Restoration and the future of ecology

As the human population begins to surpass the 7 billion mark, the requirements and thereby, stressors, on the natural environment are continuing to grow [1]. We are beginning to see increased threats on plant continuity and their ecological capacities, goods and services. Ecosystems are progressively worsening, to the point where they will be incapable of sustaining life on earth [1]. Thus, ecological restorationefforts are critical now, more than ever. Ecological restoration is the practice of recovering and renewing damaged, destroyed and/or degraded ecosystems and habitats in the environment by active human mediation efforts [1].

An example of such efforts is well depicted in 1969 – at what is now recognized as being the Selah, Bamberger Ranch Preserve in Texas. At the time, the land was in terrible condition; the ground was barren, there was a plethora of Ashe juniper trees –prohibiting sufficient water distribution all through the territory, hindering the growth of other plants and grasses [2]. Further reducing the abundance of animal life in the area. Nevertheless, decades of hard work to eradicate the Ashe juniper, introducing native grasses/plant life, and performing land restoration work has aided in a remarkable transformation of the once barren land [2]. Now, not only is the land home to an array of plant and animal species, but a running stream has been able to establish across the land – providing a necessary water source to sustain this diversity. This just shows what impeccable transformations can be made through dedicated restoration efforts [2]!

References:

[1] Ecological Restoration. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.bgci.org/plant-conservation/restoration/

[2] 2 Examples of Ecological Restoration to Inspire Students at Environmental School. (2017, June 20). Retrieved from https://online.unity.edu/2-examples-ecological-restoration-inspire-students-environmental-school/

Advertisements

Single crop farming – more like zero crop farming

Image result for single crop farming

Agriculture is the process by which food, fiber and other such products are cultivated from plants and/or domesticated from animals. You’ve all seen plains of wheat, row after row of fruit trees, acres of flowering canola plants – although making for breathtaking photographs, can be quite devastating to our environment. Cramming any landscape with a single crop (monoculture), seems to be quite an easy and efficient way to produce copious amounts of food and fibre to sustain our growing population. So that’s exactly what farmers are doing! 

According to research however, such monocultures are bad for both the environment, and product yield, believe it or not! This is because, they reduce the quality of the soil, increase erosion etc. Monocultures do not exist on their own in nature. Any monoculture that may seen in nature, is the result of human interference. Ecosystems are actually designed to possess high species diversity – particularly that of plant species (which are at the bottom of the food chain). High plant diversity helps sustain diverse wildlife communities above it. Whereby, such diversity aids in ecosystem services such as pollination and biological control. Moving forward I think it is important to start incorporating agroecological approaches (such as planting more than just a single crop in any given landscape) into farming practices to minimize both environmental and production risks. Solutions like this one, are good for farmers and for the environment – so get your camera’s out for some even better snapshots!

[1] Saunders, M. (2019, February 01). Single-crop farming is leaving wildlife with no room to turn. Retrieved from http://theconversation.com/single-crop-farming-is-leaving-wildlife-with-no-room-to-turn-38991

[2] Unit, B. (2008, April 03). Can farming affect biodiversity. Retrieved from https://www.cbd.int/ibd/2008/youth/farming/4.shtml

Invasive species – a concept

Image result for spartina

I am sure you have all heard the phrase; “invasive species are bad” – however, have you ever stopped to think about what invasive species are, and what makes them so bad? In today’s blog post I want to clarify some of these ideas for you. Invasive species are changing the land and water that we know and love [1]. They overwhelm habitat, physically choking out natural wildlife and vegetation. They spread aggressively and hold their grounds stubbornly. Invasive plants are one category of invasive species, and are essentially any non-native tree, herbaceous plant and/or shrub that are introduced to a new region by global trade, human and animal transport etc [2]. These invasive plants invade forests and prevent native plants from growing, ultimately decreasing the habitat leftover for the native wildlife. Furthermore, most native wildlife cannot feed on these invasive plants, adding additional pressure to the native plants that somehow manage to survive. Invasive plants can also pose threats to agricultural fields, as they can spread quickly, outcompete crop/forest plants, and worsen the quality of the soil [2]. 

If I do say so myself – invasive plants are, or at least should be, the most important category of invasive species. This is because, plants are primary producers (they make their own food from sunlight and water) and are found at the bottom of the food chain. If native plants are being choked out of their own habitats, where does that leave the organisms who eat them? And the organisms who eat those organisms? An example of such an invasive plant species is Spartina. First discovered in B.C. approximately 15 years ago, Spartina is an invasive cordgrass that demolishes waterfowl (a species of bird) habitat [3]. It accomplishes this by outcompeting native plants such as eelgrass, which is a significant source of food for staging and wintering waterfowl, like the Pacific brant, wigeon, mallard etc. Spartina can overwhelm coastal mudflats, making it nearly impossible for such birds to access protein-rich invertebrate prey [3]. All alluding to the fact that invasive species are bad, but now you know why!

References: 

[1] Invasive Species. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ducks.ca/invasive-species/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIzYSH2beH4AIVlbrACh2zzQNaEAAYASAAEgL4sfD_BwE

[2] Centre, I. S. (n.d.). Invasive Species Centre. Retrieved from https://www.invasivespeciescentre.ca/learn/invasive-plant-species

[3] An app solution for Spartina. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ducks.ca/stories/science/spartina-app/

Climate change impacts on a biome

When people hear “climate change” they automatically think – global warming, and the arctic (tundra). However, climate change is a global phenomenon, affecting all of the world’s biomes, not just the tundra. So how could a warming world impact deserts, which are already the world’s warmest and driest environments? According to a new study published in Science (a peer reviewed academic journal), as deserts become hotter (due to global warming), their soil begins to release nitrogen, a gas essential to all life. Scientists believe that nitrogen loss in such dry regions, will consequently reduce plant life. This is because, after water, nitrogen is the next compound governing the amount of life in a desert. Due to the fact that plants are at the bottom of the food chain, if the plant life here begins to crumble, then so will the animals and insects that rely on them for survival – ultimately causing negative cascading effects up the food chain.

What was once presumed to be the main cause of nitrogen loss in ecosystems, is now beginning to be re-examined. For the longest time scientists believed that the nitrogen loss in ecosystems was the result of biological factors, such as denitrification (the conversion of nitrate to unavailable atmospheric nitrogen by soil bacteria). However, now they are beginning to realize that temperature – an abiotic factor, actually accounts for most of this nitrogen loss. This new-found knowledge allows scientists to have a better understanding of the dynamics of nitrogen in arid systems, and they can use this knowledge to enhance current/future climactic models. 

Things we remember from plants/ecology

When asked in class what was one thing I remembered from an ecology course I took about two years ago, I answered that adaptations can be both positive or neutral. A common misconception regarding the term “adaptation,” is that it is associated with some sort of positive phenomenon. However, adaptations do not have to be positive. Adaptations are traits that are passed on from one generation to the next through the selective pressures of the natural environment. The natural environment does not select for traits that harm/pose harm to organisms, but rather, traits that are beneficial or have no effect on an organism’s ability to survive and reproduce. 

An example of this phenomenon observed in the natural world is the nipple in male mammals. Male mammals evidently do not need nipples (as they do not lactate), yet still possess them because females do, and because the cost of growing nipples for them, is small. As such, no selective pressure has been exerted on the sexes to evolve separate developmental pathways. Thus, although the nipple is not advantageous to males in any way, they are traits that still get passed on from generation to generation.