant worldview of the meaninglessness of informational content within DNA even extends here as well. Take the issue of deleting the gene which causes browning in the common white button mushrooms. Read the warning on this potentially irresponsible act by Mycologist Paul Stamets on how this fungi will be effected by not having this anti-viral gene and the consequences if this specific genome gets out into the wild.

Supporters of giant corporate entites need to stop pretending that Biotechs are all about Science, when their true objective is mainly politics, economics and promoting a worldview after their own image. Their hands are dirty in political advocacy. Their writings only have value if they are discussing observable, repeatable, testable facts about natural phenomena. That's how real science is defined. Even then, you have to watch closely the materials and methods being used here, and see if the conclusions logically follow from the data. A true scientist ceases to be a scientist when he leaves off the original ideals that science was built upon. The understanding of the cause-and-effect structure of the natural world according to testable hypotheses. Biomimicry on the other hand is the practice of science that takes rigor, integrity, and humility. It views nature as having great vakue in it's designs which in turn should be replicated, rather than being put out there for promoting a profit. They have always had a problem with bioethics. They actually work very hard towards preventing people from having the ability to know the truth about our natural world and food we eat  and that ultimately is the true Anti-Science.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Distant Volcano eruptions help Saguaro Nursery baby booms ?

The Ideal Baby Saguaro Cacti Tree Nursery
Image - Kathleen Ferris - City of Phoenix, Arizona

John & Heidi @ StatusGo
The prime nursery habitat for growth and development of a baby Saguaro is supposed to be under a Palo Verde or Mesquite tree. Although as you can see here in the photo at right, a small saguaro can be found nestled under a bursage nursery plant. This one here is supposed to be 25 years old, though it's certainly small for that age. There appears to be a number of ecological & climatic variables which can either help  or hinder in the development of a baby Saguaro. I miss the deserts southwest and yes, I still freak people out here in Scandinavia when I mention missing deserts. Their opinion of deserts is that nothing if anything good lives there, it's hot & hostile with a plethora of things which will stick you, stab you and bite you. Nurse Tree facilitation is an important ecological process whereby these woody plant protégé species (mentors like Palo Verde & Mesquite) enhance the growth and survival of their understory apprentice species. Without this relationship, the Saguaros would almost never exist on their own in many areas. But then this is true of most life on Earth which thrives by means of mutualism. And yet there appear to be acceptions to this rule as a new study references volcanes with extremely huge eruption events which can trigger a temporary global cooling trend coupled with heavier than normal rainfall years. More on that later. First let's understand how those baby Saguaros [which at germination look like helpless miniature succulents] make a go of it under harsh desert conditions. 

Image - Mine (June 2016)

Image - Mine (June 2016)
My wife and I visited the Tucson-Sonora Desert Museum this past June 2016. We were fortunate enough to see all of the Saguaros in most of Arizona actually in bloom. Not only still blooming, but also ripening fruits which were split open and being fed upon by Doves, Cactus Wrens, Sparrows, etc. Even Arizona Cardinals. Now after all that dining and given the usual rapid digestion birds have, it is clear they would be flying from shrub to shrub and desert tree to desert tree and as they do, they'd take a poop. That poop would contain all the Saguaro seeds which would hit the ground and later be triggered to germinate once the first monsoonal thunderstorms move in north from Mexico. 100s, maybe 1000s of seed germinate with only a handful of them being able to survive. Take note below of the many different bird species which love the Saguaro Cacti fruits. Also take note that many of them also love the Saguaro flowers as did many insects we saw at the Museum. Apparently it's not only the Mexican Fruit Bat that pollenize them. Another etched in stone paradigm regarding insistence of how some plants replicate and spread themselves bites the dust. The scientific consensus as approved by the prevailing Orthodoxy won't like this.

Image - Margarethe Brummermann (June 2014)

The obvious result would be years later a few of the Saguaros seedlings would be successful enough to make it on their own, eventually to outlive the mother tree Blue Palo Verde which may only live 50 or 60 years. Easy for a 150+ year old Saguaro to outlast.

Image - Saguaro National Park

Image - James Brooks
Of course the obvious conclusion here is that not long after all manner of desert birds dine on the juicy ripe and luscious Saguaro fruits, they need to go poop later. They generally do so within a tree or shrub's canopy. As is evident from the Palo Verde Nurse tree example above, a couple decades back some bird or birds used this tree as a roost and did their business. The immediate result was these little tiny ice plant looking things popped up by the 100s all over the place and then it was a simple numbers game for survival after that. Incredibly, it takes only a couple of days for germination to occur. I have also found this to be the same thing with regards other desert trees of the pea family like Palo Verde, Mesquite, Ironwood etc which often germinate during the wet monsoon season and develop rapidly thereafter. This is important that their genetic programming has such instructions for rapid development because in their preferred harsh environment there is only a small window of time before conditions change to one in which they could otherwise become toast. Below is a link to Southwest Cactus LLC live feed of a Cactus shade house nursery where various cacti seed are germinated.

Animation by KanyonKris

Facilitation or Competition - Which ?

Image - Gila Bend Shell Station
I've used this same animated illustration above many time before to illustrates the play of Hydraulic Lift & Redistribution. So it's logical that given desert trees like Mesquite, Paloverde & Ironwood perform the task of hydraulic life and redistribution of deep underground water to shallower rooted shrubs and perennial plants, it would be easy to assert the same benefit would apply to these young newly emerged Saguaro seedlings. This same pattern would also clearly help many to establish themselves over a period of years. Like one of my latest posts on Biomimicry on replication of companion planting found in nature, these trees are programmed to mutually cooperate for each other's success. Ignorance of this behavior or phenomena has done major harm in land management over the past 100+ years. The package at right I picked up at a Gila Bend Shell Truck Stop to plant back home here in Sweden. I'll keep things up to date on that. I've used this same long time Souvenir gift pack brand before and their seeds  germinate extremely well in the vermiculite mix provided. But on the fact about shaded light, when I first planted some of these back in the late 1980s, they looked identical to the seedling emergence you see a couple photo up on the right. After a month I thought that  perhaps desert plants instead of being in the shade and protection of my livingroom, just might enjoy life on the porch railing for about an hour in sunshine. It was morning and not at all hot. After an hour I brought them back inside and the next day I saw they had all been fried. Lost every single one of them. So I understood the Nurse plant protection thingy concept, but not out in far western Arizona where I saw Saguaros along Interstate 8 growing straight up out of bare desert varnish rock and lava fields. No mother trees or nurse plants, just barren high intense heat environment. So how does that work ? Take a look at the gallery landscape below of what I'm talking about.

Image - World Heritage Commitee - NordEnergiThe 37th session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee made the decision to make the El Pinacate and Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve in Mexico the latest site to achieve World Heritage Status.

Image - Feargus Cooney
See, I can understand and relate to Nurse Plants or Mother Trees. Aside from the obvious shade factor provided for such a tender delicate Nursery for baby Saguaros from intense Summer heat, there is also the mechanisms of  "Hydraulic Lift and Redistribution" which provides valuable moisture brought up from subterranean sources, redistributes it through lateral roots further connected to an elaborate mycorrhial grid network no doubt plugged into the lateral root systems of young Saguaros. But in clearly moonscaped surface environments like the Pinacate Volcanic Lava fields which mostly lack pronounced Nurse Trees/Shrubs, how does establishment take place here ? I get the fact that seed germination happens anywhere  under good monsoonal rainfall events, germination is a matter of two days. But it's that critical three years of good luck and beyond that is the puzzle. This far western Arizona landscape is not the vibrant green living desert of of Tucson which is also strategically located right smack in the middle of the Monsoonal moisture superhighway. Look below at a few other examples of large Saguaro Cacti in areas far removed from the ideal Tucson Mesquite and Palo Verde forests and see that they actually thrive there. 

Photo by Leonora Torres

Saguaros in Lava fields of the 
Gila-Pinacate Biosphere Reserve

Image - Taly Drezner

Kofa National Wildlife Refuge - Yuma county, Arizona

Saguaro cacti are the tallest things standing at Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, near Yuma, Arizona. The cultural icon is a keystone species of the Sonoran Desert, serving as perch, nesting site, shelter, thermal refuge, and food for the birds and other animals in the desert ecosystem. So how do they establish themselves beyond the germination period ?

Image by Geologist Dan Lynch

Tecolote Volcano - Pinacate Volcanic Field
How Saguaro seed germination and establishment take place in areas where very little Nurse Trees & Shrubs are found and in a landscape that is basically volcanic fields with Desert Varnish. Remember, they start out life as an Iceplant mimic!

US Fish & Wildlife Serivce - Kofa National Wildlife Refuge

Here is a paragraph from the research done by Taly Drezner about the perfect location for the study of Saguaro seed germination and establishment within the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge. It was the perfect place to study Saguaro survival under extreme conditions.
"To investigate her hunch, Drezner went to Kofa National Wildlife Refuge near Yuma, Arizona, where limited water pushes the physiological limits of the saguaro, to sample the age structure of the local cacti. Rainfall at Kofa is a third of other locations in the Sonoran. Cacti do not have rings, like trees, that make age simple to gauge. Drezner estimated the ages of 250 cacti based on meticulous calculations of local growth rates using a model she pioneered. She added data from 30 locations in the Northern Sonoran Desert and compared the generational cohorts of the cacti to climate datasets for the region and the annual Weighted Historical Dust Veil Index, an indicator of volcanism."
So the idea here is that volcanic events, like the eruption of the Mexican volcano, El Chichón in 1982, have a major impact on global climate cooling. Hences delicate Saguaro seedling survival in hotter areas without nurse plants or trees like western Arizona's Kofa Wildlife Refuge require something uniquely different as far as climatic circumstances. 

Now think in terms of  large  historical Volcanic eruption events ? 

Photo by 
So these volcanic eruption events tie in to Saguaro establishment successes ? Remember the 1982 eruption of El Chichón, the largest volcanic disaster in modern Mexican history. ? That powerful 1982 explosive eruption of high-sulfur and other particulates high into the upper atmosphere effected the global climate. The total volume of material from the El Chichón eruption was much smaller than the other infamous eruption of Pinatubo of the Philippines in 1991. That powerful eruption pumped enormous volumes of ash injecting significant quantities of aerosols and dust into the stratosphere. Sulfur dioxide oxidized in the atmosphere to produce a haze of sulfuric acid droplets, which gradually spread throughout the stratosphere over the year following the eruption. I remember how you could see these high atmospheric ring anomalies around both the sun and moon for two or three years. The effect was a cooling trend, hence references today by global leaders on geo-engineering projects to replicate what these volcanoes did to climate past, instead of actually stopping what cause the climate change. The Mexican Volcanic eruption coincided with an El Nino weather pattern we had in the early 1980s in the southwest which gave massive amounts of rainfall and flooding. I also remember the monsoonal thunderstorm events where stronger and more completely widespread as opposed to the usual isolated incidents common with Southwestern monsoons in Summer. So it's not under the realm of possibility that Saguaro establishment success was positive during a two or three year window period. Too bad this info was not available back then to research those years in the Kofa Mountain area. Here is what Taly Drezner further says on the subject:

"In the year after Krakatoa, summer temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere fell 1.2⁰C below average. The eruption violently disgorged tons of ash and sulfur dioxide gas into the stratosphere. Dust particles and sulfuric acid droplets rode winds through the upper atmosphere, conspiring in a haze that reflected sunshine and lowered global temperatures. Though not as disruptive as the “year without a summer” that followed the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815, Krakatoa’s influence was seen and felt around the globe in vivid sunsets and stormy weather.  Southern California experienced a “water year” of record rainfall. Sulfate aerosols in particular can hang out in the atmosphere for years, and Krakatoa released an unusual abundance of sulfur. Typical temperature and weather patterns did not recover for years. For the saguaro, the perturbations appear to have amounted to a collection of “just right” conditions for new growth."   
"I started noticing that these saguaro age cohorts followed notable volcanic eruptions,” said Drezner. “I knew that volcanoes drive milder summers and winters, and typically more rainfall for an extended period—two to three years after the event, which is a perfect window of time for the saguaro to get established and have a chance to survive."  
 My own personal concluding comments
Image - Mine (2011)

Image - Mine (2012)
I enjoyed the article on possible potential for notable large volcanic events spewing tonnes of ash, aerosols, etc into the upper Stratosphere and effecting global climate by means of a cooling trend over a period of three years. It certainly seems logical. My own experience with a 12" tall Saguaro brought to me by friends in Tucson from a Nursery (complete with offical Arizona State legal paperwork of ownership) I planted on Rattlesnake Mountain in El Cajon would seem to confirm the idea that Saguaro baby booms come with more favourable weather. The weather in El Cajon just a little ways east from San Diego & the Pacific Ocean definitely is a radical change from Arizona. I planted the little Saguaro on a south facing slope which was remote and where no one ever ventured. I never once watered it. Planting a Saguaro and watering can lead to root rot. Just place it in the soil and leave it alone. There is enough energy & water within the cacti to trigger root growth into the soil without the need for any extra outside water. Once the root system infrastructure is established, they will quickly suck up any water and refill the plant's lost storage capacity. From my own observation every year for seven years after planting, the plant grew a little over a six more inches that first year after rains came and over a foot a year thereafter. At it largest height, the Saguaro was almost seven foot tall. Then some idiots with guns decided to target practice. The cactus died back to the ground and formed a large healed scab even with the soil. Much to my surprise the cacti resprouted with two new competing central leaders the following year and the above picture my friend took of me standing next to it in 2011. I haven't been back there since, so I am not even sure it is still there given the fact that below that point the Sky Ranch Housing development people used chainsaws and destroyed some 30' tall Torrey Pines which were planted at the same time as the Saguaro. Still, the change in climate proved beneficial to Saguaro growth and it's later development. Aisde from more target practice, it's real danger now is fire. I mean it is located in coastal sage-scrub. But Saguaros are not the only mystery of Cacti establishment in full blown baking desert Sun without Nurse plants. This Anza Borrego Desert barrel cactus in the photo at right  is yet another example of success under extreme southern exposure conditions down in the Anza Borrego Desert where Summertime Temps are often 110+ Fahrenheit (40+ celsius).

Animated Illustration - Rockland Saguaros
The illustration above is a good guesstimate of probably how the average Saguaro grows under normal growing conditions in the Sonoran Desert. But there are clearly variables which break that rule. Some smaller Saguaros in the Kofa Wildlife Refuge in far western Arizona under less favourable growing conditions may well be as old as some towering 45' giants around Tucson. Still, as the National Park Service photo below reveals, there are clearly strategies for successes where no Nurse Tree is available.

Image - Saguaro National Monument
Interesting Reading References: Distant volcanic eruptions foster saguaro cacti baby booms
James Brooks: Arizona Saguaro Cactus - Sustainable, Seed-Grown Plants 
 AZGeology: Pinacate in stereo by Dan Lynch
Perhaps something else could have factored in the changes in the Southwest - maybe local Volcanism around the year 1000 C.E. - give or take a few hundred years or so either way ??? Okay, that's another post.
Time out for some Saguaro Cactus Humor!
Photo - Saguaro National Monument

Prickly Pear Cactus emerges from the top of a Saguaro Cactus

Anyone remember the comedy Sci-Fi film, "Men in Black" ? There was a scene in the Cafe where an alien contact was killed by this enemy Cockroach Alien and his body mistakenly went to the City Morgue before the MIB guys could clean up the incident. Field agent 'J' (Will Smith) and Forensics Lab Laurel (Linda Fiorentino) watch as the dead corpse's head opens to reveals a tiny alien creature with a dire warning, and 'K' (Tommy Lee Jones) has to erase Laurel's memory. Remeber "Orion's Belt" ??? This is the first thing I thought of when I saw this over at the Saguaro National Monument pages. Clearly this is another bird pooping incident out there in the wild somewhere, only this time Prickly Pear tunas.