Robots in the Nursery

Back in my day, of horticulture school and nursery internships, we did this work by hand.  At the end of the day, resetting rows of 3 and 5-gallon boxwood, I would crawl out to my car and drive home, then crab crawl into the house and ice my back.  One Saturday morning, after a week of moving hundreds of nursery containers and doing hours of hand-weeding in the shadehouse, my back spasmed in the Safeway parking lot and I lied on the asphalt for a spell thinking about my future.  Being a grower was not in the cards I surmised, and I turned my sights from production horticulture to production problem solving.

In the meantime, along came Harvest Automation.  These little guys are so cool – efficient, precise, and tireless.  Their backs don’t spasm, they don’t complain, they space rows like a boss.

 

Robots in the Nursery from Vox Hortus on Vimeo.

Link

Citizen Scientists: Entomology Specimen Curation

Citizen Scientists: Entomology Specimen Curation

“Through Calbug, any volunteer with Internet access can help read and transcribe hand-written field notes accompanying a million insect specimens, many dating back more than 100 years.”

If I do this, can I put UC Berkeley on my CV?  No?  Still – it’s science, from the comfort of your bunny slippers and Aeron chair.

Below are specimens I photographed from Taiwan National University’s collection.  You can read the labels, but many of them are in German.  Good times.

(Link discovery via pterostichini blog)

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Competing objectives in ecology

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the more knowledge we have, the more gray areas appear in the distinct divide between black and white.

It’s easy to identify n00bs because they have tidy, streamlined, carefully reasoned positions on big issues.  Logging?  Always bad!  Restoration activities?  Always good!  GMOs: bad.  Organic agriculture: good.

Meet burdock (Asteraceae: Arctium minus).  Or burr dock, if you so desire.

Burdock is a European introduction, a noxious weed in two states, and ubiquitous in North America.

Noxious and introduced?  Bad!

It’s also a source of nectar and pollen for foraging butterflies, bees, and wasps.

Food for beneficial insects?  Good!

It eats Ruby-crowned Kinglets (Regulus calendula).  Its flower heads are prickly, tangled and sticky and ensnare these tiny birds.

Bird eating weed?  Most definitely bad.  (The birds are common and not endangered if that makes you feel any better.  I know, it probably doesn’t.)

The tap root is tasty and the leaves have been used for a variety of medicinal purposes across a number of cultures.

Medicinal and delicious?  Good.  Invasives as a food source?  Even better.

The flower heads stick to fur and make pets sick if ingested.

Barfing dogs?  Très bad.

Here’s a good one: Burdock was the inspiration for Velcro.  True story.

You can see where I’m going with this.  Ecology isn’t easy.  It’s complex, and it’s always about competing objectives.  The ornithologists see one priority.  The farmers see another.  The botanists have an opinion, and so do the entomologists.  Citizens are enthusiastic opinionators, and the land manager is faced with a huge task: to manage the needs of the plant community and the animal community in line with prevailing ecological goals and economic mandates.

I would say here that I sure wouldn’t want that job, but I totally do.

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Sources:

[1] http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=ARMI2&photoID=armi2_004_ahp.jpg#
[2] http://www.missouriplants.com/Pinkalt/Arctium_minus_page.html
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_de_Mestral
[4] http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/119/articles/demography