Afghanistan botanic diversity

This video from the USA says about itself:

Celebrated Afghani Singer Finds Asylum Restoring Native Plants at Stagecoach Vineyard

Some mornings, master gardener Isshan Momman sits above the Napa Valley fog line, beside the acacia trees and watches the golden eagles fly across Stagecoach Vineyards as he thinks about God, his music and his escape from Afghanistan. Momman is one of 60,000 Afghan refugees living in California.

Dr. Jan Krupp recruited Momman, the rebab-playing, songwriting godsend with the green thumb who is now replanting over 2,000 native holly-leaf ceanothus among a 1108 acres plot of vineyard land, dirt and rock known as Stagecoach Vineyard.

But once upon a time, Momman produced, composed and sang Pashto music for Afghanistan TV.

By Kate Clark:

Afghanistan is particularly rich in flowering plants. This may be counter-intuitive, given how relatively dry the country is, but there are far more species and sub-species here than, for example, in damper central Europe which is much more favourable for plant growth. 4500 flowering plants have been identified so far in Afghanistan and many more, it is believed, are yet to be found and named.

A particularly high proportion of those plants, 30 per cent – are endemic, ie they are found nowhere else in the world. By way of comparison, the British Isles has only a handful of endemic species out of about 1700 flowering plants. Unlike Britain, where each new ice age tended to wipe the land clean of species, Afghanistan’s valleys acted as refuges for plants. That allowed them, over millions of years, to evolve into a multiplicity of new species, specially adapted to very local conditions. As Breckle and Rafiqpoor point out, this is evidence of the ‘major importance of the Afghan/Central Asiatic area as a very old and major centre of development and evolution in flowering plants, at all levels, family, genus, species.’ (The same pattern is true for Afghanistan’s fauna – which has more species of vertebrates than Europe does.)

In Afghanistan, the old geology and wide diversity of habitats has also contributed to diversity. Habitats range from the high mountains of the north-east which rise to 7000m to the deserts of Helmand at about 500m: there are alpine meadows, some dense forests, although rapidly receding due to logging and fire wood collection, pistachio and juniper woodland, and steppes and arid deserts and even sub-tropical semi-deserts.

The result is startling biodiversity. There are more than 600 species of legumes/pea family, including the spiny cushion plants (Astragulus) so typical of much of the Afghan landscape with 380 endemic species; there are more than 500 Compositae/daisy family, including 144 types of thistle alone, 93 of which are endemic to Afghanistan; also, 225 species of the Cruciferae/cabbage family. Then there is the Labiatae/mint family with 205 species, including more than 40 species of cat mint (Nepeta), 24 of clary (Salvia), as well as thyme (Thymus), mint (Mentha) and marjoram (Origanum). Other families producing spectacle and beauty are the lillies (Liliaceae) with 156 species, including 15 species of tulips and 65 of onions and the irises (Iridaceae), with more than 30 species.

Let us hope that not too many of those plants will die because of bombs exploding or tanks riding over them. And that not too many of the trees will be cut down as Afghan people, desperately poor because of the war, see no alternative to them as fuel.

Dutch rare plants discoveries

This video from the Netherlands says about itself:

Nature Notes from the Veluwe, Holland #01

In 1905, Natuurmonumenten, the Dutch Wildlife Trust, purchased 5 square kilometres of dry, sandy land in the central Netherlands and created the country’s largest wildlife preserve.

In 1930 the Netherlands first National Park, Veluwezoom, was created and with the acquisition of additional land, the park has now grown to 500 square kilometres of sand dunes, woodland and heath, all managed as a single nature reserve.

The national park Veluwezoom serves as a protected area for deer, wild boar, foxes, badgers, tree martens and other mammals. The area also naturally harbours insects, reptiles, amphibians and birds, such as bullfinches, woodpeckers, tree-creepers and of course an assortment of birds of prey.

This video is part #2 of the Veluwe series.

Bureau Waardenburg in the Netherlands reports rare plants discoveries in the Achterhoek, the eastern part of Gelderland province.

48 vascular plant species from the Red List of threatened wildlife were found in recently restored nature reserves near Zieuwent and Lievelde villages. Among these species are purging flax and meadow thistle.

Rare mosses were discovered as well. Including dwarf bladder-moss, a species which had been seen for the last time in the Netherlands in 1850.

Rodents’ takeover from elephants in Panamanian rainforests

This video is called Movement paths of 224 radio-tagged palm seeds by rodents on Barro Colorado Island, Panama.

It says about itself:

Relative movement paths of 224 radio-tagged palm seeds handled by rodents on Barro Colorado Island, Panama. Colored dots mark locations of 129 seeds that were found eaten (orange), 86 seeds last seen before they lost their tags (gray), and 9 seeds that were still alive, cached, and being monitored after a year (pink).

Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Panama. By attaching tiny radio transmitters to more than 400 seeds, Patrick Jansen, scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and Wageningen University, and his colleagues found that 85 percent of the seeds were buried in caches by agoutis, common, house cat-sized rodents in tropical lowlands. Agoutis carry seeds around in their mouths and bury them for times when food is scarce.

By Ajai Raj:

Thieving rodents saved tropical palm

Monday, 16 July 2012

SYDNEY: An innovative seed-tracking study in the Panamanian rainforest has solved the mystery of how the black palm tree spreads its seeds.

Until now, how the black palm (Astrocaryum standleyanum), a spiny palm trees native to Central and South America, dispersed its seeds has been a mystery. Its seeds, big and heavy compared to other seeds, were likely once eaten by enormous megafauna, which later pooed out the seeds further afield. However, the last of these went extinct at the end of the Pleistocene epoch, over 10,000 years ago – so how is the tree still here?

To figure it out, researchers used an innovative seed-tracking study, radio-tagging about 600 black palm tree seeds and placing them at stations across Barro Colorado Island, which were monitored with motion-sensitive cameras.

Seed stolen and moved 36 times

What they found surprised them: agoutis (Dasyprocta punctata), a widespread South American rodent species, dug up the seeds of the black palm and, instead of eating them, moved them to another location and re-buried them. One seed they tracked was moved 36 times over 209 days, travelling 749 meters and ending up 280 meters from where it began, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

From the National Science Foundation in the USA:

Thieving Rodents: Did They Save Tropical Trees?

Rodents may have taken over seed-dispersal role of now-extinct mammals.

Big seeds produced by tropical trees such as black palms were probably once ingested and then left whole by huge mammals called gomphotheres.

Gomphotheres weighed more than a ton and dispersed the seeds over large distances.

But these Neotropical creatures disappeared more than 10,000 years ago. So why aren’t large-seeded plants also extinct?

A paper published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) suggests that rodents may have taken over the seed-dispersal role of gomphotheres.

“The question has been: how did a tree like the black palm manage to survive for 10,000 years, if its seed-dispersers are extinct?” asks Roland Kays, co-author of the paper and a zoologist at North Carolina State University and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

“This research solves a long standing puzzle in ecology,” says Alan Tessier, program director in the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Division of Environmental Biology, which funded the research.

“How did plant species that seem to be dependent on Pleistocene megafauna for seed-dispersal survive the extinction of that megafauna?”

Now, says Kays, scientists may have an answer.

By attaching tiny radio transmitters to more than 400 seeds, Patrick Jansen, a scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) and Wageningen University and colleagues found that 85 percent of the seeds were buried in caches by agoutis, common rodents in tropical lowlands.

Agoutis carry seeds around in their mouths and bury them for times when food is scarce.

Radio-tracking revealed a surprising finding: when the rodents dig up the seeds, they usually don’t eat them, but instead move them to a new site and bury them, often many times.

One seed in the study was moved 36 times.

Researchers used remote cameras to catch the animals digging up cached seeds. They discovered that frequent seed movement primarily was caused by animals stealing seeds from one another.

Ultimately, 35 percent of the seeds ended up more than 100 meters from their origin. “Agoutis moved seeds at a scale that none of us had ever imagined,” says Jansen.

“We had observed seeds being moved and buried up to five times, but in this system it seems that re-caching behavior is ‘on steroids,’” says Ben Hirsch of STRI and Ohio State University.

“By radio-tagging the seeds, we were able to track them as they were moved by agoutis, find out if they were taken up into trees by squirrels, then discover the seeds inside spiny rat burrows.

“That allowed us to gain a much better understanding of how each rodent species affects seed dispersal and survival.”

By taking over the role of Pleistocene mammals in dispersing large seeds, thieving, scatter-hoarding agoutis may have saved several species of trees from extinction.

See also here. And here.

Giant water-lilies damaged by coins

This is a Victoria amazonica time-lapse video.

Leiden University in the Netherlands reports that the leaves of their Victoria amazonica giant water-lilies used to be over two meter in diameter. Last year, they were only one meter fifty.

The botanical gardens in Utrecht and Haren had bigger leaves than in Leiden, though the seed for their Victoria amazonica had come from Leiden.

Why have the Leiden leaves shrunk?

Research showed that there was too much iron in the water. People throw coins in the water to help the hothouses financially. Euro coins, which replaced earlier Dutch coins, of 5, 2 and 1 cents have copper and steel. In water, these coins rust.

Nymphaea thermarum is the world’s smallest water lily. It nearly became extinct. Now, some are in the botanical garden in Leiden, the Netherlands.

Antarctica’s invasive plants

This video is called Eyewitness – Arctic & Antarctic.

From National Geographic:

Alien Species Invading Antarctica via Tourists, Scientists

Seeds hitchhiking on cold-weather clothing, gear.

Charles Q. Choi

for National Geographic News

Published March 5, 2012

Antarctic tourists and scientists may be inadvertently seeding the icy continent with invasive species, a new study says.

Foreign plants such as annual bluegrass are establishing themselves on Antarctica, whose status as the coldest and driest continent had long made it one of the most pristine environments on Earth.

But a boom in tourism and research activities to the Antarctic Peninsula may be threatening the continent’s unique ecosystems, scientists say. (See a high-res Antarctica map.)

For the study, ecologist Steven Chown at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa and colleagues vacuumed the clothes, footwear, bags, and gear of approximately 2 percent of people who visited during the Antarctic summer from late 2007 to early 2008. That amounted to 853 scientists, tourists, and accompanying support workers and ships’ crew members. (Read more about the gear required for Antarctic travel.) …

The results revealed more than 2,600 seeds and other detachable plant structures, or propagules, had hitched a ride to Antarctica on these visitors.

On average, tourists each carried two to three seeds, while scientists each carried six. However, the annual number of tourists now far outnumbers that of scientists—about 33,000 tourists to about 7,000 scientists in the 2007-2008 Antarctic summer. As a result, tourists and scientists likely pose similar risks overall to Antarctica, Chown said. …

Antarctic Invaders Used to the Cold

Disturbingly, the scientists said, 49 to 61 percent of the foreign plant material that reaches Antarctica are cold-adapted species that can withstand and colonize in extreme conditions.

The plants likely get stuck to cold-weather gear that travelers had used in other frigid climes prior to arriving to Antarctica.

For instance, Arctic species such as chickweed and yellow bog sedge have been found in Antarctica, according to the study, published March 5 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Based on the nature of these foreign species and the present climate of Antarctica, the areas at highest risk are the Antarctic Peninsula coast and surrounding islands, the study said.

According to climate projections for 2100 from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), invaders may also take root in the coastal, ice-free areas to the west of the Amery Ice Shelf and, to a lesser extent, in the Ross Sea region.

What’s more, rising temperatures along the Antarctic coast will likely aid these intruders’ survival. (See an interactive map of global warming’s effects.)

Even so, “it should not be imagined that Antarctica will suddenly be covered in flowering plants and weeds,” Chown said.

“Much of it is still a very harsh place, and plants do not grow on ice, which still dominates the continent.”

Cleaning Gear May Reduce Risks

Polar ecologist Peter Convey said the study “provided objective assessment that both governmental and tourism operations in the region pose significant risks.”

But knowing the risks also means knowing how to manage them, said Convey, of the British Antarctic Survey, who was not part of the study.

For instance, cleaning outer gear and bags is very effective at reducing the number of seeds that can reach Antarctica. “In essence, take it new or take it clean,” study leader Chown said.

Chown and team also plan to present their work to the Committee for Environmental Protection of the Antarctic Treaty.

“We hope they will use the information further” to develop ways to lessen the impact, Chown said.

See also here.

An international team of scientists have published the first continent-wide assessment of the Antarctic’s biogeography, and propose that the landmass should be divided into 15 distinct conservation regions to protect the continent from invasive alien species. The team’s findings are published in Diversity and Distributions, while the authors’ proposals were outlined today at a lecture to the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) in Hobart, Tasmania: here.

Plants of Antarctica: here.

March 2012: A third US retailer has announced it will not stock seafood from Antartica’s Ross Sea for environmental reasons, reports Greenpeace: here.

Antarctica was warmer than now during Miocene: here.

A group of researchers has found that the largest glacier in West Antarctica is “retreating inland” faster than ever: here.

In recent decades, scientists have noted a surge in Arctic plant growth as a symptom of climate change. But without observations showing exactly when and where vegetation has bloomed as the world’s coldest areas warm, it’s difficult to predict how vegetation will respond to future warming. Now, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and UC Berkeley have developed a new approach that may paint a more accurate picture of Arctic vegetation and our climate’s recent past — and future: here.

Invasive asexual midges may upset Antarctica’s delicate moss banks. The flightless insects’ waste may alter a nutrient-sparse world. By Susan Milius, 3:51pm, December 19, 2018.