The Amateur Ecologist
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The Amateur Ecologist
Interesting ecological snippets from around the UK and occasionally further afield.
Curated by Peter Buckland
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Lawns

Lawns | The Amateur Ecologist | Scoop.it

I am not a lover of lawns.  Rather would I see daisies in their thousands, ground ivy, hawkweed, and even the hated plantain with tall stems, and dandelions with splendid flowers and fairy down, than the too-well-tended lawn. ~W.H. Hudson, The Book of a Naturalist, 1919

 

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We've Been Wrong About Lichen For 150 Years

We've Been Wrong About Lichen For 150 Years | The Amateur Ecologist | Scoop.it

Hundreds of millions of years ago, a tiny green microbe joined forces with a fungus, and together they conquered the world. It’s a tale of two cross-kingdom organisms, one providing food and the one other shelter, and it’s been our touchstone example of symbiosis for 150 years. Trouble is, that story is nowhere near complete.............


Via Dr. Stefan Gruenwald
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A fascinating discovery
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A loss of field skills?

A loss of field skills? | The Amateur Ecologist | Scoop.it

"Martin Harvey recently posted or re-posted a link to an article in The Times Higher Education supplement which lamented the loss of field biology skills and suggested they were on the brink of extinction. I found myself disagreeing profoundly with some of the thesis, and in other places wondering whether the issue of loss of professional taxonomists was being confused with a critical failure in field biology?"

Peter Buckland's insight:

Some great counter arguments here.

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Save field biology skills from extinction risk

Save field biology skills from extinction risk | The Amateur Ecologist | Scoop.it
John Warren and colleagues warn of the serious decline in graduates with sound identification skills
Peter Buckland's insight:

"Sometimes, what appear to be low-level cognitive skills are actually highly complex multifactorial tasks." Excellent article!

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Answer to earthworm's ability to digest poisons unearthed by scientists

Answer to earthworm's ability to digest poisons unearthed by scientists | The Amateur Ecologist | Scoop.it
British scientists have cracked the global earthworm mystery: they have worked out how the planet’s great subterranean reprocessing system copes with the poisons that would choke most herbivores.
Peter Buckland's insight:

"The worm's internal defences have been identified and pinpointed by sophisticated visual imaging, and named drilodefensins" .................. at least one kilogram of the molecules in the worms underfoot - fascinating!

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Soils and Biodiversity

Soils and Biodiversity | The Amateur Ecologist | Scoop.it
Soils host a quarter of our planet's biodiversity.

Soil is one of nature's most complex ecosystems: it contains a myriad of organisms which interact and contribute to the global cycles that make all life possible.
Peter Buckland's insight:

Excellent infographic from the FAO.

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An Introduction To British Bee Genera

An Introduction To British Bee Genera | The Amateur Ecologist | Scoop.it
There are 250 species of bee in Britain, every one is unique and fascinating.
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A great post by Ryan Clark outlining the UK bee genera including some great photographs and key features for identification. This is the first of a series of posts celebrating Pollinator Awareness Week.

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What is the future of soil carbon stocks?

What is the future of soil carbon stocks? | The Amateur Ecologist | Scoop.it
Soils contain more carbon than the atmosphere and vegetation combined, but the future of this reserve is uncertain – will it remain in the ground or be released into the atmosphere, potentially amplifying climate warming by several degrees in a worst case scenario?
Peter Buckland's insight:

"In this post Peter Manning discusses his recent paper ‘Simple measures of climate, soil properties and plant traits predict national-scale grassland soil carbon stocks‘"
Accurately predicting the amount of carbon that is stored in soils and identifying the most important drivers of soil carbon storage are key issues discussed.

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Nearby wild - how I turned my lawn into a mini-meadow

Nearby wild - how I turned my lawn into a mini-meadow | The Amateur Ecologist | Scoop.it
Decades of regular mowing left my front lawn looking bare and sterile, writes Jo Cartmell. But in fact, the exhausted, infertile soil made it the perfect place for a host of wild flowers to take up residence - some from planted seed, others blown-in, or from long buried seed lying dormant in the soil. And after that, the butterflies ...
Peter Buckland's insight:

Excellent article by Jo Cartmell. I hope that it will encourage others to follow suit.

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Grass free lawn success!

Grass free lawn success! | The Amateur Ecologist | Scoop.it
Research suggests that this type of lawn is fantastic for pollinating insects and all sorts of other wildlife.  It needs no chemical additives, produces many more flowers than a grass lawn and there will be something in flower all year round.  There’s also a bonus for us, as it’s nicer to look at and requires far less maintenance than a traditional turf lawn.  We hope that people will visit the gardens and feel inspired to try it themselves at home!”
Peter Buckland's insight:

An innovative community project in Dorchester, UK. It will be interesting to see if this is replicated in other areas of the UK.

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Framing Nature: The Written Word and Disconnection

Framing Nature: The Written Word and Disconnection | The Amateur Ecologist | Scoop.it

Both speakers demonstrated how language and everyday discourse creates boundaries to nature. Terms such as ‘connection to nature’ place us outside nature.

Peter Buckland's insight:

Great piece on 'understanding our connection to nature'.

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Seminal geology map re-discovered

A first edition copy of one of the most significant maps in the history of science has been re-discovered in time for an important anniversary.
Peter Buckland's insight:

A fascinating discovery now digitised by The Geological Society of London 

 

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Dave Hubble's ecology spot: Unexpected egg-flies

Dave Hubble's ecology spot: Unexpected egg-flies | The Amateur Ecologist | Scoop.it
Back in January, my wife showed me a blackbird egg she'd found in the garden. It looked whole, but was incredibly fragile and broke almost as soon as I picked it up, clearly already being cracked. I expected maybe a whiff of something nasty, but there was more going on than I expected...
Peter Buckland's insight:

Great investigative piece on Psychodidae identification. Impressive detective work and microscopy.

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These Insects Are Living Russian Dolls

These Insects Are Living Russian Dolls | The Amateur Ecologist | Scoop.it

If I google “mealybugs,” the first pages of results deal almost entirely with ways of spotting and destroying them. There’s good reason for that: these small, sap-sucking bugs drain fluids from plants, spread diseases, foster the growth of molds, and cost millions in damage to crop growers every year. They destroy the things we eat, and so we destroy them.

 

But mealybugs are more than just symbols of both famine and pestilence. Over the last 15 years, a small team of scientists has shown that they are also symbols of interconnectedness. They are among the most spectacular examples of symbiosis—the phenomenon where different species live together in intimate association. And with every new discovery, their biology becomes even more elaborate and unbelievable.

 

The prelude to this story begins in the early 20th century, when an exceptionally productive zoologist named Paul Buchner started dissecting his way through the insect world. He showed that countless species are filled with microbes, many of which live inside their very cells. The mealybugs were no exception—they also contained inner bacteria, which seemed to be thickly embedded within “roundish or longish mucilaginous globules.” That is: big balls of mucus.

 

Buchner didn’t press the matter further. But when other scientists later analyzed these globules, they started getting very odd results. If the mealybugs swallowed antibiotics, the globules would rupture along with the bacteria inside them. Peculiar. The mucus also seemed to contain many of the elements of an actual cell. Also peculiar. And genetic studies showed that they contained DNA from two separate lineages of bacteria. That, at least, was explicable: Buchner’s globules probably contained two types of symbiotic bacteria rather than one.

 

In 2001, Carol von Dohlen tested this idea by studying the citrus mealybug—a tiny insect that looked like a lozenge dipped in icing sugar. Von Dohlen fashioned two fluorescent molecules—one red and one blue—that would each stick to DNA from one of the two bacteria. If the two microbes did indeed share the same living quarters, their respective glows should have blended into a sea of purple.

 

That is not what happened. Instead, von Dohlen saw red dots against a blue background. The red probe had stuck to the bacteria in the globules. But the blue probe was sticking to the globules themselves. These mucus-filled spheres weren’t enclosing two kinds of bacteria. They were bacteria.

 

Von Dohlen had discovered that the citrus mealybug is a living Russian doll—or perhaps a microbial turducken. The bacteria living in its cells have more bacteria living inside them. It contains multitudes, and its multitudes contain more multitudes. The bigger microbe was eventually named Tremblaya, and its inner companion was called Moranella. And then things got even weirder.

 

In 2011, von Dohlen teamed up with geneticist John McCutcheon to sequence the genomes of the two microbes. Both were very small, as is often the case with bacteria that find their way into insect cells. In the cozy confines of their hosts, these microbes can afford to lose genes that they would normally need for an independent existence. Tremblaya has even lost a group of supposedly indispensable genes that were there in the last common ancestor of all living things, and are found in everything from bacteria to bats. There should be twenty of them, and Tremblaya has none. It survives because the insect around it and the Moranella within it compensate for its genetic shortfall.

 

This convoluted set-up developed gradually. Tremblaya was first of the two partners to colonize mealybugs: it’s there in all the species from one particular lineage, and there are some mealybugs that carry it and it alone. Snug in a bug, it began jettisoning genes. In the citrus mealybug, Moranella joined the partnership. The duo became a trio, and Tremblaya continued its slide into genetic pauperdom. As long as any gene exists in one of the partners, the others can afford to lose it.

 

That’s abundantly clear when you look at genes for making nutrients. For example, it takes nine genes to make an essential amino acid called phenylalanine. But none of the three partners makes all nine. Tremblaya can build 1, 2, 5, 6, 7 and 8; Moranella can make 3, 4, and 5; and the mealybug alone makes the 9th. As I wrote in my new book, this reminds me of the Graeae of Greek mythology: the three sisters who share one eye and one tooth between them. They are still distinct entities, but they’re each like thirds of a single whole. They cooperate to make nutrients that they all rely upon, and none can survive without the other.

 

Now things get really strange. Other species of mealybugs are also Russian dolls, with the same bug-in-a-bug-in-a-bug set-up. One of them—the long-tailed mealybug—even seems to have two kinds of inner bacteria living inside its outer one.

 

No matter the mealybug species, the outer bacterium is always Tremblaya. But the inner bacterium varies considerably—it’s Moranella in the citrus mealybug, but different microbes in the other insects. The most obvious explanation for this pattern is that some ancestral mealybug became infected with its two nested microbes. As the insects diverged into different species, so did the microbes within them. For whatever reason, the outer one stayed the same, while the inner one changed into new forms—Moranella being just one of them. “It’s so weird and so uncommon to get these bacteria inside of each other that I thought it had to happen once,” says McCutcheon.


Via Kamoun Lab @ TSL
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Why we should all take part in a wildlife survey

Why we should all take part in a wildlife survey | The Amateur Ecologist | Scoop.it
Without all the surveying and recording done by thousands of enthusiastic volunteers and citizen scientists, nature would be in a far worse state than it is today.
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Great article on the importance of citizen science and wildlife surveys.
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Who's who of biological recording

Who's who of biological recording | The Amateur Ecologist | Scoop.it

"Britain is very lucky to have a rich history in biological recording. Natural history was a popular pastime in Victorian Britain and our taxonomists were (and still are) responsible for the description and recording of species across the world. As a result of this history, the UK has a well developed network of organisations involved in biological recording."

Peter Buckland's insight:

Informative article outlining some of the key organisations involved in biological recording in the UK.

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Nematodes Use Slugs Like Buses ... and Maybe Cruise Ships

Nematodes Use Slugs Like Buses ... and Maybe Cruise Ships | The Amateur Ecologist | Scoop.it
Few things are less sexy than a slug (unless, that is, you've seen the immortal slug love scene in Life in the Undergrowth). But to a tiny worm called a nematode, slugs may be the ultimate sexy ride: moist, secure, and maybe even pre-loaded with snacks. Why wriggle painstakingly toward your next meal, risking death by dessication and starvation, when you could travel in style in the Ultimate Invertebrate Commuting Machine?
Peter Buckland's insight:

Interesting article - also implications for the transmission of certain plant diseases of which nematodes may be the vectors.

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Hoverfly Lagoons - The Buzz Club

Hoverfly Lagoons - The Buzz Club | The Amateur Ecologist | Scoop.it
The Hoverfly Lagoon project aims to create suitable habitat for hoverfly larvae in gardens and generate usable data on their egg-laying ecology.
Peter Buckland's insight:

An excellent project to encourage these often forgotten pollinators into your garden and to contribute to the monitoring and recording of the emerging adults.

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Diverse Soil Communities Can Help Offset Impacts of Global Warming

Diverse Soil Communities Can Help Offset Impacts of Global Warming | The Amateur Ecologist | Scoop.it
Maintaining a healthy and diverse soil community can buffer natural ecosystems against the damaging impacts of global warming, according to a new Yale-led study.
Peter Buckland's insight:

"The study provides key new insights into how the interactions between organisms in the soil are likely to be critical for controlling the changes in carbon cycling under current and future climate scenarios. The results were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences."

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Summary of evidence: Soils - EIN012 (Natural England Access to Evidence Information Note)

Summary of evidence: Soils - EIN012 (Natural England Access to Evidence Information Note) | The Amateur Ecologist | Scoop.it

"This summary sets out Natural England’s assessment of the evidence relating to access and engagement. It provides a statement of the current evidence base, presenting:

- what we know (with supporting data and key references);
- areas that are subject to active research and debate; and
- what we do not yet know from the evidence base.

It also lists current Natural England research projects and key external research programmes to show how we are seeking to fill gaps."

Peter Buckland's insight:

This report is available as a pdf download and is well worth reading. It gives an excellent account of the 'state of play' regarding soils in the UK.

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The Importance of Knowing About Plant - Invertebrate Specificity.

The Importance of Knowing About Plant - Invertebrate Specificity. | The Amateur Ecologist | Scoop.it

".......we need a database of which species are associated with which plants, so we can conserve the two in tandem, they have co-evolved over thousands of years and it is essential for us to conserve them both, for their sake and ours."

Peter Buckland's insight:

Excellent article by Ryan Clark - particularly important in the light of changes in land use and management and the consequent habitat loss over many decades.

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Pollinator Gardens do Double Duty

Pollinator Gardens do Double Duty | The Amateur Ecologist | Scoop.it
It warms my heart when I see them selecting plants beneficial to pollinators, converting portions of the lawn into flower plots, cutting down on pesticides, and creating the right conditions for pollinators’ nests.
Peter Buckland's insight:

Great piece on the importance of pollinator gardens

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Terrawatch: The history of dirt

Terrawatch: The history of dirt | The Amateur Ecologist | Scoop.it

"Globally soil is being eroded fast, and in 2014 scientists at Sheffield University estimated that the UK has just one-hundred harvests left if we don’t take better care of our soil."


Via Soil Association
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Soils worldwide are at great risk from erosion

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Plants, fungi and oomycetes: a 400-million year affair that shapes the biosphere

Plants, fungi and oomycetes: a 400-million year affair that shapes the biosphere | The Amateur Ecologist | Scoop.it

In a rare gathering, genomics met palaeontology at the 10th New Phytologist Workshop on the ‘Origin and evolution of plants and their interactions with fungi’. An eclectic group of 17 experts met at The Natural History Museum (London, UK) on 9–10 September 2014 to discuss the latest findings on plant interactions with fungi (Eumycota) and oomycetes (Oomycota = Peronosporomycota), with topics ranging from the fossil record and comparative genomics to symbiosis and phytopathology. The discussions were largely disseminated via social media (Box 1). Highly diverse plant–fungal interactions have formed the backbone of land ecosystems and biogeochemical cycles since the Palaeozoic (see Fig. 1 for geological timeframe). As summarized by Christine Strullu-Derrien and Paul Kenrick (The Natural History Museum, London, UK) the first land plants arose c. 470 million years (Myr) ago (Kenrick et al., 2012; Edwards et al., 2014), at which time fungi and oomycetes had already colonized terrestrial ecosystems. Following their terrestrialization, these microbes began to abound within plant fossils (Taylor et al., 2014, and references therein). Ultimately, biological interactions sculpted the genomes of plants, fungi and oomycetes (e.g. Schmidt & Panstruga, 2011; Kohler et al., 2015). Here we illustrate the picture that has emerged from the discussions at the 10th New Phytologist Workshop, and point to some pending questions.


Via Francis Martin
Peter Buckland's insight:

The importance of plant-fungal interactions

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Pierre-Marc Delaux's curator insight, March 23, 2015 5:54 AM

It was a great workshop indeed!

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Oxford Junior Dictionary’s replacement of ‘natural’ words with 21st-century terms sparks outcry

Oxford Junior Dictionary’s replacement of ‘natural’ words with 21st-century terms sparks outcry | The Amateur Ecologist | Scoop.it

“Will the removal of these words from the OJD ruin lives? Probably not,” say the authors. “But as a symptom of a widely acknowledged problem that is ruining lives, this omission becomes a major issue. The Oxford Dictionaries have a rightful authority and a leading place in cultural life. We believe the OJD should address these issues and that it should seek to help shape children’s understanding of the world, not just to mirror its trends."

Peter Buckland's insight:

A worrying trend. What do you think?

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The roots of your health: Elaine Ingham on the science of soil

The roots of your health: Elaine Ingham on the science of soil | The Amateur Ecologist | Scoop.it
Earlier this year, US soil microbiologist Elaine Ingham, of Soil Foodweb Inc. fame, caused several gasps at the Oxford Real Farming Conference with her controversial lecture, ‘The Roots of your Profits’. I recommend anyone interested in joined-up thinking about health to listen to this and view her slide presentation.
Peter Buckland's insight:

Thought provoking and sometimes controversial article on the importance of soil organisms.

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