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Managing the marshes of S’Albufera

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For many years the students on the Comparative and Adaptive Biology field course in Mallorca have visited the strandline and salt marsh plant communities at the Albufereta Nature Reserve on the Bay of Pollença. This year, however, we went for a tour of the S’Albufera wetland (a Ramsar protected site of international importance) by Gaspar, one of the team who manages the reserve. The reserve has been protected since 1988 and is surrounded by the coastal tourist resorts and inland agricultural lands.

Gorgeous day for visiting somewhere new
Gorgeous day for visiting somewhere new

The land around the Bay of Alcudia is naturally marshy, with water from the seasonal rivers (torrents) held back by the sand bars at the coast. However, the marsh isn’t entirely fresh, but is brackish and salty in places as seawater infiltrates the sand to saturate the land behind. This winter was drier than average, leading to the marsh being saltier than usual for so early in the year. In the 19th century, the British civil engineer John Frederick Bateman carried out work to drain the marsh for agriculture, creating the infrastructure which is still visible today – a network of canals, ditches, bridges and old pumping houses.  More recently the focus has been on retaining the water and so sluice gates have been added to maintain the wetland habitat for wildfowl. The reserve is a carefully managed mosaic of old reedbeds (dominated by Phragmites australis), open waters, scrapes and salt marsh. Horses are particularly important for managing the more open environments, keeping the reeds in check.

Probably planted, but still, a Mallorcan peony in flower in Mallorca!
Probably planted, but still, a Mallorcan peony in flower in Mallorca!

The human population around the reserve around 60,000, but over the summer season this can triple with the arrival of holidaymakers seeking some Mediterranean sun. This places a huge increase in demand for drinking water and wastewater treatment over the driest months in the Mediterranean. It is at these times when the reserve is at its most vulnerable from pollution (e.g. nitrates escaping from water treatment works) without the potential for a diluting influx of freshwater.

The wetland is used by some bird species all year round and by others who use it as a staging post on their migrations. With the background soundtrack provided by Cetti’s warblers, we watched black-winged stilts, avocets, egrets, a kingfisher, shelducks, crested coots and an osprey. Still, the zoological highlight happened later in the day as the flamingos treated us to a fly-by on the beach.

 

What Is a Plant, and Why Should I Care? part one

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A nice post on what a plant is from Awkward Botany……

awkward botany

I want to tell the story of plants. In order to do that, I suppose I will need to research the 4 billion year history of life on earth. And so I am. Apart from satiating my own curiosity, studying and telling the story of plants advances me towards my goal of creating a series of botany lesson themed posts. Botany 101 and beyond, if you will. An ambitious project, perhaps, but what else am I going to do with my time?

So what is a plant anyway? We all know plants when we see them, but have you ever tried to define them? They are living beings, but they are not animals. They are stationary – rooted in the ground, usually. Most of them are green, but not all of them. They photosynthesize, which means they use water, carbon dioxide collected from the atmosphere, and energy harvested from the…

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Baking botanists in the Cala de Bocquer

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Yesterday saw a group of first-year undergraduates braving the baking Mediterranean sun for the first day trip of the Comparative and Adaptive Biology field course. The Bocquer Valley near the town of Pollenca is a great place to look for Mallorcan endemic ‘hedgehog’ plants Teucrium subspinosum and Astragalus balearicus. While the students investigated the distribution of these small spiny shrubs, the staff took the opportunity to do a little more plant hunting.

One beautiful plant we regularly see in flower is the Balearic cyclamen (Cyclamen balearicum). It has very marbled leaves and delicate white flowers and hides in the shade of the larger shrubs. We also find the leaves of the Mallorcan peony (Paeonia cambessedessii). We visit far too late to see it in flower, but we’ve never found fruit either, suggesting that these plants didn’t flower in February or March. Perhaps these are young plants, or perhaps this is an indication of the difficult environment in the valley. This peony is named for the French botanist Jacques Cambessedes (1799-1863) who studied the plants of the Balearic Islands in 1825 and published the account of his travels and his work on the flora in 1826 and 1827.

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One plant we’ve not spotted on our previous visits is the Dead-horse arum  (Helicodiceros muscivorus). Given that it was behind a tree, under a shrub and in the bottom of a drainage channel, it’s not too surprising that we’ve not found it before. This plant has striking arrow-shaped leaves (sagittate leaves) and a flower spike (spadix) enclosed in a sheath known as a spathe. This specimen had not yet opened, and the geometrically patterned spathe was still closed shut. I’m not sure that I was too disappointed as the plant attracts pollinating flies with heat and rotting carcass smells.

contemporary photography – ferns

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My name is Megan Jones I’m a university student studying contemporary photography. My current project was inspired by the Herbarium section at the museum I was lucky enough to go behind the scenes looking at the huge collections they have stored there. I personally felt inspired by the patterns and detail in the pressed plants and flowers we were shown, I decided it was something I wanted to explore more so I re visited the museum with the help from Lindsey I routed through a box of ferns collected from all over the world and started photographing them close up using different angles and focal lengths. Another part of my project I am working on is experimenting with pressing plants myself and working with these in the dark room to create phonograms this is something that has all stemmed from being so inspired at the museum towards the end of my project I hope to gather all these mixed media images together into a book filled with patterns created by plants and flowers.

Here are some images from my project so far I’m looking forward to re visiting the museum and completing my project, keep checking the blog to see an update on my work!

 

Thanks for reading Megan Jones

Join Manchester Museum’s Junior Youth Board

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Learning at Manchester Museum

Junior Youth BoardManchester Museum’s Junior Youth Board is an enthusiastic group of young people who volunteer at the Museum. They meet at the Museum once a month on a Saturday.

It is a great opportunity to see what goes on behind the scenes, explore the many aspects of the Museum while meeting new people and having fun!

The Junior Youth Board is for those aged 8-13.

For more information on how to join Junior Youth Board please contact Victoria.Grant@manchester.ac.uk

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Memories of snow #MMClimateControl

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Do you love snow as much as I do? Share the joy with us using #MMClimateControl

I just love the incredible sense of transformation when the first flakes start falling and the world around us looks utterly different!

We are gathering memories of snow as part of the build up to:

Climate Control, A long British summer of exhibitions and events, May – October 2016.

Not only is snow amazing, but it could be a good indicator of how our climate is changing. Do you remember more snow when you were a kid? Were you around in the particularly snowy years of 1947 or 1963? Share your memories with us and get involved!

The program is part of European City of Science, developed with Manchester University’s Tyndall Centre and Manchester: A Certain Future.

Follow #MMClimateControl to get involved.

Source: Memories of snow #MMClimateControl

Climate Control, A long British Summer of exhibitions and events #MMClimateControl

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We hear about climate change on the news and in the newspapers. How the ice caps are melting and how it is happening now. What can we do about climate change, individually and collectively? Is it too late? Is there any point trying? What do people want to do?

Climate change is happening all around us, but this isn’t the time to ignore it, it’s the time to get really creative. What thoughts or ideas do you have? What do you already do in your day to day life, and what might you think about doing?

Manchester Museum will be staging a series of exhibitions and events for visitors to explore climate change from May-September 2016. There will be opportunities to share your thoughts and ideas, to think about what a different future might look like, and what each of us might want to do to help make that a reality. The program is part of European City of Science, developed with Manchester University’s Tyndall Centre and Manchester: A Certain Future.

Follow #MMClimateControl to get involved

Source: Climate Control, A long British Summer of exhibitions and events #MMClimateControl