There are 47 million birdwatchers in the U.S., but only 2.6 million waterfowl hunters. Conservation of wetlands falls disproportionately on the shoulders of hunters. And that’s a problem because hunter participation is decreasing. With fewer hunters, who’s going to pay for wildlife conservation?
Ed Yong reports on research by Jianqiang Wu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences into one of my favorite creepy plants: dodder (Cuscuta sp.). Wu’s work indicates that distinct plants parasitized by a connecting dodder vine can use it to exchange chemical signals, say, in response to herbivory.
It’s not that dodder has evolved to do this. The parasite is a generalist with unfussy taste in hosts, so it doesn’t really benefit by improving the lives of the plants it attacks. And Wu still suspects that the transmission mechanism does more harm than good, by sapping its hosts of water and nutrients. But it’s perhaps surprising that it does any good at all.
Duarte S. Viana et al. have published research on the importance of migratory birds as a long-distance seed dispersal mechanism.
By sampling birds caught while in migratory flight by GPS-tracked wild falcons, we show that migratory birds transport seeds over hundreds of kilometres and mediate dispersal from mainland to oceanic islands.
A really strong workshop, with four good speakers, hosted by Virginia Native Plant Society at the University of Richmond. A theme emerged: interactions of plants with other organisms in the landscape, be they herbivorous White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) (as discussed by Henry Wilbur, emeritus at the University of Virginia), or pollinating Eastern Tiger Swallowtails (Papilio glauca), who pick up pollen from Flame Azalea (Rhododendron calendulaceum) on their wings (only the second such association known, as discovered by Mary Jane Epps, postdoc at North Carolina State University [her work will soon be published]), or the unexpected linkage (through soil pH) of invasive Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) and the tiny arthopods known as springtails (Collembola), brought to us by Anne Alerding of Virginia Military Institute.
For me, the most interesting talk (and most challenging to follow along with) was Karen Barnard-Kubow‘s explication of her dissertation research on the genetics of American Bellflower (Campanulastrum americanum). This species has a range from the Virginia Coastal Plain to the breadbasket Midwest. Barnard-Kubow’s work has identified distinct clades: one in the East, one or two in the Appalachian Mountains, and one in the Midwest. Cross-breeding experiments on these populations suggests that the plant might be in the process of speciation. Her work also indicates that genetic material in the plant’s chloroplasts is sometimes inherited from the male parent, rather than strictly from the female, as received wisdom has it.
A recent paper by Jason M. Gleditsch and Tomás A. Carlo explores the impact on nesting success of Gray Catbirds (Dumetella carolinensis) breeding in Pennsylvania landscapes dominated by invasive Asian honeysuckles (Lonicera sp.). It turns out that they found little evidence to support the claim that honeysuckle represents an “ecological trap” of increased predation risk and poor nutritive value from fruits, contrary to the results of other researchers. Adult birds may have made more trips to the nest, bearing what some have called “junk food,” but body mass measurements of the nestlings, in this study, show that they grow up just fine.
Our results show that relationships between introduced fleshy-fruited plants and native birds are complex and not easily characterized as purely harmful or beneficial because they can include negative, neutral, or positive outcomes.
Sometimes, in the authors’ view, using an alien species is the best the birds can do, under the circumstances.
… the traditional and widespread categorical approach to invasive species management should be revised to prevent harming certain communities and ecosystems, especially areas in a process of self-recovery from heavy human disturbances.
Steven Portugal et al. equipped 14 Bald Ibises (Geronticus eremita) with miniaturized GPS units to study the energetics and aerodynamics of flying in V formation. As the leader summarizes, each bird does indeed time its wingbeats to maximize the drafting effect of following another bird–abstract and heatmaps on the article page.
I interned for Grace in its New York headquarters in the late 1970s, and then somehow convinced someone at one of its newly-acquired retail businesses, Bermans, the Leather Experts to hire me full-time. (I lasted a year, and the lit out for Washington.) Bermans is long gone, merged into Wilsons and later Georgetown Leather Design, then gradually declining into liquidation in 2008. Back in the 1970s, Grace described its organization as a three-legged stool—specialty chemicals, energy, and consumer retail and restaurants. The energy game was no kinder to the portfolio than brands like Channel home centers and Houlihan’s restaurants. And, as Ho reports, personal-injury lawsuits stemming from asbestos contamination of the company’s vermiculite products sent the company into bankruptcy court.
My workplace, the soaring building on 42nd Street (with a plaza that extended close enough to Sixth Avenue to give it an Avenue of the Americas address) still stands, but what’s left of the chemicals-only firm is now headquartered in Columbia, Maryland.
At Botany POTD, Taisha explains, with compelling examples, Vavilovian mimicry, whereby a weedy taxon takes on characteristics of a domesticated crop by unintentional, generally human-induced, selection.