Biodiversity

Gifts from Neptune

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For several years we have taken the students on the Mallorca field-course to the strand-line along the Bay of Pollensa and the dune system near C’an Picafort. Both of these stretches of beach tend to collect odd, fuzzy balls of Neptune’s grass (Posidonia oceanica). Wave action breaks down the dead leaves and rhizomes of Neptune’s grass creating fibres which then become matted into dense spheres. I’ve written a previous blog post about Neptune’s grass on these shores of Mallorca.

Instead, this year we visited a different part of the coast where the material accumulates in sculpted waves along the beach edge. Previously I’ve seen this from the window of the coast, so it was interesting to experience it first hand. It is very soft, prone to collapsing and makes the shore edge difficult to walk on. There must be something different about the coastline here which makes the formation of the fibre balls less likely. Whether in balls or loose, the dried Neptune’s grass adds organic matter to the sand and helps to stabilise the dunes further up the beach.

This bit of beach was at the Finca de Son Real, an example of a traditional land-holding now managed by the Balearic Government as a nature reserve and archaeological site. There is a museum here which gives an insight into the lives of the rural people of Mallorca. Through displays of objects, room reconstructions, audio and projections, the museum explores the site from and  from neolithic times into the 20th century including an explanation of how local farmers would have collected dry Neptune’s grass to use as animal bedding.

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Captivated by Natural Beauty

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They may be of flower-visitors rather than the flowers themselves, but these butterfly paintings by Robin Gregson-Brown are definitely worth sharing! I look forward to the next set of works which include the botanical scenery for his moths and butterflies.

 

About 30-40% of the visitors to the Manchester Museum’s Entomology Department are art or design students and professionals, who come over to get inspired by the variety of insect shapes, colours and patterns, and to talk to the museum curatorial staff about what interests them. Museum’s curators are especially pleased when such visits result in […]

via Captivated by natural beauty: Robin Gregson-Brown and Lepidoptera — Entomology Manchester

Alien Plant Invasions and the Extinction Trajectory

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This is a really interesting post on the Awkward Botany blog about alien species and the possibility of plant extinction.
In our current ‘Extinction or Survival?’ exhibition we have illustrated this potential threat to species using the stories of the red squirrel and the white-clawed crayfish in the UK, but of course competition with invasive species is a potential risk for plants too.

awkward botany

One of the concerns about introduced species becoming invasive is that they threaten to reduce the biodiversity of the ecosystems they have invaded. They do this by spreading rampantly, using up resources and space, altering ecosystem functions, and ultimately pushing other species out. In the case of certain invasive animals, species may be eliminated via predation; but plants don’t eat each other (generally), so if one plant species is to snuff out another plant species it must use other means. Presently, we have no evidence that a native plant species has been rendered extinct solely as a result of an invasive plant species. That does not mean, however, that invasive plants are not doing harm.

In a paper published in AoB Plants in August 2016, Paul O. Downey and David M. Richardson argue that, when it comes to plants, focusing our attention on extinctions masks the real impact that invasive…

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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.

Graphene’s high-rise meadow

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Green roof on the roof terrace of the Graphene Institute

Back in June, perhaps some of the Graphene Week 2015 attendees spotted this little patch of wildness on the roof of the National Graphene Institute at the University of Manchester. This green roof was installed as the building was nearing completion in 2014 and is part of the commitment to improving the University’s campus as a habitat for wildlife. The University’s green roof policy can be found here, along with the other University policies about environmental sustainability.

Bee on Birdsfoot trefoil

Ahead of Graphene Week, the Biodiversity Working Group put together some information about pollinators, their requirements and the urban environment in order to have a sign in place for the delegates to read. This roof is particularly designed to attract bees, both wild bees and the honey bees from hives on roofs of the Manchester Museum and Whitworth Art Gallery.

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The roof was created with a ‘sedum and wildflower’ mat made up with 21 different species. The low-growing sedums are now most visible around the sloping edges of the meadow, and taller species seem to dominate towards the middle. However, perhaps that’s not true; the sedums may be just hidden by the taller growing plants.

Maiden pink flower

This summer, the Faculty of Life Sciences has arranged for a student to survey the roof to see how the plants are distributed.  The Biodiversity Working Group will be continuing to monitor the roof’s progress to see how the composition of plants changes from this baseline. Some plants are likely to thrive, some will struggle and other’s will arrive as seeds blow over the roof or fall off people’s clothing.

Ladybird pupa on Sedum reflexum

Say no to the mow!

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For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been watching a patch of ground on my way to work. The soil is thin (I suspect it mainly consists of brick rubble) and consequently the grasses don’t grow very well. Instead it’s been growing a selection of plants with more insect-friendly flowers. Nothing rare or unusual, but a selection of wildflowers which thrive in an urban area and can attract plenty of pollinators.

Last week it was a foot tall, with red and white clover and buttercups already in flower. The buds of the oxeye daisies were getting ready to burst and the birdsfoot trefoil and common knapweed  and were growing vigorously. This week, it’s been mown. I was expecting it to be a riot of colour by the end of the week, but instead it’s a green desert.

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It already had a margin mown around the edge to allow visibility for traffic and a path through the middle to let people cut the corner. It’s near a busy road and no-one uses it as a lawn to sit or play games on. I think it would have been much better left to become a flower meadow over the summer (and the museum bees would certainly have liked it) and mown later in the season. I agree with Plantlife and Springwatch: ‘Say no to the mow’!

Mallorcan orchids

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Ophrys lutea

 

There’s still time for one final post before it’s time to say goodbye to the Mallorca field course for another year. With two orchid fans on the staff, it’s not surprising that a good few hours each day were spent orchid spotting, but this year we had an up-and-coming orchid specialist amongst the students too. Head over to the FrogBlog to check out Tom’s thoughtful account of his Mallorcan orchid-hunting experiences.

 

Sunset over the port of Alcudia
Sunset over the port of Alcudia