Ming the Mechanic
The NewsLog of Flemming Funch

Saturday, February 8, 2003day link 

 The Ecology of Urban Habitats
picture From Mikel Maron's Brain Off blog:
"Contrary to expectations, urban landscapes are some of the most interesting ecologies. The variety of landscapes and microclimates (roads, parks, gardens, rail, canals, industries), the intense flow of exotic materials for commerce and gardening, and continual disturbance, all contribute towards many opportunities for nature. Due to such variety, cities are often more biologically diverse than the surrounding countryside. Nature is astoundingly creative, and keen to exploit subtle convoluted chance.

Nature continues to happen, in more astounding forms, even within our most artificial environments. Some bizarre relations of humans and nature from The Ecology of Urban Habitats
  • The overall result is that urbanized areas, despite a large reduction in the total vegetation cover, support a higher number of species than the surrounding countryside. [p. 11]
  • .. tropical fauna and flora occurs in certain canals where water used to cool machinery is discharged. Thermal pollution of the River Don by the steel industry has enabled wild figs to colonize its banks, [p. 118]
  • In fact all industry, as it gets tidied up, becomes less interesting for wildlife. The very features that allow a rich flora and fuana to survive - the squalor, rubbish, old buildings and machinery, derelict huts, rotting dumps, ineffiecient handling - are becoming unacceptable to management [p. 122]
  • [Oxford ragwort] A native of Southern Italy, was cultivated in the Oxford Botanical Garden for over a hundred years before it eventually escaped (1794) and soon reported as plentiful on almost every wall in the town. About 1879 it reached the Great Western Railway system where the plumed seed engaged in a new form of dispersal, being carried along in the vortex of air behind express trains, or even inside them [p. 139]
  • the reasons for caraway being limited to railway verges in Scotland ... caraway cake topped with fresh seeds was pocketed at post-funeral teas ... on the way home they tried to eat it, gave up and threw it out of the window [p. 142]
  • A more subtle effect of dogs can be observed on the base of street trees against which they urinate. This area, known as the canine zone, carries a different epiphytic flora to the rest of the trunk. [p. 162]
  • Starlings were successfully introduced into New York in 1890-91 as part of a project to establish in the States all the plants and animals mentioned by Shakespeare. [p. 171]
  • .. [an] experiment took place in Germany during the Third Reich when exotics [foreign plants] became enemies of the state and for a short time naturalistic planting flourished ... [p. 184]"
Interesting. In urban areas there's greater diversity than in industrialized farm land, so nature has the opportunity for thriving better in many ways. Urban landscapes are aggregates of many individual choices, many small bets on different things. Varied constellations of new things being built, combined with old things decaying. Farm land is homogenized monopolistic monoculture. Maybe the worst crime against nature is not cities, but modern farming methods?
[ | 2003-02-08 20:04 | 14 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 Sturdy microbes
picture I think the world of microbial organisms is really fascinating. For example, there have been various discoveries of how amazingly sturdy microbes can be, and how they can survive in what we would consider the most inhospitable environments.

Just recently, scientists discovered that there is plenty of life even deep below the ocean floor. They sampled 3.5 million year old crust 1000 feet below the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. There is an enormous pressure, and none of the normal energy sources that life depends on. But different microbes exist there. Another story here , about rock-eating microbes on the sea floor. It estimates that 10-30% of the Earth's bio-mass consists of microbes deep inside the crust.

Bacteria also have amazing abilities to survive for a long time under extreme conditions in a suspended state.
On April 20, 1967, the unmanned lunar lander Surveyor 3 landed near Oceanus Procellarum on the surface of the moon. One of the things aboard was a television camera. Two-and-a-half years later, on November 20, 1969, Apollo 12 astronauts Pete Conrad and Alan L. Bean recovered the camera. When NASA scientists examined it back on Earth they were surprised to find specimens of Streptococcus mitis that were still alive. Because of the precautions the astronauts had taken, NASA could be sure that the germs were inside the camera when it was retrieved, so they must have been there before the Surveyor 3 was launched. These bacteria had survived for 31 months in the vacuum of the moon's atmosphere. Perhaps NASA shouldn't have been surprised, because there are other bacteria that thrive under near-vacuum pressure on the earth today. Anyway, we now know that the vacuum of space is not a fatal problem for bacteria.
Or, even more wild, 30 million year old bacteria have survived in amber:
Biologists Raœl Cano and Monica Borucki had extracted bacterial spores from bees preserved in amber in Costa Rica. Amber is tree-sap that hardens and persists as a fossil. This amber had entrapped some bees and then hardened between 25 and 40 million years ago. Bacteria living in the bees' digestive tracts had recognized a problem and turned themselves into spores. When placed in a suitable culture, the spores came right back to life.
Those last two are from Cosmic Ancestry, a very interesting site supporting the possibility that life on Earth has been seeded from space. Here's another recent article about that, suggesting that life probably exists now on Mars, under similar conditions as what we find in the Earth's crust, and that it is quite likely that the process here was seeded by microbes from Mars.
[ | 2003-02-08 23:59 | 1 comment | PermaLink ]  More >

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