Pollination from the plant’s perspective

If plants had a perspective, they would probably think of pollinators as more than just extra-friendly house guests. That is, plants would be more likely to view pollinators as the mutual friend who likes to set up blind dates. Bees might limit pollen to its use as a protein source for the hive, and birds might devour the flesh of a fruit and eliminate the seed as waste. However, many flowering plants, as Bug Girl pointed out in a post in honor of National Pollinator Week, have evolved alongside these pollinators for only one purpose: reproduction. “Sure, you can toss your pollen out on the wind and hope it lands in the right place. And for a lot of plants, evergreens in particular, this works just fine,” she wrote. “That methodology results in a lot of wasted gametes (plant sperm) though, so for nearly all flowering plants, insects or other pollinators are needed for plant nookie.” Sometimes the pollinator-plant relationship is mutualistic, and in many cases, one species or another is dependent upon the other for its survival. Take the agave plant. Probably the most well-known species is the blue agave plant (Agave tequilana), the nectar of which is used as a granular sugar substitute and to make tequila (one of the “finer” products of pollination, along with chocolate and coffee, mentioned by Bug Girl ). Leptonycteris nivalis, known as the greater long-nosed bat or Mexican long-nosed bat, and the lesser long-nosed bat (Leptonycteris curasoae), are the primary pollinators of this economically and ecologically valuable plant. This agave-bat relationship is mutually beneficial. The bats, hovering in place like a hummingbird, use their long muzzles to feed on the high-fructose nectar of the agave. At the same time, the plants’ pollen collects on the bats’ fur. The bats then travel from plant to plant, spreading pollen as they drink from the nectar-filled stalks that bloom each night across the southwestern U.S. and Mexico. The bats also migrate based on the blooming time of these plants. They arrive in Texas—particularly in Big Bend National Park, where a single colony resides in the Chisos Mountains—shortly after agave plants, such as the century plant (Agave havardiana), begin to bloom. Unfortunately, the lesser long-nosed bat and the Mexican long-nosed bat are endangered—and as their numbers decline, agave plant reproduction becomes more limited. A little farther north, however, some species of agave plants—those that are not harvested for tequila— have evolved to attract both bats and moths to serve as pollinators. Agave plants have several ways of advertising their nectar: the scent, the color of the flower and the shape, or morphology, of the structure...

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Environmental justice: Merging Earth stewardship with social justice

Can social justice be achieved (at least partially) through the advancement of environmental stewardship? Both the executive branch of the federal government and a number of local community outreach organizations across the country believe it’s certainly an effective avenue to take when working to ensure our nation’s communities have equal input into the policy proposals that impact our natural surroundings. One of those organizations is the Eden Place Nature Center in Chicago, which received accolades from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2004 for its creative use of natural landscaping to support the native wildlife that contributes to the region’s biodiversity. In the most recent Ecologist Goes to Washington podcast, ESA Graduate Student Policy Award winner Kellen Marshall-Gillespie speaks about her experiences working on ecological issues within the Eden Place Nature Center as she pursues her Ph.D. at the University of Illinois-Chicago. EPA defines environmental justice as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” The term arose in the 1980s when racial minority communities raised concerns that they were disproportionately impacted by the effects of industrial pollution. There were also concerns in these communities that mainstream environmental organizations were not prioritizing issues related to environmental justice, concerns that would finally earn a federal response in the coming decade. According to the EPA, at the behest of the Congressional Black Caucus and a bipartisan coalition of scientists and conservation activists, the agency created the Environmental Equity Working group in 1990 to address these concerns. In 1992, the working group issued a final report entitled “Reducing Risk in All Communities.” Among its findings, the report noted that due to exposures to environmental pollutants, black children have a disproportionately higher lead blood levels compared to whites, even when socioeconomic variables are considered. It also cited findings from the Argonne National Laboratory, indicating that “higher percentages of blacks and Hispanics live in EPA-designated non-attainment areas, relative to whites, for particulate matter, carbon monoxide, ozone, sulfur dioxide and lead.” (A non-attainment area is defined as a locality where air pollution levels persistently, over several years, exceed National Ambient Air Quality Standards as defined under the Clean Air Act of 1990). The report also attributed the “not in my backyard” syndrome as the reason many hazardous and solid waste facilities are positioned near communities with the least ability to mount a protest. On February 11, 1994, President Bill Clinton signed Executive Order 12898, entitled “Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low‐Income Populations” (EO 12898). It directs...

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National Parks, dance lessons from a spider and bellybutton biodiversity

National Parks Week: In addition to Earth Day activities, this week is also National Parks Week. Allie Wilkinson of the blog Oh, For the Love of Science! paid tribute with a mini-travel guide on Acadia National Park in Maine; the post is complete with trail information and scenic views (see below video). “Maine may as well be my home away from home,” Wilkinson wrote. “I’ve gone up just about every year since I was a baby, at LEAST once a year (but usually end up going 3 times a year), and I always go to the same spots.  Each year, the big trip in August takes me to Mount Desert Island, home of Acadia National Park.” Read the full post at “National Park Week: Acadia National Park.” Busy billionaire: Richard Branson has moved from space to deep sea exploration, and, most recently, he has made the news for his plan to introduce endangered ring-tailed lemurs to Moskito Island in the Caribbean. Branson stated in The Guardian that the decision is intended to “…create a second island habitat [for lemurs in Madagascar,] and the conditions on Moskito are perfect.” However, many are concerned about the ecological consequences of releasing these omnivores. As explained in Smithsonian’s Surprising Science blog, “Conservation plans rarely begin with (or even include) the introduction of a non-native species. And though lemurs surely are adorable, they ‘could damage native flora and fauna on the island, particularly reptiles such as the stout iguana, turnip-tailed gecko, and dwarf gecko, as well as birds’ eggs,’ [conservationist Erik Patel] says.” Dance lessons: While we tend to think of dancing as a source of rhythmic self-expression, just like in other animal species, dancing can also be an effective way to attract a mate. Small, songless birds called manakins, for example, display an impressive moonwalk to attract a mate. And, as described in the blog immunoBLOGulin, “If you want to learn some sweet moves, take a lesson or two from the Australian Peacock Spider. While it’s less than 1cm in length, it can really put on a dancing show…” The jumping spider (Maratus volans) has a colorful flap used during the dance (see below video). Read more at “Lessons from the Peacock Spider: How to attract a mate.” Bright bills: “When it comes to mallard bills, brighter is better: A bright yellow bill is duck-speak for ‘I’m healthy,’ attracting more female ducks than dingy green ones,” Patrick Morgan reported for Discover’s Discoblog. That is, researchers found that male ducks with brighter bills had semen with greater antibacterial properties, reducing the female ducks’ risk of contracting bacteria-related sexually transmitted diseases. The researchers discoved that...

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Brown faces, urban places and green spaces: achieving diversity in environmental fields
Mar30

Brown faces, urban places and green spaces: achieving diversity in environmental fields

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s 2009 Programme for the International Student Assessment results showed the United States ranking 19th in math and 14th in science out of 31 countries. Following this news, President Obama announced a $250 million proposal to increase funding for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. As he stated in his budget message, “In a generation, we’ve fallen from first place to ninth place in the proportion of our young people with college degrees. We lag behind other nations in the quality of our math and science education.” The following post, contributed by Kellen Marshall-Gillespie, graduate student at University of Illinois-Chicago and recent recipient of ESA’s 2011 Graduate Student Policy Award, tells how diversity in environmental fields shows promise for the future of science. The student diversity was astounding, beautiful brown faces with shining eyes sat attentive and hanging on every word of the career panelists. This was the scene at last year’s Green College and Careers Fair organized by the Ecological Society of America and The Nature Conservancy’s Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future (LEAF) program. The goal was to diversify environmental and ecological careers by reaching out to underserved communities: The hope is to change the face and fields of environmental careers by providing opportunities to those who traditionally lack access. The career fair was hosted at The New School in New York City—over 100 high school students (from 9 schools around the New York-New Jersey area) were treated to a highly professional career fair, including structured school-to-college workshops. The event was made possible with support from the Toyota USA Foundation. Students received information about environmental and natural resource careers and topics such as research ethics, laboratory work tips, resume guidelines, reference letters and tips on being successful in college. Other sessions included exhibitor presentations, a financial aid workshop, mock job interviews and a career panel. The career panelists—Victor Medina, Kellen Marshall-Gillespie, Charlee Glenn and Ann-Marie Alcantara— were young professionals and alumni of both the LEAF and ESA’s Strategies for Ecology Education, Diversity and Sustainability (SEEDS) program. They addressed more than just traditional college talk—they got to the heart of being minorities in fields where they are underrepresented. Glenn, a panelist and SEEDS alumna, shared her story of how ecology became an interest, which subsequently developed into her current position as Diversity Programs Assistant for ESA’s SEEDS program. Medina, a LEAF alumnus, discussed how he uses his educational and personal success to influence others within his community to do better—not only for themselves but for the environment as well. Alcantara, also a LEAF alumna, talked about her goals of being...

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The Appalachian Trail in five minutes

Stretching approximately 2,181 miles (3,510 km), and reaching elevations higher than 6,000 feet, the Appalachian Scenic National Trail is a wilderness hiking trail that begins in Georgia, spans fourteen total states, and ends in Maine. An extension—the International Appalachian Trail—continues through Canada until it reaches the Atlantic Ocean. It is managed by the United States National Park Service and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and is maintained by more than 30 trail clubs. Since the trail traverses various forests along the Appalachian Mountain Range, the landscape, temperature, plants and animal life vary drastically. As described on the Appalachian Trail Conservancy website: “Today, the Appalachians hold one of the world’s richest assemblages of temperate zone species. In fact, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail may contain the greatest biodiversity of any unit of the National Park Service. The Southern Appalachians, never transformed by glaciers, are home to terminally slow organisms including snails, vernal herbaceous plants and salamanders. Rivers drain to the south in the Southern Appalachians, which allowed some species to escape Ice Age extermination, and today the region has a legendary richness of fish, mussel and crayfish species. Farther north along the Trail corridor it is possible to find rare bird species including Bicknell’s Thrush. The Appalachian Trail’s protected corridor anchors the nation’s Eastern Forest block, which is vital to the nation not only ecologically but also socio-economically. Those forests in turn serve to protect the watersheds that service a significant percentage of the population of the United States.” More than 10,000 hikers have reported completing the entire Appalachian Trail in the U.S., walking approximately five million steps. One such hiker is Kevin Gallagher from Richmond, Virginia, who hiked the trail and documented his progress. The nearly five minute video (below) entitled “Green Tunnel” shows a timelapse of his journey. As explained on his website: “Each day of the six month trek, Kevin took photographs of a single quintessential section of the trail. Twenty four successive steps down the trail were captured each day. At the end of the journey he had over 4,000 slides which were then strung together to offer a condensed view of what an accelerated hike along the Appalachian mountain range would look like.” Green Tunnel from Kevin Gallagher on Vimeo. Take the Appalachian Trail quiz or read state-by-state details on the Appalachian Trail Conservancy website. Also, see photos in each state: Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. Photo Credits: rskoon (Georgia), carobe (Virginia), jasonB42882 (Pennsylvania), georgia.kral...

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Spreading SEEDS, growing diversity

SEEDS is an education program of Ecological Society of America (ESA), and Iman is one of several SEEDS students who will be attending and presenting research at ESA’s upcoming Annual Meeting in Pittsburgh.

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