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Woodlands, climate and robustness.

Woodlands, climate and robustness.

by Lewis ~ 13 January, 2017 ~ comments welcome

Climate change is a fact, though not one always accepted by certain politicians.   Greenhouse gas emissions have been growing since the C18th, and particularly in the period 1970 – 2004.   The warming of the world climate system is certain; air and ocean temperatures have increased.  

Though we cannot say how climate will change in any specific area with certainty, we can be sure that extreme weather events will become more common – droughts, heat waves, heavy rainfall, high winds and cyclones. Read more…

The 'spread' of the grey squirrel.

The ‘spread’ of the grey squirrel.

by Chris ~ 4 January, 2017 ~ comments welcome

DNA profiling has many uses, notably in criminal investigations.  It often allows the identification of a victim, or can ‘tie’ a suspect to the scene of a crime.  However, it does have other uses.  When applied to animal populations, it can give information as to the origins of the population, the extent of inbreeding / outbreeding etc.  Recently, Dr Lisa Signorile (Imperial College, London) has applied DNA technology to the grey squirrel populations of the U.K. and Italy. Read more…

Cold, wind, krummholz and clones.

Cold, wind, krummholz and clones.

by Chris ~ 29 December, 2016 ~ comments welcome

Plants have different solutions to the onset of winter and exposure to cold.  Some survive the cold as seeds – the rest of the plant dies; some over-winter as corms and bulbs.  Deciduous trees and shrubs shed their leaves and become dormant, reducing their metabolism to a minimum – just ‘ticking over’.  Some trees live at the very margin of their survival.  As altitude increases or you move towards the poles so life becomes more difficult.

The tree line is the point at which trees can no longer tolerate the conditions.  Near to this point, the growth of a tree is very limited; the tree is stunted or deformed, sometimes forming a bush-like structure.   Read more…

A seasonal plant - Mistletoe.

A seasonal plant – Mistletoe.

by Lewis ~ 22 December, 2016 ~ one comment

Many evergreen plants are associated with Winter, and Christmas in particular – notably various fir trees as ‘Christmas Trees’, holly and ivy for decorations and wreaths, and mistletoe as the decoration under which lovers might kiss.  For an interesting video on “The Botany of Christmas” visit Mark Nesbitt’s lecture to the Linnean Society.

Associations with Mistletoe go way back and there are a number of customs and myths surrounding the plant.  Pliny wrote that it was collected by Druids – particularly from oak (believing that it held the soul of the host tree and it was to be cut from the trees with a golden sickle).   Mistletoe has been used in folk / herbal medicine to treat various ailments – from cancer to epilepsy but clinical trials as to its effectiveness are needed.  However, like many plants, mistletoe is actively being investigated for its phytochemicals and possible medical uses. Read more…

Seasonal Greetings

Seasonal Greetings

by Angus ~ 20 December, 2016 ~ comments welcome

Winter survival in wrens

Winter survival in wrens

by Lewis ~ 16 December, 2016 ~ 2 comments

The wren is a small, brown bird; it has an almost rounded outline.   It is a somewhat ‘dumpy bird’, with a fine bill and relatively long legs,  and short, ’round’ wings. Its tail is short and often held high – (though not in the picture here!).   Like many small birds and mammals – it suffers in very cold winters. Researchers at the University of East Anglia have found evidence that wren populations may be adapted to local climates.  Using data from the Breeding Bird Survey (run by the BTO, RSPB and JNCC), they found that wren populations were susceptible to harsh winter weather (as measured by the number of days with ground frost) BUT that northern (Scottish) populations were more resilient to harsh winters, even though these birds sometimes experienced 70% more frost days than their southern counterparts.   Information collected by bird ringers indicated that the body weight of the wrens in the warmest area (the south west) was 5% lower than those in coldest area (East Scotland). Read more…

Global warming and the changing seasons.

Global warming and the changing seasons.

by Chris ~ 8 December, 2016 ~ comments welcome

The level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been carefully monitored since the 1950’s (for example at Mauna Loa).  For much of recorded history and prior to the industrial revolution, the level of carbon dioxide was about 280 ppm.  However, its current level of 400 ppm represents a significant increase and is probably the highest value for some 800,000 years.  It has risen because of the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, peat etc.) – which release carbon dioxide.  This has contributed to global warming and the phenomenon of climate change.

However, the rise in global temperature has not been quite as great as some calculations / predictions have proposed.  The “greening of the planet” (that is an increase in the number of trees and plants growing on the planet) was held to be responsible for this ‘reduction’ in anticipated temperatures. Read more…

emergent seedling

Trees, seeds and the Millennium Seed Bank.

by Chris ~ 2 December, 2016 ~ comments welcome

Plants are vital to all food chains, to our existence.  They provide foods (rice, wheat, peas, beans), building materials (timber), fibres for clothing (cotton), medicines (aspirin, quinine etc) and fuel (oils, biomass). However, habitats are being rapidly destroyed by activities such as agriculture, deforestation, road building and urban developments.  This habitat loss is happening rapidly and conserving plants within threatened habitats is not always possible.

Collecting seeds and preserving them ex situ (away from their natural habitat) offers a cost effective way to save seeds and keep them for posterity. Later, and if, required they can be germinated (hopefully) and reintroduced to the wild,  or used in scientific research.  The Millennium Seed Bank (MSB) – which is based at Wakehurst Place in Sussex, Read more…

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