June 05, 2012

5/31 -- Squirrels

Mammals, as I learned recently, have a huge diversity. Today we narrowed the scope down to a local level, learning about mammals around campus. First, we learned about how many scientists, including a graduate student at UW, trap mammals for study. This method is mainly used for squirrels, but would suffice for mammals of a similar size. A trap is baited with walnuts, and once the squirrel enters, the door is shut. The researcher then must come back within two hours to ensure that the squirrel is not harmed by predators. They can then get any information they need or attach tracking devices for population sizing.
One problem we learned of was the fact that Eastern Grey squirrels are dominating over the native Western Grey Squirrel. This is due to the fact they are often bigger and better at foraging, eating almost whatever they can find. They do scatterhoarding, which is where the squirrel will fill a shallow hole with food and cover it up. They have great spatial memory, allowing them to remember hundreds of these stashes. Eastern Greys leave scent markings by chewing off parts of bark, which causes glands to release pheromones. This could possibly be used for pest control in the future, as some bugs will shy away form the pheromones. Other than these squirrels and raccoons, it is hard to find any other mammals on campus. Some other Washington squirrels include the yellow-bellied marmot. This is a much larger squirrel and hibernates, lives in rocks, and is an omnivore. Unlike many squirrels, one male yellow-bellied marmot can have up to three females. In Eastern Washington, one can find the Colombian brown squirrel. These weigh between one and two pounds and live in colonies.

I was left wondering how the spread of the Eastern Grey squirrels will affect both the Western Grey population and also the ecosystem that it is native to. It didn't seem as if the Eastern Grey was all that different, so will it do much harm to the local ecosystem? Perhaps the fact that it is much better at foraging will result in other species losing potential food source. The damage to the Western Greys is already seen, with the squirrel only being found in certain forests through out the state. Will their numbers continue to dwindle, or will they atleast be able to retain the habitat they have now?

Posted on June 05, 2012 02:33 AM by beardendb beardendb | 0 comments | Leave a comment

5/24 -- Forbs

The second tour today was about forbs, which are herbaceous flowering plants. We were told that all wildflowers are forbs, but forbs includes many other types of flowers other than wildflowers. Washington has the most amount of diversity when it comes to wildflowers. They grow all over, but most notably on meadows high up on Mt. Rainer. There is an estimated amount of 200 to 600 wildflowers on campus, with half being non-native. One type of common forb that can even be found on campus is the skunk cabbage. It has roots that resemble worms, and can generate heat. This is a rare quality among forbs, but has allowed the skunk cabbage to become one of the most resilient and long-lasting of all forbs. This heat allows it to melt through snow, helping it survive in the colder winter months. The forb is also quite pungent, and smells of garbage if one goes close enough. It spreads through pollination, which is done by beetles who fly from skunk cabbage to skunk cabbage in search of food. One non-native plant is the common vetch, which comes from Europe. It is a nitrogen-fixing plant and is formed in association with ants. The thimbleberry, a native plant found from Alaska to Mexico, is a member of the rose family. Although widespread, this flower flourishes even better after forest fires. Its fruits ripen in late September, and can be used along with other parts of the plant for medicinal use such as healing wounds and burns. There is a huge variety of forbs in Washington as I learned today, but I wonder how big of a role they play in nature. I imagine forbs that fruit are a common food for many animals, but what about forbs without? Do they only give nectar to bugs? This is a huge characteristic, no doubt, but does anything eat the flowers?

Posted on June 05, 2012 12:52 AM by beardendb beardendb | 0 comments | Leave a comment

June 02, 2012

5/24 - Tour of campus fungi

In the Union Bay Natural Area, we were lead on a tour by classmates who showed various fungi and stories behind them. My classmates and I learned that fungus grows both in terrestrial environments and in water. We have 1.4 billion year old fossils that show fungi remained aquatic until the Cambrian period. There used to be huge mushrooms, reaching 6 feet tall but these died out with flowering plants. Microrisal fungi are a type of fungus that grow along with the roots of the tree. This causes trees to become more resistant to disease, while the fungus is able to take carbon from the tree. We saw a fiberhead which is a brown spore mushroom. Fungus also indicates the return of a habitat to its natural state, as we saw with Union Bay Natural Area. One tour guide showed us huge artist conks, which we learned we not even close to the maximum size (3 feet). On closer inspection of the fungus, we saw small pores in the white flesh, which are where the spores are released from. Artist conks produce a huge amount of spores, up to 5 trillion annually. Fallen logs are a great place to find fungi is on fallen logs. We were able to tell ages of turkey tail fungi due to the fact that it only grows parallel with the ground. A fallen log had turkey tails that were perpendicular to each other. This means that some were growing on the tree when it was upright and may have cause it to die, which is when the second ones began to grow. Turkey tails are a type of white rot fungi, commonly used to make teas. One assumption I learned was wrong that all brown rot is not dry rot. Some mushrooms have incrediblely short lifetimes, such as the Japanese parasol mushroom, which grow and decay within 24 hours.

We learned of the many benefits fungi offer, such as being used to clean up oil and use in medicine and teas. It seems to me like there is a lot we can use mushrooms for, and I wonder to what extent scientists have explored there potential? Would it be possible to genetically modify fungus such as we have with our crops? I hope in my lifetime I will see this progression.

Posted on June 02, 2012 11:44 PM by beardendb beardendb | 0 comments | Leave a comment

5/17 - Value of Natural History

Today Josh gave an inspiring and well thought out lecture on why natural history is important to society. He showed us data that indicates a turn away from natural history and towards sciences more involved on a small level, such as DNA study. The study of these new sciences is quite important, and will no doubt unlock many important discoveries as we delve deeper. One reason this shift has made is that they are relatively new areas of science and thus allow for much undiscovered knowledge to be unlocked. This is not reason enough to stray away from natural history though; despite being one of the oldest forms of science, we still have a countless amount of things to learn about the creatures and organisms that surround us everyday. These discoveries can be equally important to the discoveries being made in the newer sciences. For example, acid rain was discovered due to a naturist. By studying and taking samples from the same river for many years, he was able to observe a rise in unwanted chemicals. By tracing these back to chemicals being released by factories, we were able to instate laws regulating these chemicals, in what was one of the quickest changes in policies regarding the environment. In addition to protecting the environment, human health has also benefited from natural history. Cholera outbreaks were linked to copepods which can easily be strained out of water by running water through a cloth - a discovery that would never have been found in a lab. There have also been times where disregarding natural history has harmed humans, such as the Ixtoc Oil spill. As soon as the leakage was stopped, all study of how the released oil effects the environment was also stopped. This came back to bite us recently, with the BP oil spill; because we didn't pursue the effects of the Ixtoc oil spill, we still have no idea of how the BP oil spill will harm the ecosystem in the short and longterm.

I agree with Josh that natural history should be a more important part of our society. Not only are the benefits to society clear, but I believe that an appreciation and study of nature brings personal benefit. By understanding what surrounds us and how it works, we have a better grasp of our place in the world. It helps us realize where we came from and that not that long ago we were more a part of this complex system. Just witnessing what nature has to offer can change a person and give them a less self-centered perspective, something that many people today could gain much from. If more people could appreciate and understand nature, we would not be in the position we are in now, having to worry about global warming and other human harm to the earth.

Posted on June 02, 2012 11:06 PM by beardendb beardendb | 0 comments | Leave a comment

5/12 - Index, WA

The next stop was Index, WA, a short drive from Gold Bar. The weather stayed about the same, continuing the cloudless sky with a slightly increasing temperature (~55 degrees Fahrenheit) as the day went on. Despite being a relatively short distance from the previous location, there was quite a large difference in vegetation. We learned this was due to the amount of rainfall; Index receives around twice as much rain as Gold Bar. Moss was growing from most trees and licorice ferns could be seen hanging from sides of trunks. I thought the previous location had dense vegetation, but this forest seemed to have no clearings at all; the trees were huge and cast an almost complete shadow over most of the forest floor. Despite this, there was still a decent amount of shrubs and low-lying vegetation. There were plenty of insects buzzing around, including a large number (5-10) of butterflies in the area. We did not see any mammals in the area, but I was told mice and other small mammals live in the decaying leaves and fallen trees on the ground. One interesting find was the artist conk. It is a large mushroom, but unlike most it is woody, with a layer of white flesh on one side. If one is to scratch into the flesh it will leave a brown bruise, which will remain permanent. This is where it derives its name, as those who have a knack for art will scratch elaborate works into the fungus and will them use them for decoration. It can also be used for tea for health benefits.

I wonder what effect the amount of rain has on the small mammals on the area? The vegetation is so dense that they must be able to hide and feed much easier than they would be able to in other areas.

Species List:
1. Genus Myosotis (forget-me-not)
2. Tolmiea menziesii (youth on age)
3. moth
4. Urtica dioica (stinging nettle)
5. Disporum hookeri (Hooker's Fairy Bells)
6. Genus Dryopteris (wood fern)
7. Maianthemum stellatum (false Lily-of-the-valley)
8. Tellima grandiflora (French Cup)
9. Dryopteris (wood fern)
10. Geum macrophyllum (Large leaf avens)
11. Ganoderma applanatum (Artist conk)
12. Polypodium glycyrrhiza (licorice fern)

Posted on June 02, 2012 10:39 PM by beardendb beardendb | 7 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

5/15 - Mammals

Jim Kenagy came and talked to us today about mammals. Although not nearly as numerous as insects, mammals remain highly diverse and adaptable which has no doubt contributed to their dominance over many other species. There are around 5400 mammal species, spanning 29 orders. They are classified by the following traits: the growing of hair, producing of milk, single lower jaw bones, and three middle-ear bones. These are broad categorizations, a sign of the diversity and allowing for a huge variety of unique traits. Mammals can be found flying in the air, hopping, running, and even swimming and spending most of their life in water. As Jim showed us all of the different mammals, I couldn't help but think how amazing and sometimes humorous mammals look. The range of terrain on Earth has a huge effect in shaping this, with mammals taking advantage and becoming specialists to their respective homes. The anteater, with its huge snout and lack of teeth looks outrageous, but is unrivaled in its ability to get down into ant hills and termite nests with its long tongue to extract them. It is crazy to think this same animal is in some sense related to things like whales and even household dogs.

Washington has 9 out of the 29 orders of mammals, due to the great variety in ecosystems found throughout the state. These 9 orders are made up of 146, 137 which are native. 90 of these are found on land, with 28 considered large mammals, and the remaining 62 considered small mammals. It is hard to find this variety on campus, on which the mammals are largely comprised of squirrels, raccoons, and small animals. Like everything else to do with the environment, humans have had a strong impact on mammals. During the past 50 years, humans have caused nearly 200 mammals to go extinct. I wonder how this will affect the balance of nature in the long run? 200 mammals in the short span of 50 years quite a large number of species and I can only imagine this will continue to increase with the way we are treating the Earth.

Posted on June 02, 2012 08:44 PM by beardendb beardendb | 0 comments | Leave a comment

5/12 - Gold Bar, WA

We left UW for a forest near Gold Bar around 8:30 on a sunny day. There were few clouds and being fairly early it hadn't warmed up too much, around 50 degrees Fahrenheit. We walked in a loop, spending time by the river. There was not much moss to be found on trees, but vegetation was still dense, with many shrubs and tall trees such as cottonwoods, maples, and alders. There were not many large mammals to be seen and I only noticed a few birds but was unable to identify them. Compared to later places we went later in the day, this forest didn't receive nearly as much rain. One way we learned the ability to tell was the amount of moss and ferns; little moss was found hanging from trees, and few ferns could be seen growing off of trunks, indicating a smaller rain fall.
We saw a good number of invasive species, including sweet vernal grass, which lined the roads and seemed quite numerous. It is amazing how far from civilization one can find an invasive species. I know that these species are often considered a problem and people often attempt to control or eradicate them, but I wonder how much damage they actually do. Can they get bad enough to completely wipe out a species? The problem is understandable when a species is brought over from Europe or a different continent. What I am confused with is that it seems like if a species is brought from Eastern North America to the West or vice versa and starts to thrive, what is to say that it wouldn't have happened naturally? These plants spread so fast that it seems like it wouldn't take too many years for them to reach both sides of the country. I guess they would have to pass through terrain that they may not be able to survive in. How many species have invasive species caused to go extinct? This is one example of unforeseen consequences due to human intervention, something I believe to be prevalent in many aspects of human life. As much as we know, we still know little, so it is extremely hard to tell what may happen as a result of using a certain chemical and other things of the sort.

Species List:
1. Alnus glutinosa (Alder)
2. Populus (Cotton Wood)
3. Rubus ursinus (Trailing Blackberry)
4. Fragaria vesca americana (Wild Strawberry)
5. Rubus parviflorus (Thimbleberry)
6. Corylus cornuta (Hazlenut)
7. Acer circinatum (Vine Maple)
8. Acer macrophyllum (Bigleaf Maple)
9. Symphoricarpos albus laevigatus (Snow berry)
10. Polygonum arenastrum (Knot weed)
11. Flacourtia jangomas (Indian plum)
12. Cytisus scoparius (Scotchbroom)
13. Anthoxanthum odoratum (Sweet vernal grass)
14. Malus fusca (Pacific crab apple)
15. Cornus sericea occidentalis (Western Dogwood)
16. Rumex acetosella (Sheep Sorrel)

Posted on June 02, 2012 07:50 PM by beardendb beardendb | 9 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

5/10 -- Fungi continued

Today we continued to supplement our knowledge on various fungi that can be found in the Puget Sound area. In order to survive, as consumers, fungi need a producer or source of carbon. They obtain this carbon via the process of decomposition. Three types of fungi exist: soft, white rot, and brown rot, with the latter two needing wood to survive. These fungi are all biotrophs, living in balance with the host, both taking and providing.
Fungus found on roots is known as mycorrhiza; the fungus gets carbon and helps the root grow in size by giving it water and minerals such as phosphorus.
Another type of fungi we learned about was lichens. Before taking this course, I don't believe I had ever heard of this category of fungus. It is found everywhere in the NW: along walls, on fallen trees, on wooden picnic tables. Lichens are fungus in combination with green alga/cyanobacteria, that fix nitrogen. (see sketch)
Although it has a hard time growing in the city due to pollution, one can still easily find it. Lichen is more prone to pollution due to the fact that it absorbs water directly, including the chemicals contained in the water like exhaust from cars. I find lichen extremely interesting, both because they are often interesting colors or shapes, but also because of their close relationship to the environment. Their sensitivity to pollution is an obvious example of how humans have a direct effect on the environment.
When eating mushrooms, on must use extreme caution. Without the expertise, it is easy to mistake an edible mushroom for one that can do serious harm. As much as I enjoy mushrooms, I don't think I would ever eat one in the field unless I had someone with the knowledge, as a small snack is not worth what could happen.

Species list (5/8 & 5/10):
1. Tremetes versicolo (Turkey Tail) - a type of white rot
2. Pleurotus pulmonarius (Oyster Mushroom)
3. Agaricus bisporus (Button Mushroom)
4. Agrocybe praecox - has veil
5. Agrocybe smithii - has no veil
6. Ganoderma applanatam
7. Puccinia malvacearum (Hollyhock rust) - Plant parasite. Lichen?
8. Powdery mildew - Plant parasite. Comes from hypahe and spores on a leaf's surface, sucking nutrition from the plant.
9. Boletus chrysenteron (Red Cracking Bolete) - Edible
10. Parmelia sulcata - Found on a bench. More tolerant to pollution.

Posted on June 02, 2012 06:45 PM by beardendb beardendb | 0 comments | Leave a comment

5/8 -- Fungi

For something so common in the northwest, I didn't know much about fungi or the important role it plays in ecosystems. After today's class and speaker I have a much better understanding of what fungi is and how it works. What classifies an organism as a fungi is that they must be biotrophs, produce spores, and have specific environmental needs. Their main role is as decomposers of dead organic material, although some fungi is parasitic and will sap from things still living. This is used by humans to decontaminate soil. Fungi extracts cellulose, peptin, and other nutrients from the wood materials it grows on. I learned that white rot, a type of fungi, is the best at breaking down wood. This and other types have small tendril like feeders called hyphae (mycelium) that they use for many different functions. Most of these functions take place at the tip of the hyphae and do such tasks as absorbing carbon and communication. The mushrooms we see above ground are the reproductive part of the fungi, but most of the fungi is a web of hyphae found slightly under the ground. As we observed, one fungi can produce many mushrooms, often forming in a circle which follows the pattern of the hyphae. This network survives all year long, although mushrooms are only produced for part of the year.

One species we found outside, close to the greenhouse, was the Agrocybe Praecox. It had veil tissue, which is a thin layer of skin over the spores for protection in young mushrooms. We also learned a way to enochulate mushrooms, by placing wood dowels that contain mycelium on them into the ground. Other species seen were osyter mushrooms on a log and button mushrooms, which had pink gills and veil tissue. Evidence of a veil tissue is seen by a ring on the mushroom copinus.

Posted on June 02, 2012 04:56 AM by beardendb beardendb | 0 comments | Leave a comment

June 01, 2012

5/3 - Insects

Today's class was both filled with new and interesting information about insects, a huge part of the animal kingdom I knew little about. I have never been a huge fan of insects, despite coming from the South where they seem more numerous than the Puget Sound region. My perception of insects changed after today's class period, where I learned that they are both the most dominant and important lifeforms in the world. They play a vital role in food webs, accounting for the diet of a huge amount of creatures. Insects are important for recycling that must be done on earth. Wood, dung, and other substances would remain for a much longer time without the intervention of insects in helping to break them down. This recycling in turn causes soil formation, allowing for a more enriched soil on which plants can thrive. Insects both regulate and promote plant growth. By feeding on and killing plants, such as the beetles that will burrow into a tree causing death, insects keep plants in-check. The opposite is true as well, as insects are what keep plants alive by pollinating and spreading seeds.

Insect interaction with human life both causes harm and good. Insects love to eat the same plants that we do, so pest control over crops remains an on going struggle for farmers. Mosquitoes and other insects spread diseases to humans, such as malaria, which is an epidemic we have been struggling to end. Despite these negative aspects, humans have also found extremely helpful uses for insects. Insects are used to fight the other insects and pests that destroy crops, known as biocontrol. In many parts of the world, insects are a staple component in diet as they are easy to find and nutritious. Certain compounds and chemicals found in insects are being used for medicine and insects themselves are sometimes used in medical procedures.

Beetles make up around 1/3 of all insects and around 1/5 of all all animals. They have elytra, which are used to reduce air resistance when flying. These nocturnal animals start off as larvae, which is where most of their interaction with the world takes place. Bees, which evolved from wasps, play a huge role in ecosystems. Unlike beetles, they come out during the day and are closely tied to the flowers that they pollinate. Although most are solitary, some species form hives with a queen that is constantly producing new bees. I also learned about how bees swarm; this is when a hive becomes too big and splits in half, with one half remaining while the other searches for a new home.

Posted on June 01, 2012 03:09 AM by beardendb beardendb | 0 comments | Leave a comment

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