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Friday, October 24, 2008

The Web of Life on Spaceship Earth

All life on the planet Earth is interrelated and interdependent. We as humans forget this on a daily basis, and as a result our actions can have a terribly negative effect on other forms of life on the planet. Today, two news stories in the local paper reminded me of fact that the Earth is a fragile place,especially for plant and animal life forms other than ourselves.

The first story concerns the state of Whitebark pine trees and Limber Pine trees in the Province of Alberta. Biologists and the Government of Alberta's own experts today issued a need on the part of the Government of Alberta, to place the Whitebark Pine tree and the Limber Pine tree species on the Province's endangered species list. These experts claim that the proliferation of the Mountain Pine Beetle, as well as a specific type of fungus and also "climate change" within Alberta has caused these two species of Pine to have rapidly declined in numbers in my province. According to the Alberta Endangered Species Conservation Committee, three-quarters of these two species of conifers will likely disappear from Alberta Forests within the next 100 years, if steps are not taken to deal with the problems which are causing these Pine species to disappear. Whitebark Pine wood is light, close-grained, moderately soft and pale brownish in color. Ironically, it is of little commercial importance, although wood can be used for lumber and mine timber when harvested from commercial sites.

However, The Whitebark Pine is an important source of food for many granivorous birds and small mammals, including most importantly the Clark's Nutcracker, the major seed disperser of the pine. Clark's Nutcrackers each cache about 30,000 to 100,000 each year in small, widely scattered caches usually under 2 to 3 cm of soil or gravelly substrate. Nutcrackers retrieve these seed caches during times of food scarcity and to feed their young. Cache sites selected by nutcrackers are often favorable for germination of seeds and survival of seedlings. Those caches not retrieved by time snow melts contribute to forest regeneration. Consequently,Whitebark Pine often grows in clumps of several trees, originating from a single cache of 2-15 or more seeds. Douglas Squirrels cut down and store Whitebark Pine cones in their middens. Grizzly Bears and American Black Bears often raid squirrel middens for Whitebark Pine seeds, an important pre-hibernation food. Squirrels, Northern Flickers, and Mountain Bluebirds often nest in Whitebark Pines, and elk and Blue Grouse use Whitebark Pine communities as summer habitat. Here is a link to a photo of one of these beautiful trees:

Limber Pine trees are also being threatened in the forests of my home province. The Limber Pines are coniferous (they bear cones and evergreen leaves) and belong to the genus Pinus, in the family Pinaceae. The tree-line or timberline is the edge of the habitat at which these trees are capable of growing either on its own, or with Whitebark Pine. In favorable conditions, Limber Pine trees can grow to 25 m high, however, on exposed tree line sites they grow only to 5-10 m tall. Limber Pine is a member of the white pine group, Pinus subgenus Strobus, and like all members of that group, the leaves ('needles') are in fascicles (bundles) of five, with a deciduous sheath. Limber Pine is an important source of food for several species, including Red Squirrels and Clark's Nutcrackers. American Black Bears may raid squirrel caches for Limber Pine nuts. Squirrels, Northern Flickers, and Mountain Bluebirds often nest in the trees. Unfortunately, Limber Pine is afflicted with White Pine Blister Rust (Cronartium ribicola), a fungus that was introduced accidentally from Europe. Limber Pine mortality is high in many areas throughout its range because of this fungus. There is no known way of controlling the blister rust in existing trees. Research is under way, locating and breeding from the occasional naturally resistant Limber Pines, and by studying the resistance mechanisms of the European and Asian white pines (e.g. Swiss Pine, Macedonian Pine), which are strongly resistant to the disease. Here is a link to a photo of a limber pine taken in Alberta:

The tree in the photo happens to be the oldest tree in Alberta. Limber pine has been used for construction timber and railroad ties. Limber pine seeds, like Pinyon pine seeds, are large and lack wings. They must be distributed by wildlife. The seeds are eaten by nutcrackers, who also make seed caches, burying the seeds in moist soil, where they may sprout if undisturbed. Sometimes several seedlings will sprout from a single cache, and grow together into what appears to be a single tree with several main stems.

A famous quote about Limber Pines is:
"Limber pines have a way of growing in dramatic places, taking picturesque attitudes, and getting themselves photographed, written about, and cared for, even becoming the core of a legend. This Pine so constantly occurs in the historically significant passes of the Rockies that it was destined to link up with human history." Donald Culross Peattie, (1898-1964) American naturalist and botanist

Humans must find a way to reverse the decline in population of these gorgeous and ecologically important species of life.

The other story which caught my attention in our local paper today, concerns the fact that Genome B.C. (British Columbia) is launching a 2.8 million dollar research project in an attempt to determine why the population of the World's honeybees has decreased dramatically in the past few years. Genome British Columbia "is a research organization that invests in and manages large-scale genomics and proteomics research projects and science and technology platforms focused on areas of strategic importance such as human health, forestry, fisheries, ethics, agriculture, and the environment." (source:

Beekeepers apparently lose 15% of their hives during the winter months, however over the past two years in Canada, beekeepers have noticed an increase of 36% in morality rates in their bee hives!!! Scientists have determined that a phenomenon called "colony collapse disorder" (in which worker bees from a beehive or Western honey bee colony abruptly disappear). "The cause or causes of the syndrome are not yet fully understood, although many authorities attribute the problem to biotic factors such as: Varroa mites and insect diseases (i.e., pathogens including Nosema apis and Israel acute paralysis virus. Other proposed causes include environmental change-related stresses, malnutrition and pesticides (e.g. neonicotinoids such as imidacloprid), and migratory beekeeping. More highly speculative possibilities have included both cell phone radiation and genetically modified (GM) crops with pest control characteristics though experts point out no evidence exists for either assertion (source: If bees continue to disappear we may lose many species of flowers,fruits and trees in the regions where they vanish, because these bees pollinate these life forms. Honey bees are responsible for pollination of approximately one-third of the United States' crop species, including such species as almonds, peaches, soybeans, apples, pears, cherries, raspberries, blackberries, cranberries, watermelons, cantaloupes, cucumbers and strawberries. Experts also hypothesize that the " main culprit in the reduction of bees is a tiny mite called "Varroa destructor". This mite attaches to a growing bee during the bee's larval stage of development and then like a vampire, sucks their blood. This weakens the bee. These mites also transmit disease to the bee, and the virus makes it impossible for the bee to fly. Attempts to control these mites has sustained a major setback, due to the fact that the mites have built up resistance to the pesticides beekeepers use to keep the mite out of the beekeeper's hives. Genome B.C hopes to be able to determine which bees in a colony have natural resistance to the mites. By doing this the scientists hope to make bee colonies mite-resistant. Genome B.C hopes to identify genetic markers found on mite-resistant bees, so that all bees can eventually be protected from infection.

1 comment:

Dan said...

Thanks for the interesting post and good information.

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Thoughts worth thinking about

"Our subconscious minds have no sense of humor, play no jokes and cannot tell the difference between reality and an imagined thought or image. What we continually think about eventually will manifest in our lives."-Sidney Madwed

Laws alone can not secure freedom of expression; in order that every woman and man present their views without penalty, there must be spirit of tolerance in the entire population.- Albert Einstein Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. - Leo Buscaglia

A person's true wealth is the good he or she does in the world. - Mohammed

Our task must be to free ourselves... by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty. -Albert Einstein

The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others. - Ghandi

The unselfish effort to bring cheer to others will be the beginning of a happier life for ourselves. - Helen Keller

Aim for success, not perfection. Never give up your right to be wrong, because then you will lose the ability to learn new things and move forward with your life. Remember that fear always lurks behind perfectionism. Confronting your fears and allowing yourself the right to be human can, paradoxically, make yourself a happier and more productive person. - Dr. David M. Burns

Life is as dear to a mute creature as it is to man. Just as one wants happiness and fears pain, just as one wants to live and not die, so do other creatures. -His Holiness The Dalai Lama

Mankind's true moral test, its fundamental test (which lies deeply buried from view), consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals. And in this respect mankind has suffered a fundamental debacle, a debacle so fundamental that all others stem from it. -

Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them. That's the essence of inhumanity. -George Bernard Shaw

Ego's trick is to make us lose sight of our interdependence. That kind of ego-thought gives us a perfect justification to look out only for ourselves. But that is far from the truth. In reality we all depend on each other and we have to help each other. The husband has to help his wife, the wife has to help the husband, the mother has to help her children, and the children are supposed to help the parents too, whether they want to or not.-Gehlek Rinpoche Source: "The Best Buddhist Writing 2005 pg. 165

The hostile attitude of conquering nature ignores the basic interdependence of all things and events---that the world beyond the skin is actually an extension of our own bodies---and will end in destroying the very environment from which we emerge and upon which our whole life depends.