Month: August 2014
We have a large collection of lantern slides from the Manchester Geographical Society in the museum stores, including some of Iceland, and they gave us a window onto the lansdscapes of the past. Some of the most striking were images of Thingvellir National Park.
Rachel Webster, our Curator of Botany has discovered an amazing collection of glass lantern slides of Iceland in the 1930s.The images show a rare glimpse into the pre-WW2 Icelandic landscape and society. They include some of the most iconic volcanoes, such as Hekla and form a snapshot of 1930s Icelanders.
Rachel, myself and Dmitri (our Curator of Arthropods) will be returning to Iceland in August and hope to be able to compare the images to the Icelandic landscape today. These will give us a dramatic insight into climate and cultural change over the last 70 years.
The next step is to gently clean them (thanks to Hetti for starting this process) and then photograph them.
Iceland’s native forests are primarily composed of downy birch (Betula pubescens) with some rowan (Sorbus acuparia). The aspen (Populus tremula) is also found in Iceland, but is extremely rare and the shrubby tea-leaved willow (Salix phylicifolia) can sometimes get tall enough to be counted as a tree.
Beyond these species, the Iceland Forestry Service has experimented with a number of species from overseas, as well as planting more birch, and plantations of trees are now maturing. We have wandered through a few forested ares and we were privileged to meet Throstur Eysteinsson (division chief of the forestry service) who wrote this excellent description of forestry in a treeless land.
Apparently there wasn’t much of a tradition of eating mushrooms in Iceland, it is only relatively recently that the arrival of people from Poland have started to harvest the birch forest bounty and to introduce Icelanders to the idea.
One of the aims of our field work in Iceland was to visit the areas with the native forest of Downy Birch (Betula pubescens). We’ve visited several places with the birch forest, for instance, the site in the southern shore of the Lake Myvatn and the forest along Logurinn fjord in eastern Iceland. In both places the forests were full of edible mushrooms, and I could not help myself and collected some, which then we cooked and eat together. Here are the photos or some of those edible mushrooms we encountered during our trip.
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The Nootka lupin was brought to Iceland to help to restore degraded soils. It’s use began in the 1960s when the Icelandic Forestry Service used lupin to fertilise newly-planted forest areas. As a plant which needs a sunny spot, lupins could not thrive once the trees grew tall enough to create shade. After this it was then sown by the Soil Conservation Service to help to improve soils.
Soil erosion is a considerable problem for Iceland. At the time of settlement, Iceland was actually more vegetated, with habitats such as forests, grasslands and willow tundra. Before the Vikings there were no grazing animals in Iceland (the Arctic fox was the only mammal) but with the people came the sheep, goats, cows and horses.
Centuries of sheep farming are thought to have taken their toll on the land putting an intense pressure on fragile grazing lands. Woodlands suffered when sheep could graze the regenerating shoots from felled birch and willow trees, preventing the formation of coppices. In addition, from the 16th to the 19th centuries, the climate became harsher slowing vegetation growth, and land was lost to disasters such as meltwater outwash caused by volcanic eruptions under glaciers.
Lyme grass and lupins can both grow in loose soils and help to combat erosion.
Myvatn is a shallow, eutrophic lake in north Iceland. The name means Midge Lake and the area is inundated with them every summer. Luckily, when we visited the midge swarms were of non-biting chironomid species (it’s very handy traveling with an entomologist!).
Besides being beautiful, formed from volcanic action and full of wildfowl, Lake Myvatn is also famous for balls of algae known as lake balls, marimo (Japanese) or kúluskítur (Icelandic). These are spherical colonies of filamentous algae (Aegagropila linnaei) which are thought to form when algae living on the rocks are torn off and are rolled around in the lake currents. Rolling helps to keep the ball clear of debris and mud so the colony stays velvety green.
Recently, however, lake balls have been vanishing from Lake Myvatn as sediments begin to silt over the the lake floor. They can be seen in aquaria in a few places in Iceland, I hope they will still survive in their famous lake home too.