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.





Quickie in the AM

For the person who arrived here looking to prevent biennial bearing: systematically remove about 1/2 of the young fruit (young-young – do it early) during a bearing year.  It may take the tree several years to straighten itself out.  Thinning the fruit or the flowers if you’re ambitious is the way to go.  During off years, do not thin.

The fun of awaking at 5am has waned a bit.  Can’t drink too much coffee because I am about to be in the car for an hour.  It’s going to be hot today.  Hold me.

Arabidopsis Thwarts Land Mines

A Copenhagen biotech firm has modified a common Arabidopsis to detect nitrogen dioxide and express red leaves instead of green in its presence.  Over 100 million landmines worldwide are a danger to humans and animals and leave prime agricultural land fallow.  Now the nitrogen dioxide that they outgas can be detected by this lowly thale-cress which is seeded by air.  When the plants grow and express the red color, mine removal teams know exactly where to direct their efforts.  The red color will also serve as a warning to passersby who can avoid stepping on the mines.  Very exciting news.

 Overview from the Landmine Survivors Network here.

Brassicales, I smite you.

I was looking forward to botany this term, knowing that much time would be spent keying out plants.  Today we started with Brassicaceae and I discovered that the mustard family comes to you straight from the devil.  The nuances were lost on the me the first, second, and third times around.  Finally I arrived at the target genera, and then snippily flipped my pages looking for species right up until the last 30 seconds of class.  I had one gimme of Arabidopsis thaliana which I recognized right away (one would hope).  I’m partnered up again with Kevin who was in my soils lab last term and true to form, when I turned my back, he copied my data down.  Count your own carpels infidel!

I also discovered that my new needle probes are very sharp, sharp enough to go right through your skin.

Plant ID Week One

Chaenomeles speciosa, Common Flowering Quince

Magnolia liliiflora, Lily Magnolia

Magnolia x soulangiana, Saucer Magnolia

Magnolia stellata, Star Magnolia

Osmanthus delavayi, Delavay Osmanthus aka Delavay Tea Olive

Prunus serrulata ‘Mt. Fuji’ aaka ‘Shirotae’, Mt. Fuji Japanese Flowering Cherry

Pyrus calleryana, Callery Pear

Rhododendron ‘Bibiani’

Rhododendron ‘Taurus’

Ribes sanguineum, Red Flowering Currant

Spiraea x arguta, Garland Spirea

Spiraea thunbergii, Thunberg Spirea

Stachyurus praecox, Early Spiketail

New research on auxin transport and PIN-PGP complexes

The horticulture department at Purdue University led a team of international researchers studying auxin transport and how PIN and PGP proteins work together to direct plant growth.

Auxin is the hormone that signals growth in both roots and shoots. PIN-PGP complexes direct the flow of auxin as it influxes at the apex of a plant cell and effluxes at the basal end. The arrangement of the complexes mechanically directs auxin flow, and the changing concentrations of auxin turn genes on and off locally to initiate shoots and roots.

With greater understanding of these protein complexes, it may be possible to “direct” auxin flow and control root:shoot ratios and engineer plants used for biofuels.

Scientists Pinpoint Proteins That Direct Plant Growth, Development