The Monthly Species: June

Hello friends! So it is the end of June, once again I’m astounded that we are now half way through the year. But! Today we are talking about a mushroom. Fungi aren’t my favourite topic of conversation but I couldn’t resist because this one is so so cool. It’s sometimes referred to as Lion’s mane or bear’s head tooth fungus. It is Hericium americanum! 

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Scientific Classification:

Kingdom: Fungi
Division: Basidiomycota
Class: Agaricomycetes
Order: Russulales
Family: Hericiaceae
Genus: Hericium
Species: H. americanum

Size: The fruiting body (the fleshy bit) can grow from about 15-30cm big. That in the range of mushrooms is big!

Diet: It lives off of decaying broad-leaved trees. It is thought that this may be init ally a parasitic fungus.

Distribution: It is found as the name might suggest in america. Specifically in North East america.
Hericium americanum, picture by Josh DotyReproduction: Fungus reproduce with spores which can be many different colours. This fungus has a white spore print.

Conservation: These fungi are quite common in the states however they are a prized find. They are an edible fungi and can be quite expensive because of how big they are!

The Coolest Thing Ever About This Species:

The shape of the fruiting body is simply stunning. The ice crystal shapes when combined with many fruiting bodies can look like a frozen waterfall!

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Becoming A Master – Alpha Diversity

Week 30

Hello friends! This week I have been all about the alpha diversity statistics so I thought I would tell you about how and why I’m doing it. Alpha biodiversity is effectively a way of working out the biodiversity in a local area. This can be done within a quadrat or within sections of a transect. For my dissertation I am looking at the alpha biodiversity of each of my hedgerows in my study.

To do this I’m using some software called EstimateS and I put in my results and then it uses different formula to find different alpha biodiversity scores. There can be different scores as lots of different studies have developed different mathematical formula to work out the biodiversity. Each formula is more effective for different types of study. For example a study looking at insect species richness may find a different formula gives a more accurate representation of alpha biodiversity than a study looking at salt marsh plants. I have four different formula to choose from and hopefully by next week I will have settled on one to use.

It’s been another heavy computer week but I did head home to Cornwall this weekend (why this blog is a little late) to run around the fields and check up on my hedgerows.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this little update and a little lesson on statistics!

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Top 10 Hedgerow Plants

Hello! I have been working on my dissertation for my masters which is all about hedgerows and their conservation. This has meant I’ve got to know the plants in Cornish hedgerows really well so without further a do here are 10 of my favourites!

  1. Red Campion (Silene dioica) – This is one of the most common wild flowers I found as part of my research. Traditional medicines used the seeds to treat snakebites and its genus name comes from the greek word sialon which means saliva.
  2. Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) – Easily the plant I was most aware of in my research because I had all the stings to prove I had found it. However, stinging nettles have their place in the hedgerow and provide an excellent habitat and food source for lots of my favourite butterflies.
  3. Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) – This was one of the main shrubs I found in my hedgerows. It can be extremely dense but provide food and habitat for up to 300 different species of insect. It was once said that if you brought a hawthorn blossom into your house illness and death were to follow so perhaps admire this plant from afar.
  4. Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) – Another common hedgerow shrub also known by the name of sloe bush. It’s berries are commonly made into sloe gin but another interesting fact is that blackthorn wood was associated with witchcraft.
  5. Buttercup (Ranunculus repens) – Otherwise known as the species with the best latin name I have ever heard of. I commonly found creeping buttercup at the bottom of hedgerows. It used to be a favourite game of mine and my friends at primary school to hold a buttercup flower underneath each others chins and if you could see the yellow reflection of the flower it meant you liked butter. Not particularly sure why that mattered but it’s still a delightful little flower.
  6. Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) – Fun fact sycamore trees are actually my favourite tree. They have the most beautiful colours in them all year round as the young leaves and stems are red before going green. They are actually an introduced species in the UK but they have been here since the 17th century. They can live for up to 400 years so I think the Sycamore is here to stay!
  7. Fools Parsley (Aethusa cynapium) – This one wasn’t very common so I definitely had to dig around to find it but I did! In some areas it grows quite commonly but every hedge is different.
  8. Dogs Violet (Viola riviana) – This is another very sweet wildflower that I found in my research. If you do happen upon a violet looking flower it’s more than likely going to be this one.
  9. Hazel (Corylus avellana) – This is another very common hedgerow tree. It provides an excellent resource for many other species but often suffers when cut back to vigorously. The stems are very bendy in spring so much that they can be bent into a knot without breaking!
  10. Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) – This species was introduced to the UK in the 19th century as an ornamental species and has since escaped from gardens and can be found in lots of areas. I found some specimens in the base of my hedgerows but was always careful of them as the sap from this species can cause irritation and even blisters.

If you fancy finding out more about hedgerows I’m talking a lot about them in my becoming a master series which comes out on Sundays!

See you soon!

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ThatBiologist – Conservation Conversations

Fun fact, when I was designing the questions I wanted to include within the questions for conservation conversations I tested them a lot on my peers but also myself. To the point where I even wrote out a complete answer to each question. So if you were wondering what my answers to my questions about the life of conservationist were here you go:

IMG_1025As I start all of these off with an introduction I guess I should introduce myself. Hi my name is Laura, I am finishing off my masters degree on conservation. I love all things wildlife but have a particular passion for botany and the planty things. I’ve been writing here for a couple of years now as well as twittering in between and recently writing for the Woodland trust. You can find out the whole story on me in my about tab!

  1. Starting off with something simple, what is your favourite species and why?

My favourite species is the venus fly trap. I adore botany and I love it when plants prove to be more than just green organisms. I love all the (often) hidden characteristics plants can have and venus fly traps are just spectacular. They have such sensitivity to the outside world and the adaptations they posses just to exist in nutrient depleted areas is outstanding. Personally I don’t see how any other species could beat it.

  1. So now I’m going to quiz you about your career in this sector, firstly why did you decide to get into conservation?

I’ve loved nature ever since I could remember. I remember getting a copy of a book discussing how what we do as humans effects the world. It focused on climate change and I was horrified by what I was reading. Ever since then I knew I wanted to do something to help.

  1. Sometimes working in conservation or the environment sector can be difficult, what inspires you to keep going in your career?

How beautiful nature is in every single way. As well as the awesome power for nature to continue in the face of every adversity which I think is very admirable. That power and beauty combined just fills me with so much hope that it can and will continue. All I want to do is help that process.

  1. What’s next on your career bucket list?

A job where I can practically help nature. I’m not fussy where I just want to do some good in this world.

  1. What’s been your career highlight so far?

Being told that a project I was working on won an international award and seeing the project continue to flourish years after I’ve finished working on it.

  1. Our world is pretty amazing with lots of wonderful things happening in the natural world. What natural phenomenon would you like to see or have seen?

I am desperate to see bioluminescence at work. I think it’s one of the most fantastical things in the universe and kinda makes me believe that magic is real.

  1. If you could let the general public know one thing about conservation what would it be?

Conservation is a long process and a team sport. There is no quick fix when the environment is damaged. Just because you recycle that water bottle does not mean you fix climate change but if everyone recycles more and does it for a long period of time it does have an affect. By working as a team we can make this planet a better place. (Looking back on this answer it seems even more true with Trump removing the USA from the Paris agreement. I have lots to say on this so just wait for another blog post.)

  1. Now if you could change one thing about how the world works what would you change and why?

I’d make single use plastic products illegal. Water bottles, straws, plastic bags and those stupid 6 pack plastic rings are unbelievably damaging to nature and so pointless. If I could remove them forever I would do it in a heartbeat. (more on this soon)

Now for a little favourites quick round!

  1. Favourite sound?

The birds in the morning when the rest of the world is quiet.

  1. Favourite fact?

In October of 2014 Cards against humanity bought a 6 acre island and named it Hawaii 2 and it is now left to preserve the wildlife there. If only every card game did the same, I’m looking at you Uno.

  1. Favourite snack?

Chocolate – Specifically cold dark chocolate.

  1. Favourite word?

Brilliant

  1. Favourite curse word? 

Horse Sh*t

  1. Least favourite word?

Never. I was told once that I would never do well at university, here I am now nearing the end of my masters. Don’t let anyone ever tell you that you can never do something because of course you can. You can do what ever you want. Whether you should is another matter 😉

And finally…

  1. What’s your best piece of advice for someone who wants to do better for the environment?

Buy a reusable water bottle and take it everywhere with you. It’s great for your body if you drink more water, it’ll save you money and it’s far better for the environment if you don’t buy the non-reusable ones. By taking one little step to being a better earth citizen you may find you want to make more of those steps.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my answers to these questions. There will be more guests in the future I promise!

ThatBiologist Everywhere!

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Disney Effect Part 2 – Where is Nemo?

Hello! So during in VEDA I introduced the idea of the disney effect affecting the conservation of certain species. For today’s blog I thought I could take a look at the case study of clown fish. Clown fish are delightful fish that live near sea anemones hense why they can also be called anemonefish. There are 28 different species and they come in a large range of colours. Orange clownfish and the most famous kind are the species Amphiprion percula and A. ocellaris. They are really popular aquarium fish and here is kind of where our story begins.

The clownfish are obviously they key characters in finding Nemo. The film was released in 2003 and the film did incredibly well with great ratings and this led to a few different affects.

The first was that it pushed a spotlight on to the ocean and how its treated. It brought ocean protection into the media because the general public was made aware of how important and diverse the ocean is. The pressure from the public is always extremely powerful for the environment to get policies pushed forward. Although ocean protection has been important there was a notable rise in the interest to protect the oceans when the movie came out.

The other main affect was that many people wanted their very own nemo or dory. The demand for these fish went through the roof and to supply this demand many clownfish were removed from the wild. This happened to an extent where there was local extinction particularly in south east Asia. Now many of the fish you see available to purchase are bred in captivity however the damage of local extinction affected the coral habitat as a whole.

The power that disney has to affect public opinion can be massive. Luckily with the release of finding dory there was a larger affect to improve the message of conservation within the movie. Nevertheless the lessons learned from the affect that finding nemo had should be remembered with any future disney project.

Let me know what you think, is disney doing a good thing by putting these messages into their films or is it irresponsible because it can affect the population of a species on a global scale?

Til next time!

ThatBiologist Everywhere!

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Why aren’t all plants green?

earlyspring13 025a

As part of my time off I took yet another visit to kew gardens with a friend who had never been before. Every time I go I learn a little something different and this time I was wondering about colours of plants. Most plants are green in colour but not all! Today I thought we would explore why this is?

Why are plants green?

Plants are green because their cells contain chloroplasts which have the pigment chlorophyll. This pigment absorbs deep-blue and red light, so that the rest of the sunlight spectrum is being reflected, causing the plant to look green.

What other plant colours can you get?

Think of a colour any colour, you can almost definitely find a plant that colour! Often the colours are found in the flowers but some plants have different coloured leaves too!

Why do plants have different colours?

Often the colours are an adaptation to attract different pollinators. The colours come from different chemicals that absorb different wavelengths of light leaving different colours behind!

Hope you feel like you’ve learnt something a little different this Wednesday! See you on Sunday!

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The Little Mermaid: Are mermaids real?

“A mermaid has not an immortal soul, nor can she obtain one unless she wins the love of a human being”

Fairyology Episode 8

Image result for the little mermaid

Hello and welcome to another fairyology episode, this time I pose the question is it better down where its wetter? Todays fairy tale is of course the little mermaid. Now for a quick run down of the story. So the disneys version is a little bit different from the original fairytale but today we’re going to look at the original version.

Theres a mermaid that lives with her widowed father in an underwater kingdom. When she turns 15 she can swim to the surface. She then becomes obsessed with the world on land and falls in love with a Prince she rescues. She asks her grandmother about the humans and she then tells the young mermaid (Ariel) and she tells her that humans live for a shorter time than the mermaids 300 years but when they die their soul lives forever. Where as when a mermaid dies they turn into sea foam and disappear (have a think about that when you’re next paddling in sea foam!). Ariel decides she wants to live on the land so visits a sea witch. The sea witch gives her a potion that will cause her to become human but she will never be able to return to the mermaid world and the only way she will obtain a soul is if the prince marries her.

Ariel then takes the potion and becomes human. She becomes good friends with the prince but he doesnt recognise her as the mermaid who recognises him. He instead marries a princess who he sees as the one who rescued him. Ariel is now heartbroken. Her sister comes to the rescue with a knife for her to kill the prince. Ariel goes to do the awful deed but cannot bring herself to kill him. She chucks the knife into the water and her body turns to foam. BUT! She instead turns into an earth spirit??? and uses her 300 years doing good deeds. Yes well I now understand why disney simplified this tale!

So the science in this one has to be could mermaids be real?! There are a few theories on this one so lets get to it!

Theory 1. Manatees

The main theory behind mermaid sightings is that they were actually manatees. Now manatees hardly look like Ariel but often these sightings came from seamen. In the past often boats would carry limited supplies meaning these sailors were often highly dehydrated and suffered with scurvy. All this together meant they often started to see things and the manatees appeared to them as attractive women. So next time you see a mermaid just have a check that it isn’t a manatee and maybe have an apple with some water!

Theory 2. Hoaxes

Mermaids that have been “found” in the past were often pretty horrific. They were very popular in freak shows of the victorian era and were “obviously” hoaxes. If you’re brave enough feel free to go and have a look at the photos online but often these were a combination of monkeys with fish. Yeah, its gross…. moving on!

Theory 3. “Of course they’re real they just haven’t been found yet.”

Mermaids are so fantastical and genetically having half human half fish is just not going to happen. However my mermaid lovers out there should always remain hopeful! The ocean is such a mystery to scientists even now so I’m just waiting for the documentary where Ariel makes her first appearance!

Hope you have enjoyed this silly foray into fairyology! See you all next time!

ThatBiologist Everywhere!

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Scicommers

Hello and welcome to the last spotlight Thursday of BEDA. I thought this time I would cast the spotlight on Scicommers. Scicomm is short for science communication and scicommers are the people who just that. I totally adore the Scicomm community and I spend large amounts of time when I’m not writing, reading and listening to more scicomm, so I thought I would share three of my favourites.

SciShow – This was what got me totally hooked into this wonderful world. It’s a youtube channel that does a little bit of everything in science and they’re all in wonderfully animated digestible chunks!

The Scientific Beauty – I aspire so much to be as glamourous as Sophie who runs Scibeauty. It’s a great blog (shes also brilliant on twitter) that combines beauty with science. She also has killer style and is finishing up her PhD. If you love your makeup and your science this is the place for you.

Dr Mike – He’s another huge inspiration and has helped me out so much with a cheeky retweet here and there. He makes scicomm podcasts that are informative and fun. I particularly like listening to them when I’m in the lab to keep me going and his series actual living scientist is by far and away my favourite!

So there we have it three amazing sources that covers all sorts of different topics in the scientific world. Hope you enjoy them too if you go and check them out!

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Holly Langridge – Conservation Conversations

hollyToday I’m bringing you another episode of Conservation Conversations. This time with the wonderful Holly! She is a Research Technician for the Soil and Ecosystem Ecology Lab at the University of Manchester, and writes for a conservation blog in my spare time. The blog is called I Fucking Love Conservation is a multi-platform blog highlighting worldwide conservation projects and news. Fun fact was that this very blog was one of my main inspirations in getting into writing!

  1. Starting off with something simple, what is your favourite species and why?

The hazel dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius), because as well as being insanely cute, I studied them for my MSc project. I’m particularly interested in small mammals anyway, and I found out how interesting dormice physiology and natural history are when I studied their locomotion and gap crossing abilities with the captive individuals at Wildwood. I got to work up close with a few dormice that had been brought in due to injury, and had been rehabilitated to either be released or used in a captive breeding program.

  1. So now I’m going to quiz you about your career in this sector, firstly why did you decide to get into conservation?

I’ve cared about animals and the environment for as long as I can remember and I’m sure there are millions of tiny experiences that influenced the choice, but the decision to study it and pursue it seriously as a career came on a college fieldtrip to an FSC centre. I was stood in a courtyard when tens of lesser horseshoe bats emerged from the stable and flew around my head, checking out what I was. They were so close to my face I could feel the air from their wings flapping. Rather than being freaked out like most of the other students in the courtyard, I felt incredibly calm and privileged to be there. Since then, I’ve just known I wanted to work in conservation. I came to another cross-road after I finished my BSc, when choosing a masters. I was leaning towards the Environmental Management and Sustainable Development course, having reasoned it was more likely to lead to stable employment. Then we went on a family day out to Monkey Forest in Threntham and I felt that spark of inspiration again, and realised I wouldn’t be happy in the long run doing sustainability. I emailed the university to switch to the Conservation Biology course that same night, and it’s one of the best choices I ever made. There’s nothing else I can imagine doing.

  1. Sometimes working in conservation or the environment sector can be difficult, what inspires you to keep going in your career?

For me, it’s a bit like air. I don’t need inspiration to remember to keep breathing. But you’re right, it’s not an easy area to work in, so sometimes I do just need to recharge my batteries. I have two very different methods for this, the first is a serious TV binge session (but who doesn’t need one of those every now and then!), where I can become absorbed in a series and switch my brain off. The second is best described by the Japanese phrase “shinrin-yoku”, or “forest bathing”. I love spending time in nature and I’ve always particularly loved mature woodland. Being out in the mottled sunshine, listening to the birds, getting away from the hustle and bustle – I find it very energising. I tend to go for gentle walks rather than hardcore hikes, sometimes with a picnic, ID book or friend in tow.

I also find real life stories and anecdotes from the sector inspirational. I remember during my undergraduate degree, I’d fallen behind a bit in my 3rd year after a serious illness, and was researching eagles for an assignment. I was looking for facts and figures but came across this first-person story from a ranger. It’s a bit fuzzy because I read it some 8 years ago, but I think his job was to locate new nests and tag/weigh the chicks. To his surprise, he found a nest, so he set up the tree climbing equipment and shimmied carefully up to the nest when the adult had left. But while weighing one chick, the other plopped over the edge of the nest and fell softly to the ground. He retrieved it, but as he climbed back up to the nest with the chick stowed safely in a bag, in one of those moments where you know what is going to happen but are powerless to stop it, the second check jumped overboard too. Cue another chick rescue and very tense climb hoping they’d both stay in this time. It was humorously and engagingly written, with enough detail to be informative too. It’s a small thing, but laughing along to that story really helped remind me why I was studying ecology and conservation. Since reading that, I’ve been writing and collecting conservation and biology anecdotes, first for my own blog and now for I Fucking Love Conservation, under the #ConservationTales tag.

  1. What’s next on your career bucket list?

I would love to get some practical tropical ecology experience, particularly in Central or South America. Working as a research assistant on a project involving small to medium mammals or bats would be a dream. Basically, I’m looking for an adventure, while I’m still young enough to make the most of it! Rather than trekking through the jungle I would like to be based at a research station but those sorts of roles are few and far between, and tend to be filled by word of mouth pretty fast.

  1. What’s been your career highlight so far?

Working for at the UoM with two fantastic academics has been great. Even though it’s working on roots which are really not my specialism, being part of such a prestigious lab group, carrying out research at the forefront of our scientific knowledge and getting to do really interesting tasks was just brilliant.

  1. Our world is pretty amazing with lots of wonderful things happening in the natural world. What natural phenomenon would you like to see or have seen?

It’s hard to choose when there are so many incredible things to see. I would have to pick the classic aurora borealis, or maybe bioluminescent waves. I think seeing lenticular clouds in person, in some beautiful mountainous region, would be incredible too.

  1. If you could let the general public know one thing about conservation what would it be?

That if we don’t make some serious changes soon and start all taking responsibility, it may be too late. And not just for some obscure species, the negative effects will hit humans too.

  1. Now if you could change one thing about how the world works what would you change and why?

I would make humans less selfish. It seems like a simple enough thing but really it would be entirely changing our base instincts, removing something that has conveyed an evolutionary advantage for so long. But a lot of our problems with each other and the world come from people behaving selfishly; the need to acquire more, the whole capitalist system, the inability to put the needs of other species above or even equal to our own, the refusal to make any sacrifices now to safeguard the future of the planet for our children and the millions of other species that inhabit the earth. Many conflicts and political decisions also stem from selfishness, whether the guilty party is thinking only of themselves, of their family, of their political party or of their country even – if they aren’t thinking of the whole world then it’s selfish. It’s prevalent it in everyday life too, any time someone absent-mindedly litters (assuming it’s someone else’s problem), tries to get on a train before letting people off (because their need for a seat is more important than all the people waiting to get off) or undercuts a row of cars on a slip road politely filtering into a queue, to force their way in further ahead. If we could change that mindset, I think the situation for conservation and conservationists would really improve.

Now for some favourites!

  1. Favourite sound?

Woodland birdsong with trickling water

  1. Favourite fact?

Less time separates the existence of humans and the Tyrannosaurus rex than the T-rex and the stegosaurus.

  1. Favourite snack?

Chocolate

  1. Favourite word?

Discombobulated

  1. Favourite curse word? 

In terms of frequency of use, probably “fuck”.  But I actually prefer “frak”.

  1. Least favourite word?

YOLO

And finally…

  1. What’s your best piece of advice for someone who wants to do better for the environment?

Work small changes into your behaviour, and encourage friends to do the same. Just recycling, buying less, being a responsible consumer and letting your local councillor or other elected representative know you care about conservation issues, can accumulate into real change over time.

Thank you so much to Holly for answering these questions in such an insightful way. I really suggest going and checking out I Fucking Love Conservation. If you want more from Holly herself and I think you should for sure! Then shes on twitter with @Ecology_Holly

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Nature Documentaries You Have To Watch

It’s another spotlight Thursday! For this episode I thought I’d turn our attention to Nature Documentaries. They’re how a lot of people fall in love with the natural world. They provide inspiration as well as being important educational sources. I happen to be a little bit of a nature documentary junkie and thought I’d share some of my favourites.

Planet Earth – The sequel has only recently been shown but the original series is just as good!

Sharkwater – I love sharks, I spent an entire week last year talking all about them. I’ve watched what feels like hundreds of shark documentaries. Blue planet is amazing as is Shark but my favourite is sharkwater.

The Ivory Game – This is all about ivory trade. Illegal animal trade can be damning for species and ivory is a big seller still. This documentary can be a little grim but its really informative about why illegal animal trade is important.

Hope you enjoy my recommendations if you do choose to watch them. If you’ve got any good documentaries you think I should watch leave me a comment or send them in a tweet for me!

 

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