Monday, February 6, 2012

The Little Things That Rule the World - from secretive insects to mysterious whales

I have kept the house at Wit's End at a very frosty temperature this winter...partly because I feel guilty burning fuel, but also because it's become prohibitively expensive to heat, now that I'm officially a pauper.  As a precautionary measure in the fall,  to avoid running out of propane, I hung a heavy cloth curtain as a barrier across the kitchen door to the hallway, and turned the thermostats as low as they go.  As insulation it has worked quite well - the AGA keeps the kitchen toasty enough for the tropical birds to be comfortable...and I spend all of my waking time there so it doesn't matter that the rest of the house is frigid.  It's not too bad to sleep either, because I have a really thick down puff.
Now that it's getting light a bit earlier in the mornings when the sun pierces through the woods to wake me, a little exciting frisson heralds spring's traditional fecundity...even though I worry the trees are going to be barren, and fear that this winter's balmy temperatures portend an unbearably hot summer.  But for now, just the glimmer of the early rays slanting across the room and making a halo on the wall across from my pillow reminds me of springs in the past, when prospects were so much more congenial, and even innocent.  Or perhaps, just happily ignorant.
Still, it's a pleasure to cheer myself with recollections of days when it was just barely warm enough to leave a window open all night, allowing the cool dewy air to waft through at dawn, heralding sunrise and the joy of rejuvenation in the garden.  I think I could almost hear the rustle of life waking up, the leaves unfurling and tiny buds popping open, the skitterings of squirrels and the songs of the birds and the hum of insects.
If it were May when the jack in the pulpits were opening their hooded, inner sanctums, I might think of how, as soon as I had a chance that day, I would take my basket and knife and prowl though some special patches in the forest, hunting for morels.  The cranky old man who owned this farm before I did had told me they were out there, but he had foolishly never even tried eating any.  The first time I found one was in the very late afternoon when the sun was low, its blinding beams shooting straight into my eyes from the top of a crest.
Far off at the edge of the rise, I could see what looked like a glowing lantern and as I walked towards it my heart was beating fast.  Morels are hollow fungi, and the sun had lit a huge specimen, bigger than I had ever seen, like a beacon.  As soon as I found that one, there was another and another, and for almost 30 years, every spring, I gathered and prepared them for my family and friends, sauteed with shallots, in butter, wine and cream.
They have been absent for about three years now, and it dawned on me gradually yesterday morning as I was still gazing at the sunshine coming through the windows and pondering that, in addition to the bee losses causing such consternation - widely noticed because they have economic value in agriculture - I haven't seen any spider webs in the casements in quite a while.
Then the memory intruded in a rush, that I once had to routinely clean webs from the windowframes and corners of the ceilings every week...and now I never need to.

Also the pesky hated swarms of pantry moths that sneak in on the birds' food and peanuts have all but vanished.  I realized, kind of shocked, that I know small children who have no idea what a daddy-long-legs is - they have never seen a single one!  And then, there was a recent comment on a post here on the blog, mentioning that years ago, cars used to be plastered with bugs in the summer...but no longer.  I do remember the chore of scraping multitudes of dried squashed yellow splats off the windshield and grill of the car.  Those days are long gone.
These revelations rushed into my consciousness even though I was barely awake - along with the thought that many of the imperiled birds rely upon insects for their as soon as I had my coffee brewing I started to google and straight away came a host of links, the first from the UK Independent, all the way back in 2003.  Scientists were already concerned that insect eating birds were dying off because the source of their food was dwindling away, and had even constructed a "splatometer" to attach to the hood of cars, to measure a baseline and then periodically track the trends.  I will have to get in touch with them and the other scientists I found later, to see what the latest evidence has revealed.
"Experts believe falling insect numbers explain a decline in some bird species"

"Do you remember? Windscreens were covered once, at the end of a car trip in high summer, with an insect massacre: splattered moths and squashed flies and wasps and gnats and God knows what. But in recent years more and more drivers seem to be finding their windscreens clear."
"Is it just a vague perception? Or might it correspond to something real and serious, the widespread disappearance of insects in general? Conservationists are starting to think the latter proposition is true, and scientists at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds have devised a simple but original device to test it."
"The splatometer, a piece of PVC film that attaches to the front of your car, will start to give a proper statistical basis to the increasing feeling that insects are vanishing, which is shared by many of Britain's senior entomologists."

"'Anecdotal evidence pointing to the decline of British insects abounds," said Dr George McGavin, acting curator of entomology at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. "Most people over the age of 50 talk of seeing many more species of moths, butterflies and other insects when they were children.'"
"With a colleague, Dr McGavin in 2000 examined insect records in Warwickshire from 100 years ago and the present day, and found that about 20 per cent of the species surveyed (including beetles, bees, dragonflies and butterflies) had disappeared or were in marked decline. A closer examination showed that 394 beetle species alone had been lost, a decline of 24 per cent."

"Britain's best insect records are kept by Rothamsted Research, the former government agricultural research station at Harpenden in Hertfordshire. Rothamsted supervises a network of 16 insect suction traps around Britain, which have been emptied daily, with the insects kept, for more than 30 years. This year a pilot project for English Nature assessed how much change there had been in the total weight of insects caught in four traps since 1970."
"There had been no change in the trap at Rothamsted itself, slight declines in traps in Devon and Kent, but a 60 per cent decline in the trap in Herefordshire. 'That was a very dramatic drop, but it is not yet possible to speculate on the reasons,' said the scientist running the project, Dr Richard Harrington.
When specific records for six moth species at Rothamsted were examined last year, five were found to have suffered substantial declines; many more are now being examined. It is a situation paralleled with butterflies; with bumblebees; and with mayflies, the upwing flies of rivers on which trout feed. The trend seems to be especially serious with Britain's 4,000 beetle species: many, such as ladybirds, are tumbling in numbers."
"But although these individual declines are becoming well known, there is a lack of data that might indicate general declines across Britain as a whole, which is where the splatometer comes in. It consists of a simple, postcard- sized piece of transparent PVC film, which sticks to the front of the car - on the bumper, number plate or body - and traps the insects that collide with it."

"At the end of a given journey, an identical piece of film is slipped on top of the original to protect its spattered haul, and the whole is peeled off (without leaving a sticky residue) and sent for analysis.

The beauty of the system, and the aspect that makes it possible to use on a large scale, is that each plate can be analysed quickly and automatically by a computer picture scanner, which can give an accurate reading of the marked area. The mindboggling task of trying to count the insects by hand never arises.

For the past few weeks the splatometer has been tested on the cars of RSPB staff based at the society's headquarters in Sandy, Bedfordshire, supervised by two young scientists, Dr Richard Bradbury, an expert in the decline of farmland birds, and Dr Mark Telfer, an entomologist."
"They gave The Independent an exclusive demonstration - Dr Bradbury's 20-mile car journey to work produced a boldly splattered plate - and they are convinced now that the splatometer will work, will be easy to use, very popular, and can be rolled out for mass use, very probably next summer."

"Once operating, it will produce a statistical baseline for insect abundance against which declines in future years can be accurately measured. And straight away it will yield some really significant results, such as regional variations, and date variations."

"The widespread disappearance of such once-common farmland birds as yellowhammers and grey partridges is what has set the ornithologists of the RSPB on the trail of insect decline; the one is thought to be caused by the other. But what is causing such widespread insect decline remains to be established. It is probably a combination of factors, including habitat loss, changes in land management practice, and climate change."
"The phenomenon has hitherto received virtually no publicity. This may be because many people see insects as "creepie-crawlies", and feel the fewer the better. But it may also be because a conservation community, which long ago alerted the world to threats to the giant panda, the tiger and other "charismatic megafauna", is only now waking up to the fact that things appear to be going badly wrong with insects and other invertebrates, or, as the great Harvard zoologist Edward O Wilson famously called them, the 'little things that rule the world'".

Large numbers of Britain's 4,000 beetle species are thought to be declining in abundance and range.
This applies especially to the larger ones and those associated with rotten wood, such as the stag beetle, the subject of a biodiversity action plan. The loss of large beetle species may be behind the extinction of one of Britain's most attractive birds, the red-backed shrike, which fed on them."
About three quarters of Britain's 55 butterfly species have declined in recent decades, according to Britain's leading authority, Dr Jeremy Thomas. Two have become extinct - the large tortoiseshell and the large blue (although the large blue has been successfully reintroduced). Several more species, including the high brown fritillary, the pearl-bordered fritillary, the wood white and the Duke of Burgundy, have virtually gone."
The numbers of mayflies and the other 50 aquatic upwing fly species on which trout feed may have declined by as much as about 60 per cent since the Second World War, according to a study organised three years ago. The Millennium Chalk Streams Fly Trends Study was based on the records and recollections of 365 experienced anglers on the chalk streams of southern England. The anglers said that they thought the numbers of flies were plunging.
Many of Britain's 900 or so larger moths are thought to be rapidly declining. When records for six species, caught in the moth trap network run by Rothamsted Research over 30 years, were examined, five, including once-common species such as the garden tiger and the magpie moth, were found to be plummeting in number. A large number of other moth records are now being scrutinised."
The next account about disappearing insects comes from Canada - and also is the result of a concern for birds.  Published in OnNature Magazine, "Plight of the Bug Eaters" describes a complex detective endeavor, that involved excavating an old chimney and poking through meters of bird poo.  It's a riveting and well-written article so I recommend the whole thing, but following are the parts that matter most to this blog.  The scientists have considered all sorts of influences, including habitat loss...but look at this:

“'Frankly, most of the avian insectivores are declining in northeastern North America,' says Mike Cadman, a songbird biologist with Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS), Ontario region, in Burlington. He quickly reels off a list of species: 'Swallows, nightjars, a lot of the flycatchers and the swifts … We have no clue why that would be, and it seems fairly consistent across the group.'"
"The steady decline that has affected the guild since the 1960s, and which has been approaching freefall since the mid 1980s, has landed some of the birds on both the provincial and federal lists of species at risk."

"The causes are multi-faceted and have proven difficult to identify, and sometimes are little more than educated guesses. “It makes you think there might be something consistent and pervasive across the group,” says Cadman. 'But one thing that is fairly noticeable is that you can come up with a reason for each species that is not the case across the group.'"
"Indeed, new evidence suggests a connection to environmental factors much larger than the woes of any particular bug-eating bird. In the process of trying to solve the riddle of what has laid low one of these species, we may be on the verge of learning fundamental truths about the plight of this entire group of birds, as well as about broader environmental issues."
"One expert, at least, has had a significant change in perspective recently. Joe Nocera, a research scientist at the Ministry of Natural Resources and adjunct professor at Trent University, became interested in aerial insectivores after chimney swifts were listed as threatened in Ontario has occurred at only one. While research into nesting boxes continues, their discouraging lack of use to date has led Nocera to conclude that something beyond habitat is causing the plunge in swift numbers."
"McCracken’s study outlines two interesting spatial patterns for aerial insectivore populations. One shows that the largest drops have occurred in the east and north. 'The more severe declines are in eastern Canada, from Ontario eastward, and they’re more pronounced in Quebec and the Maritimes,” he says. “We don’t know why, but it opens plausible research hypotheses.'  For instance, the declines correlate with the environmental pattern of the impact of acid rain. Acid rain, McCracken notes, is associated with the loss of calcium in the environment, which could affect birds’ eggs and reproductive viability. There also may be a connection to the way contaminants such as mercury and lead are transported through the atmosphere and deposited far from their industrial source points."
“'There is something about this guild,” McCracken further reflects. 'I suspect it has something to do with the food supply.'"

"If he is right about that, the answer may lie in a chimney in the heart of the Queen’s University campus."
"The discovery started with Chris Grooms’s desire to do something for chimney swifts after they were listed as threatened federally in 2008. Grooms, who was then president of the Kingston Field Naturalists, is a technician with the Paleoecological Environmental Assessment and Research Laboratory (PEARL) at Queen’s University. The lab is especially well known for its groundbreaking work in the Canadian Arctic, where its lake sediment studies have shown that migratory birds are introducing industrial contaminants to nesting areas. They are ingesting the contaminants when feeding in the Arctic ocean and depositing them via their guano."
"While speaking with one of the naturalist club’s older members, Grooms was surprised to learn that swifts once congregated in the massive chimney of the university’s Fleming Hall. It turned out that a banding study was even conducted there between the 1920s and the 1950s. Researchers banded about 2,000 birds daily and the flock at one point was estimated at 4,000. Grooms discovered that the chimney was sealed with wire mesh in the early 1990s, but by then the swifts were well into their steep decline."
"The university agreed to have the mesh removed to again provide habitat for the birds. (Swifts built a nest the very first year.) Grooms and the naturalist club also decided to investigate what was in the massive chimney. When it was built between 1902 and 1904, Fleming Hall housed the plant that provided heating for most of the campus. Grooms was hoping the chimney might contain unrecovered bands from birds that died in the chimney. Instead, when club members opened the inspection door at the chimney base, about a metre square in area, they found a two-metre-deep column of organic matter."
"What at first appeared to be more than a half-century of accumulated guano turned out to be something else entirely. Swifts cough up the hard bits of the insects they eat, much like owls do pellets of animal bones. While there was some guano, virtually all the material that had piled up in the chimney was insect remains. Grooms was planning to excavate and sift the material to find old bands when he realized its value as a research opportunity analogous to PEARL’s lake sediment cores. Soot and roof material at the base of the deposit appeared to mark 1933 as the year of a catastrophic fire in the building, and the top of the deposit had to date to 1992/93, when the mesh was installed. Ergo, about 50 years of sequential insect remains were deposited between those two dates; material below the fire layer dated back to 1928, when the heating plant was taken out of service."
"In 2009, Grooms shaved off one-centimetre strips of a vertical section of the material to compile the 'core sample.' The lab dated the sample strata and identified 1963 as the last year of atmospheric atomic testing."

"Preliminary findings were revealed at the annual conference of the Ecological Society of America in Pittsburgh last August [2010]. The team found that the crash in the swift population in the mid-1960s correlated with a dramatic change in diet. 'True' bugs (insect species of the order Hemiptera) and beetles were replaced by flies, and nitrogen levels in guano deposits plunged. The swifts’ diet changed, a change the authors stated 'could easily affect individual survival and brood rearing.'
In other words, kill off the bugs and beetles, and you kill off the aerial insectivores."
"The findings suggested that swifts shifted their feeding behaviour because of a dramatic change in bug and beetle populations that may be related to the use of pesticides and other contaminants. They are now examining the samples for changes in contaminants such as metals, PCBs, DDT and hope this will be a way to gauge environmental change that hasn’t been done before."
 "'We can’t illustrate causation,' says Nocera, 'but there is correlation between diet and the population drop. It’s the first historical evidence of what may be affecting other aerial insectivores.'"

"While the findings in the Fleming Hall chimney don’t knock all other causes out of contention – after swifts’ nitrogen levels recovered between 1977 and 1988, their depleted numbers continued to fall – they could go a long way to explaining why an entire guild of birds has been disappearing. Individual species, placed under stress by severe diet shifts and challenged by habitat loss, could have become more susceptible to a host of other factors, including pollutants."
[In a side bar, this is summed up]
"World decline
Aerial insectivore populations are declining not only in North America, but globally, which makes pinpointing a common cause for their plight a difficult task."
Hmmm...what could be a global influence???  Well, what would an Ozonista do upon reading that, but look for a connection between tropospheric ozone and insect decline?

An article from 2003 describes research investigating the impact of ozone on insects:
"Linda Mason, a Purdue entomology associate professor and co-author of the study, said ozone gas killed all of the adult insects it was tested against - the maize weevil, rice weevil, red flower beetle, Indian meal moth and lesser grain borer."
"But the gas was ineffective against immature weevils, which develop within grain kernels. Mason said unlike chemical fumigants, ozone does not penetrate deep enough into kernels to kill young weevils."
"It isn't clear how the ozone kills the insects, but Mason said the bugs may inhale the gas, which then could act like a neurotoxin.

She began studying ozone's insecticide potential after hearing anecdotal evidence that vents connected to hospital surgical wards where ozone gas was used to kill airborne bacteria were free of cockroaches.

Mason and her colleagues devised a two-phase process for killing the insects with two separate waves of the gas."
"The Purdue team is now trying to devise a way to use ozone gas as a vaporous barrier within silos to prevent insects from gaining a foothold.

Ironically, the work that led to Purdue's ozone gas discovery arose from a push for alternatives to potent insect fumigants that contribute to the depletion of the Earth's ozone layer.

Starting in 2005, one such chemical, methyl bromide, will be banned in the United States as part of a 1989 treaty signed by 165 nations aimed at reducing levels of ozone-damaging chemicals. Ozone in the upper atmosphere protects life on earth by absorbing short wave length ultraviolet radiation."
"Maier said Purdue's ozone insecticide process uses such low concentrations of ozone that it rapidly dissipates. It would not add to ground-level ozone, which is a component of smog, he said.

Despite Purdue's success, ozone gas will never be a substitute for methyl bromide - it simply isn't as effective as that chemical. But Mason said it could be paired with other techniques to be nearly as efficient."

More recent research, published in 2011, also from Dr. Linda Mason:
"Ozone is a highly reactive gas with insecticidal activity. Past studies have indicated that ozone technology has potential as a management tool to control insect pests in bulk grain storage facilities. The objective of this study was to determine the efficacy of short periods of exposure to high ozone concentrations to kill all life stages of red flour beetle , and Indian meal moth, adult maize weevil and adult rice weevil. Insects were treated with six ozone concentrations between 50 and 1800 ppm. The specific objective was to determine minimal time needed to attain 100% mortality. The most ozone-tolerant stages of T. castaneum were pupae and eggs, which required a treatment of 180 min at 1800 ppm ozone to reach 100% mortality. Eggs of P. interpunctella also required 180 min at 1800 ppm ozone to reach 100% mortality. Ozone treatments of 1800 ppm for 120 min and 1800 ppm for 60 min were required to kill all adult S. zeamais and adult S. oryzae, respectively. The results indicate that high ozone concentrations reduce the treatment times significantly over previously described results. Our results also provide new baseline information about insect tolerance to ozone treatment."
Well, it looks like short, high levels of exposure to ozone are quite effective in killing insects, at least, certain types.  The question remains, whether constant, lower background levels are also effective in killing insects.  Of course, we know that habitat is being destroyed, that climate change is almost certainly disrupting the synchronization of migration and food availability, plus the soil, rain and water are full of pesticides, heavy metals and other toxins.  Not so much on my ceilings, though.  How peculiar that in all my ruminations that ozone is killing trees - and knowing it causes fatal disease in humans - I have given so little thought till now what it might do to "the little things that rule the world".  Unfortunately, it looks like bark beetles and stinkbugs are immune!
Skipping from the smallest to the largest among us, I've been wondering lately also, about what could possibly underlie the many reports of whales and other sea mammals obstinately beaching themselves, whereupon they die more often than not.  I think it's pretty clear that massive fishkills occur because waters are eutrophic, and full of algae, which thrives on nitrogen pollution.  But the beachings are more mysterious.  An article in the Daily Mail went extensively into the extraordinary qualities possessed by the sperm whale, and ended with a horrible, likely explanation. I won't reproduce the entire thing, it's long and detailed, but full of astounding anecdotes if you're interested.  Following are some excerpts:

"It has the biggest brain of any animal — a massive 18lb to our human 3lb — yet we really have no idea what it does with it.

This magnificent predator — at 65ft long, the greatest that has ever existed — spends 90 per cent of its life in the profound depths, able to dive deeper than any other animal."

"The sperm whale is a natural submarine, a miracle of evolutionary engineering. It is actually able to change the physical shape of its body to accomplish its dives.
At the surface, it will breathe deeply, like an athlete getting ready for an event. It exchanges all the carbon dioxide in its body for oxygen, storing it in its muscles."

"Humans do this to a certain extent, but the whales’ muscles are far more efficient at the process, as demonstrated by their almost black colour, an indication of how supercharged they are with myoglobin, which binds the oxygen to their blood."
"As it prepares to dive, the sperm whale undergoes one of nature’s most amazing transformations. Its characteristically square head is in fact an extended nose. Fifteen feet long from nostril to shoulder, it contains a massive reservoir of spermaceti oil.

This waxy oil has remarkable bio-acoustical properties. It is used to amplify the sonar clicks that echo along the animal’s head and out into the ocean."
"The result is the loudest noise created by any animal — 230 decibels, as loud as a jet engine and powerful enough to be heard six miles away.

As the whale dives, its massive nose, which is plump and bulbous when at the surface, is squeezed into a narrow, hydrodynamic wedge shape — the better to allow the animal’s plunge into the abyss.

The whale then shuts down every organ in its body, except heart and brain, in order to conserve energy and oxygen."
"Its lungs collapse as the animal’s ribs close in on bony hinges, lubricated by special mucus. If they did not, the increased pressure below would snap its ribcage.

Any air left in its body is confined to its nasal passages, where it is needed to generate the sonar clicks the animal uses to hunt.  Its flippers fit into its sides like an aircraft’s undercarriage. Everything is streamlined.

Finally, the whale uses the rippling muscles in its tail to jack-knife downwards with an astonishing power.

A sperm whale can dive down for more than a mile, to depths which would crush a human being’s internal organs at a pressure of 500lb per square inch."
"In just five minutes, it can reach a depth of 500 metres, the limit at which a human diver can work. 
Soon it will far exceed that, reaching 1,000m — its favoured hunting ground. We do not know exactly how the whale’s body resists such pressure. But it must be comfortable down there, since it can spend two hours underwater.

In the inky darkness, the whale hunts by using its sonar as a sweeping scan, in search of its favourite food: squid.

For centuries man has hunted the sperm whale, principally for that precious oil in its pugnacious head. Before the discovery of mineral oil, sperm whale oil burned in street lights and oil lamps. It lubricated the machines of the Industrial Revolution."
"It was even used in the NASA space missions as lubrication for space probes, since it does not freeze in sub-zero temperatures.

In 200 years we managed to reduce their population from two million to 360,000. 

Luckily, most of the world no longer hunts these beautiful creatures. But now, tragically, there are new dangers to their wellbeing.

By virtue of its position at the top of the marine food chain, the pollution we dump in the sea affects sperm whales more than any other creature."
"One of the greatest problems faced by any marine species is the sheer amount of plastic in the ocean, especially plastic bags, as has been highlighted by the Daily Mail’s campaign against the profligate use of them.

...a minke whale recently stranded itself on the French coast. Its stomach was clogged with 800kg of plastic, including British supermarket bags.

One problem for the sperm whale is, ironically, its awesome success. It inhabits every ocean and almost every sea, from the vast Pacific to the enclosed Mediterranean. This is because it has evolved to find the perfect feeding niche, albeit a mile below the surface of the ocean."
"It is a staggering fact that sperm whales eat more squid and fish each year — 100 million tons, than the 70 million tons we humans catch and consume per annum.

The sperm whale has to eat so much to fuel its huge brain, which is highly expensive, in calorific terms, to run.

Given the size of their brains, sperm whale society is remarkably complex. Like the African elephant, it is matriarchal. So much so that females which are unrelated genetically will ‘baby-sit’ each other’s calves when they dive to feed."
"The whales also travel almost inconceivable distances. Every year, male sperm whales migrate towards the poles, returning toward the equator to breed. One male may travel more than 1,000km a month.
They communicate in a complex system of Morse-code-like clicks, and each ‘clan’ has a different dialect, in the way a Yorkshire accent differs from a Devon one.
Individual animals may be miles apart but they are always in intimate contact, through their extraordinary sense of hearing.

Such supreme adaptability means that sperm whales live to great ages, at least 100 years old. Bowhead whales, their cousins, live to even greater ages — up to 300 years and perhaps even older, making them the planet’s longest living mammal."
"In another recent and tragic case, a group of seven sperm whales stranded themselves on a Mediterranean beach. They had been driven into shallow waters, possibly by military sonar exercises. There they were unable to feed on squid. And since whales get their liquid from their food, they began to dehydrate.

Then, their starving bodies began to break down fat — to deadly effect. The pollutants they’d absorbed from the ocean and had been deposited in their fat were released."
"They included heavy metals such as mercury, lead and cadmium, and organochlorines like PCBs and DDTs, even fire-retardants used on modern furnishings.

In effect, the whales were poisoning themselves. Fatally weakened, they stranded themselves together on the shore, demonstrating the unswerving loyalty to each other for which their species is renowned.
And when their carcases were dissected, it came as no surprise to discover an unusual amount of plastic, including the dreaded plastic bags, in their stomachs."
It's discouraging to contemplate just how much plastic we use and discard, especially plastic packaging that is completely unnecessary, and containers for things like make-up, which is also unnecessary.  Oh well, I suppose soon enough, hardly anybody will have money to buy wasteful things, and production will cease.  That's it for today -  except this brief video.  If you aren't weeping by the end then you might want to check with a cardiologist in case your heart has turned to stone.

Photo credits here, herehere, here, and here, and here and here and here


  1. one thing I found disheartening in the full article on whales (that i read a few days ago) is that the "scientists" are tagging all the dolphins and whales that they try to return to the ocean. It is so discouraging to know that all the living creatures they put their hands on, they tag (with devices that will end up in the ocean eventually) and then try to "follow" on their computer screens. It is absolute craziness. This species is out of its mind.

  2. You're right Michele - I remember being horrified when I read this

  3. We now know what ecosystem collapse looks like and that it takes years, but within the lifetime of a human. It's a 'bottom-up' effect, unless the Earth gets hit by an asteroid, then it's everywhere-at-once. I wonder about the millions of kinds of soil bacteria and how their proportions are changing. Who would know?

    I've certainly noticed the shortage of insects around my house. Interesting that we can blame it on ozone. Even the palmetto bugs (giant cockroaches) are gone.

    Update for Joni Mitchell's 'Big Yellow Taxi'.

    "Take pictures of the trees and put them in a tree museum."


  4. That Mantis at the top of the page may be the most fantastic looking creature I have ever seen.

  5. ME AGAIN,

    not a word about pollution! is that not amazing!:

    just read
    they talk fragmentation of forest but forget to mention fragmentation of human brain

    have a good day

  6. Yes, Laurance is the Australian scientist I wrote about here:

    He told me in hindsight he should have considered pollution. Oh well. Meanwhile even more dolphins beaching on the Cape

  7. Re: Saturday, February 4, 2012 post
    "But, one morning this week I was asked to drive from Wit's End to the Newark airport, so of course I happily complied. She was returning to her winter sojourn in Florida, where she is subjecting her fabulous dressage stallion to rigorous training."
    I must be terse.
    Your gasoline burning car trip delivery of a jet fuel burning passenger for elective non essential reasons, "fabulous dressage", show how easy tree killing pollution can be excused.
    Leaves are falling from every tree by the bushel basket with every wisp of wind, here in car crazy Santa Barbara, California. Cars, trucks, motorcycles speed by with wreck-less abandon, as high velocity power blowers blast toxic traffic dust onto the leaves. Airliners stuffed with self absorbed passengers slice across the sky all the while.
    As the trees and flowers die, the birds and bees perish forever.
    I will no longer spend my time, or the electricity re-visiting "Wit's End".
    Ps If unwanted cats are driven great distances to Wit's End to to be bird predators where bird habitat is being lost, is should talk reason to these people as well.

  8. Well, I have tried and tried to talk to my children about this, and it has for the most part fallen on deaf ears. In the end, Windsong, I cannot control them, and the rare occasions I can see them mean more than anything else to me. If I could persuade them to stay in one place, power down and farm and prepare for the inevitable crash, instead of flying around the world, I would! In fact, it's one of the reasons I write this blog.

  9. I guess almost the only species that isn't in decline is homo sap --YET...


  10. That's what it means to be the top predator.


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