Category Archives: Conservation

Life in an Urban Jungle

We share our living space with some 40000 species of plants and animals.

Watch where you tread.

Full article here.

Life in an Urban Jungle


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Giant fungus discovered in China


Giant fungus discovered in China

The most massive fruiting body of any fungus yet documented has been discovered growing on the underside of a tree in China.

The fruiting body, which is equivalent to the mushrooms produced by other fungi species, is up to 10m long, 80cm wide and weighs half a tonne.

That shatters the record held previously by a fungus growing in Kew Gardens in the UK.

The new giant fungus is thought to be at least 20 years old.

The first example of the new giant fungus was recorded by scientists in 2008 in Fujian Province, China, by Professor Yu-Cheng Dai of the Herbarium of biology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Shenyang and his assistant Dr Cui.

“But the type collection was not huge,” Prof Dai told BBC Nature.

However, “we found [the] giant one in Hainan Province in 2010.”

The researchers were in the field studying wood-decaying fungi when they happened upon the specimen, which they describe in the journal Fungal Biology.

“We were not specifically looking for this fungus; we did not know the fungus can grow so huge,” he said.

“We were surprised when we found it, and we did not recognise it in the forest because it is too large.”

The fungus, F. ellipsoidea, is what mycologists call a perennial polypore – otherise known as a bracket fungus.

Being a perennial, it can live for a number of years, which may have enabled it to grow to such large size.

By colonising the underside of the large fallen tree, the fungus also had a huge amount of dead and decaying wood to feed on, helping to fuel its growth.

Fruiting bodies, such as mushrooms and toadstools, are the sexual stages of a many higher types of fungi, producing seeds or spores that produce further generations.

The giant fruiting body of F. ellipsoidea forms a long, brown shape up to 10.85m long, 82-88cm wide, and 4.6-5.5cm thick.

Tests on the density of the fruiting body suggest the whole thing weighs 400-500kg; it is also estimated to hold some 450 million spores.

“A small piece of the fruiting body is almost like my size,” said Prof Dai.

The previous record holder was a specimen of Rigidoporus ulmarius, a polypore with a pileate fruiting body found in Kew Gardens in the UK in 2003.

It measured approximately 150cm in diameter with a circumference of 425cm.

After their initial encounter with the new record-breaking fungus, the scientists took samples of it back to the lab where to be analysed.

These tests revealed that the fungus was the species Fomitiporia ellipsoidea, and the researchers made two subsequent trips to study the specimen further.

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Selection of papers on Urban Ecology

Selection of papers on Urban Ecology from University of Salford, UK.


James P, Tzoulas K, Adams MD, Barber A, Box J, Breuste J, Elmqvist T, Frith M, Gordon C, Greening K, Haworth S, Kazmierczak AE, Johnston M, Korpela K, Moretti M, Niemelä J, Pauleit S, Roe MH, Sadler JP and Ward Thompson C (2009) Towards an integrated understanding of green space in the European built Environment. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening 8, 65-75. View at publishers.

Gledhill DG, James P and Davies DH (2008) Pond density as a determinant of aquatic species richness in an urban landscape. Landscape Ecology. [Online]. DOI: 10.1007/s10980-008-9292-x The original is available from the publishers here. In print publication pending.

Gledhill DG & James P (2008) Rethinking Urban Blue Spaces from a Landscape Perspective: Species, scale and the human element. Salzburger Geographische Arbeiten42, 151 – 164, Salzburg 2008

Box J (2007) Increasing the supply of local nature reserves. Town & Country Planning 76: 160-162.

Box J & Barker G (2007) Green grids and design codes. Town & Country Planning 76: 114-115

Box J, Berry S, Angus I, Cush P & Frost P (2007) Planning local nature reserves. Town & Country Planning 76: 392-395.

McDonnell MJ (2007) Restoring and managing biodiversity in an urbanizing world filled with tensions. Ecological Management & Restoration Vol 8 No 2 August 2007, Ecological Society of Australia.

Scott, A.V & James, P (2007) What is landscape scale conservation and how does it apply to urban regeneration? IN: Amaratunga D, Haigh R, Ruddock L and Alshawi M (Eds) Proceedings of the 7th international postgraduate conference in the built and human environment, 27th-29th March 2007.

Gledhill, D; James, P & Davies, D (2005) Urban ponds: A landscape of Multiple Meaning.5th International Postgraduate Research Conference in the Built and Human Environment, The Lowry Centre, Salford, 14th – 15th April 2005.

Tzoulas, K & James, P (2005) Surrogate measures for Biodiversity and human health and well-being . 5th International Postgraduate Research Conference in the Built and Human Environment, The Lowry Centre, Salford, 14th – 15th April 2005.

Dodouras, S & James, P, (2005) Participative & Integrative Techniques To Improve Multidisciplinary Communication: A Precursor To Producing Sustainability Profile Indicators.Environmental Accounting & Sustainable Development Indicators Conference, Jan Evangelista University & Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic

Dodouras, S & James P, (2004) Examining the sustainability impacts mega-sports events: Fuzzy mapping as a new integrated appraisal system. 4th International Postgraduate Research Conference in the Built and Human Environment, Salford, 29th March – 2nd April 2004.

Tzoulas, K & James, P(2004) Finding links between urban biodiversity and human health and well-being. 4th International Postgraduate Research Conference in the Built and Human Environment, Salford, 29th March – 2nd April 2004.


Lincoln University


Conference programme

The Role of Nature in the Built Environment, Sarel Cilliers, North West University, South Africa
Abstract (PDF 66 KB), handout (PDF 1 MB)

Cultural Literacy in the Built Environment, Hirini Matunga, Lincoln University
Abstract (PDF 63 KB), handout (PDF 513 KB)

The Importance of Nature for Human Well-Being: A Cultural Geographer’s Perspective on Nature and the City, Harvey Perkins, Lincoln University
Abstract (PDF 65 KB), handout (PDF 28 KB)

Natural Landforms, Artificial Substrates and Habitat in the Built Environment, Ian Lynn, Landcare Research
Abstract (PDF 68 KB), handout (PDF 426 KB)

The Role of Nature in Aesthetic Values: Globalisation and Westernisation of the Urban Environment, Maria Ignatieva and Jacky Bowring, Lincoln University
Abstract (PDF 69 KB), handout (PDF 527 KB)

Cities as Complex Landscapes – Part 1: Issues for Urban Greenspace Design, Simon Swaffield (Lincoln University) and Colin Meurk (Landcare Research).

Plant Communities and Biodiversity in the City, Glenn Stewart (Lincoln University), Ben Horne (Lincoln University), Toni Braddick (Lincoln University), Maria Ignatieva Lincoln University), Colin Meurk (Landcare Research)  and Hannah Buckley (Lincoln University) 
Abstract (PDF 69 KB), handout (PDF 196 KB)

Trees in Urban Environments: Which Species and Why? Ian Spellerberg (Lincoln University) and David Given (Christchurch City Council) 
Abstract (PDF 65 KB), handout (PDF 43 KB)

Maintaining Biodiversity and Ecosystem Processes in Cities and Towns, Mark McDonnell, Australian Research Centre for Urban Ecology, Melbourne
Abstract (PDF 65 KB),

Managing New Zealand Cities for Indigenous Wildlife, Colin Miskelly, Department of Conservation, Wellington
Abstract (PDF 66 KB), handout (PDF 654 KB)

Challenges for Pest Management in the Urban Environment, Bruce Chapman, Lincoln University
Abstract (PDF 62 KB), handout (PDF 689 KB)

Habitat potential of aquatic systems in the built environment: A Christchurch Perspective, Shelly McMurtrie (EOS Ecology) and Alistair Suren (National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research) 
Abstract (PDF 68 KB), handout (PDF 2 MB)

Thinking Like a Tree: Short-Term Planning Ignores New Zealand’s Urban and Peri-Urban Development Crisis, Mark Bellingham, Aristos Consultants Ltd, Waitakere City
Abstract (PDF 67 KB), handout (PDF 596 KB)

Facilitating Nature’s Role in Urban Design: Integrating the Built and Natural Environments, Charles Eason (Landcare Research), Jenny Dixon2, Robert Vale (Landcare Research) and Marjorie van Roon (University of Auckland)
Abstract (PDF 66 KB), handout (PDF 557 KB)

Cities as Complex Landscapes – Part 2: Design Directions, Landscape Configurations and Biodiversity Opportunities, Colin Meurk (Landcare Research), Simon Swaffield (Lincoln University) and Graeme Hall (Landcare Research) 
Abstract (PDF 68 KB), handout (PDF 1 MB)


Urban Streamscapes: What do people want to see in their neighbourhood?, Stephanie Parkyn, John Quinn and Beth Quinn, National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research
Abstract (PDF 7 KB)

Aidanfield (Christchurch): Low Impact Urban Design and Development (LIUDD): matching urban design and urban ecology, Maria Ignatieva, Frazer Baggaley, Charlotte Cameron, Antonia Guthrey and Angela Newall, Landscape Architecture Group, Lincoln University
Abstract (PDF 77 KB)


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Olden Living Tree found in Sweden



Oldest Living Tree Found in Sweden

James Owen in Stockholm, Sweden
for National Geographic News

April 14, 2008

The world’s oldest known living tree, a conifer that first took root at the end of the last Ice Age, has been discovered in Sweden, researchers say.The visible portion of the 13-foot-tall (4-meter-tall) “Christmas tree” isn’t ancient, but its root system has been growing for 9,550 years, according to a team led by Leif Kullman, professor at Umeå University’s department of ecology and environmental science in Sweden.Discovered in 2004, the lone Norway spruce—of the species traditionally used to decorate European homes during Christmas—represents the planet’s longest-lived identified plant, Kullman said.The researchers found the shrubby mountain survivor at an altitude of 2,985 feet (910 meters) in Dalarna Province.The tree’s incredible longevity is largely due to its ability to clone itself, Kullman said.The spruce’s stems or trunks have a lifespan of around 600 years, “but as soon as a stem dies, a new one emerges from the same root stock,” Kullman explained. “So the tree has a very long life expectancy.” Radiocarbon DatingBristlecone pines in the western United States are generally recognized as the world’s oldest continuously standing trees.The most ancient recorded, from California‘s White Mountains, is dated to around 5,000 years ago.Bristlecone pines are aged by counting tree rings, which form annually within their trunks.But in the case of the Norway spruce, ancient remnants of its roots were radiocarbon dated.The study team also identified other ancient spruces in Sweden that were between 5,000 and 6,000 years old. Trees much older than 9,550 years would be impossible in Sweden, because ice sheets covered the country until the end of the last Ice Age around 11,000 years ago, Kullman noted.March of the TreesThe research forms part of an ongoing study into how and when trees colonized Scandinavia after it had thawed.”Prior to our studies the general conception was that spruce migrated to this area about 2,000 years ago, so now you will have to rewrite the textbooks,” Kullman said.”Deglaciation seems to have occurred much earlier than generally thought,” he added. “Perhaps the ice sheet during the Ice Age was much thinner than previously believed.”The tree study may also help shed light on how plants will respond to current climate change, Kullman said.”We can see trees have an ability to migrate much faster than people had believed,” he said.(Related: “Arctic Redwood Fossils Are Clues to Ancient Climates” [March 26, 2002].)In fact, global warming made the ancient mountain conifers easier for the study team to find.”For many millennia they survived in the mountain tundra as low-growing shrubs perhaps less than a meter high,” Kullman said. “Now they are growing up like mushrooms—you can see them quite readily.” Rising TimberlineBut climate change could also swamp these living Ice Age relics, he warned. The treeline has climbed up to 655 feet (200 meters) in altitude during the past century in the central Sweden study area, the team found.”A great change in the landscape is going on,” Kullman said. “Some lower mountains which were bare tundra less than a hundred years ago are totally covered by forest today.”Mountains tend to provide a refuge for the planet’s most venerable trees because of reduced competition from neighbors and other plants and because the sparser vegetation around the timberline is less vulnerable to forest fires, Kullman said. Another factor is reduced human impacts such as logging, said Tom Harlan of the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research at the University of Arizona. “Human activity lower down has demolished all sorts of things that could have been extremely old,” he said. Harlan says the newly dated Swedish spruce trees have “quite an extraordinary age.””I have no great problems with them having a tree which has been growing there for more than 8,000 years,” he said. “The date seems a little early but not out of line with other things we have seen.”For instance, Harlan noted, dead remains of Californian bristlecone pines dating to about 7,500 years ago have been found up to 500 feet (150 meters) higher in altitude than any living bristlecones.”So there was a time period then when trees were pushing aggressively into areas they had not been in before,” he said. Other tree clones may have an even more ancient lineage than the Swedish spruces, he added. Research suggests that stands of Huon pines on the Australian island of Tasmania possibly date back more than 10,000 years.

© 1996-2008 National Geographic Society. All rights reserved.

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Giant turtle’s demise the fault of humans, study says

Something off BBC Science & Environment page


Giant turtle’s demise the fault of humans, study says

16 August 2010 Last updated at 19:13 GMT

Humans helped drive a species of giant turtle to extinction almost 3,000 years ago, according to a study in PNAS.

It is one of the first cases that clearly shows that humans played a role in the demise of the giant, extinct animals known as “megafauna”.

An Australian research team discovered turtle leg bones – but not shells or skulls – on an island of Vanuatu.

The bones date to just 200 years after humans’ arrival, suggesting they were hunted to extinction for their meat.

However, the turtles lived far longer than other megafauna – which included the famed woolly mammoth; while Australian megafauna is thought to have died out almost 50,000 years ago, it appears that these turtles survived for far longer – until the arrival of a people known as the Lapita.

Debate over what caused the megafauna to die out has raged for 150 years, since Darwin first spotted the remains of giant ground sloths in Chile. Possible causes have ranged from human influence to climate change in the past, even to a cataclysmic meteor strike.

The research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States (PNAS).

‘Enormous pressure’

The research team, led by Professor Matthew Spriggs from the University of New South Wales, discovered a graveyard full of bones on a site on the island of Efate that was known to be home to a Lapita settlement.

The turtles, of a never-before-seen species in the genus Meiolania, had a length of two-and-a-half metres and sported fearsome horns on their heads.

But the bones were overwhelmingly from the creatures’ legs – their only fleshy and edible part. The team went on to date the bones, finding the last ones occurring in layers of sediment that were laid down about 200 years later than the arrival of the Lapita.

Professor Chris Turney of the University of Exeter in the UK called the paper a “really good piece of work”, second only to a similarly damning find in New Zealand confirming humans’ role in the extinction of the giant birds known as moa.

“It’s a really lovely example – you have this amazing beast that’s been around for tens of millions of years surviving as a relic population on this island. Then these people arrived and they basically disappear in a couple of hundred years,” he told BBC News.

“When people turn up they put these populations under enormous pressure – they might not be giving the final, killer blow but they’re adding another level of stress. It looks like these fantastic turtles are another example.”

Actual citation from PNAS:

Biological Sciences – Evolution – Social Sciences – Anthropology

  • Arthur W. White,
  • Trevor H. Worthy,
  • Stuart Hawkins,
  • Stuart Bedford,
  • and Matthew Spriggs

Megafaunal meiolaniid horned turtles survived until early human settlement in Vanuatu, Southwest PacificPNAS published ahead of print August 16, 2010,doi:10.1073/pnas.1005780107

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Wired Science: A Mud-Loving, Iron-Lunged, Jelly-Eating Ecosystem Savior












Meet the bearded goby, a six-inch-long fish that lives in toxic mud, eats jellyfish, lasts for hours without oxygen, and has saved a coastal African ecosystem from a nightmare fate.

Over the last several decades, as other fish populations off the coast of the Namibia collapsed, jellyfish and bacteria populations exploded — a condition widely considered to be ecological an dead end, incapable of supporting rich webs of life.

But amidst this turmoil, the goby has thrived. It circulates nutrients that would otherwise be lost, feeds animals who lost their historic prey, and provides that rare thing: a happy, or at least not-so-bad, ending to an environmental disaster story.

The goby “has the ability to consume what were considered dead-end resources and convert them into bite-sized chunks for higher trophic levels,” said Mark Gibbons, a University of the Western Cape biologist. “Gobies have become anything but a dead-end resource. The gobies are now sustaining the rest of the ecosystem.”

Half a century ago, the bearded goby was just one of many species living in what’s known as the Benguela Large Marine Ecosystem, about 7,000 square miles of continental shelf off the coast of southwest Africa.

The region supported a prosperous commercial fishing industry, but overfishing depleted the northern Benguela’s keystone species, the sardine. By eating plankton and being eaten by larger fishes, sardines had provided a direct conduit between the bottom and top of the Benguela’s food chain. Now that link was gone.

Adding to the upheaval, naturally occurring upwellings of deep, cold water in the Benguela deliver nutrient loads that feed enormous plankton blooms, which feed oxygen-gobbling, dead zone-creating bacteria and eventually fall to the ocean floor, forming a toxic sludge. Methane gathers in the mud, belching out in fish-killing gas eruptions. Without sardines to eat the extra plankton, the effects of this natural feature became more pronounced.

Such radical stresses produced what ecologists call a regime shift. The web of life didn’t simply adjust a bit, but took a whole new form, one that didn’t require a rich assortment of fishes to circulate energy and nutrients. In this lowest-common-denominator system, there were only a few opportunist fish species, bacteria and, at the top of the food chain, giant jellyfish.

Giant jellies have no natural predators, and aren’t even eaten by humans. In the systems they dominate, nutrients and energy go from plankton to jelly, with little between. “The massive increase in jellyfish biomass after the collapse has been regarded as a trophic dead end,” wrote Gibbons and colleagues in a study published July 15 in Science. The same has happened in China’s Bohai Sea, the Sea of Japan, and the northwest Mediterranean. But unlike those ecosystems, the northern Benguela has the bearded goby.

In recent years, fishermen and researchers noticed more bearded gobies than before. Gobies were showing up in the bellies of seals, penguins and the remaining large fish, such as horse mackerel and hake. But nobody quite knew what they were doing, so Gibbons, along with University of Bergen biologists Anne Utne-Palm and Anne Salvanes, decided to find out.

They measured oxygen content and chemical composition throughout the northern Benguela’s waters and across its floors. They used radar to track the movements of goby populations, and conducted a series of aquarium experiments on individual fishes. What they found is a fish extraordinarily well-suited to its new environment.

During the day, gobies live on and in the Benguela’s toxic sea sludge. They do fine without oxygen: After spending hours in aquariums filled with oxygen-free water, gobies are still alert. Given the choice between toxic mud and sand, they picked the sludge.

The gobies feed on the mud, scooping it up and waiting until evening, when they swim into the higher-oxygen water column, to digest it. While in the water column, they prefer to stay among giant jellyfish, whose stinging tentacles discourage predators from following. And the gobies have developed a taste for the jellies: The researchers’ autopsies found that jellyfish can form up to 60 percent of a bearded goby’s diet.

These adaptations are likely rooted in the gobies’ evolution in the Benguela, where they dealt with toxic mud and low-oxygen waters, albeit in lower quantities than now, for millions of years. “This ‘pre-conditioning’ allowed them to capitalize on changes to the system,” said Gibbons.

For many, the Benguela’s current state is still far from ideal. Philippe Cury, a fisheries biologist at France’s Institute of Research for Development, called it a “ghost ecosystem” for fisheries. “So tell your kid, ‘Eat your gobies with your jellyfish!’” he said. But without the goby to feed other species — and, critically, to keep nutrients in circulation during particularly extreme years, when other fish can’t survive — the situation would be far worse.

“There would be less hake, less seabirds, seals and cetaceans and all those other organisms that feed on gobies,” said Gibbons. “That would be a desert.”

Whether other jellyfish-dominated systems will prove to have their own versions of the bearded goby remains to be seen. But at least the northern Benguela has avoided total catastrophe.

“Fortunately for the Benguela, they had the goby,” said Utne-Palm. “It’s a lucky end to something that could have been more of a disaster.”

Images: 1) Benguela goby./Hege Vestheim. 2) Benguela goby and jellyfish./Kim Andreassen.


Citation: “Trophic Structure and Community Stability in an Overfished Ecosystem,” By Anne C. Utne-Palm, Anne G.V.Salvanes, Bronwen Currie, Stein Kaartvedt, Göran E. Nilsson, Victoria A. Braithwaite, Jonathan A.W. Stecyk, Matthias Hundt, Meganvander Bank, Bradley Flynn, Guro K. Sandvik, Thor A. Klevjer, Andrew K. Sweetman Volker Brüchert, Karin Pittman, Kathleen R. Peard, Ida G. Lunde, Rønnaug A.U. Strandabø, Mark J. Gibbons. Science, Vol. 329 No. 5989, July 16, 2010.


Source: Wired Science

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Norman Borlaug mentioned in West Wing


Norman Borlaug, “The Father of the Green Revolution” passed away at the age of 95 on Sept 12 2009. He was instrumental in developing and introducing semi-dwarf, high-yield, disease resistant wheat varieties. NY times wrote of him as “…the plant scientist who did more than anyone else in the 20th Century to teach the world to feed itself…”

He won the Nobel Peace Prize for agricultural innovation and the development of high-yield crops in 1970. The Green Revolution has been touted to have averted a world-wide famine in the late 20th century.

Excerpts of his speech during the Nobel Prize award ceremony showed how commited he was in using science for the betterment of mankind:



Accordingly, I shall not dwell upon the personal honor, for I have not done so even within myself. Instead, I want to devote my remarks to commendation of the Nobel Committee which had the perspicacity and wisdom to recognize the actual and potential contributions of agricultural production to prosperity and peace among the nations and peoples of the world.

Obviously, I am personally honored beyond all dreams by my election. But the obligations imposed by the honor are far greater than the honor itself, both as concerns me personally and also the army of hunger fighters in which I voluntarily enlisted a quarter of a century ago for a lifetime term. I am acutely conscious of the fact that I am but one member of that vast army and so I want to share not only the present honor but also the future obligations with all my companions in arms, for the Green Revolution has not yet been won.

It is true that the tide of the battle against hunger has changed for the better during the past three years. But tides have a way of flowing and then ebbing again. We may be at high tide now, but ebb tide could soon set in if we become complacent and relax our efforts. For we are dealing with two opposing forces, the scientific power of food production and the biologic power of human reproduction. Man has made amazing progress recently in his potential mastery of these two contending powers. Science, invention, and technology have given him materials and methods for increasing his food supplies substantially and sometimes spectacularly, as I hope to prove tomorrow in my first address as a newly decorated and dedicated Nobel Laureate. Man also has acquired the means to reduce the rate of human reproduction effectively and humanely. He is using his powers for increasing the rate and amount of food production. But he is not yet using adequately his potential for decreasing the rate of human reproduction. The result is that the rate of population increase exceeds the rate of increase in food production in some areas.

There can be no permanent progress in the battle against hunger until the agencies that fight for increased food production and those that fight for population control unite in a common effort. Fighting alone, they may win temporary skirmishes, but united they can win a decisive and lasting victory to provide food and other amenities of a progressive civilization for the benefit of all mankind.

Then, indeed, Alfred Nobel’s efforts to promote Brotherhood between nations and their peoples will become a reality.


Let our wills say that it shall be so.





BBC News: Agriculture pioneer Borlaug dies

NY Times: Norman Borlaug, Plant Scientist Who Fought Famine, Dies at 95

The wiki entry: Norman Borlaug

Norman Borlaug’s Nobel Prize Speech: The Nobel Prize in Peace 1979, Norman Borlaug

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