Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Exciting News

Hello all, this isn't really a proper update, just a little bit of news. Well, the famed blog Tetrapod Zoology hold events every so often in which biologists do talks, and books, etc are sold. Discussions on paleontology, biology, evolution, speculative evolution, and cryptozoology are held, and just as good, there's tea and coffee included in the admission price! This year it's been held at the London Wetland Center, a place that I have always wanted to go.
We've decided to go, much to my excitement, that my mum and I are going to go! We should be staying in London for the Friday night, and going to the event the next day. I'm very excited, because I've always wanted to go to one of these events, and I should get the chance to talk to like-minded people, and maybe even get some of my paleontology books signed.
I will make a post about the event once I've got back!

Until next time, keep on the wild side

Monday, 26 September 2016

Temperate Rainforests

What comes to mind when someone says the word 'rainforest'? No points for saying 'rain'. Most people would imagine a steamy, tropical envioroment, lush and green, with palms and ferns growing everywhere, and monkeys and parrots frolicking in the canopy. This is the typical image of a rainforest, and it is one that I shared with most of the public up until a few years ago. Most people think that rainforests are restricted to tropical envioroments, making the words rainforest and jungle pretty much synonymous. This is actually a false image, and when you think about it, it makes sense. The definition of a rainforest is simply an area of woodland in which the annual rain level is between 250 and 450 centimetres - notice the exception of the word 'tropical'. It only makes sense that there would be 2 variations of rainforest: the tropical type, which we are used to, and the temperate type. And indeed, this is true, although many people don't realise it. The temperate rainforest habitat is just as fascinating as its tropical counterpart, but for a few years, my knowledge of it was pitiful in amount. Recently, a personal project on creating a speculative ecosystem lead me to do some more research on the habitat, and I was so fascinated by what I found, that temperate rainforest has immediately been promoted to high up on the list of my favourite habitats. I have decided to write a blog post about what I found out.

Perhaps one of the reasons that temperate rainforests are so little known is that they are not very common.

By Koppen_World_Map_Hi-Res.png: Peel, M. C., Finlayson, B. L., and McMahon, T. A.(University of Melbourne)derivative work: Me ne frego (talk) - Koppen_World_Map_Hi-Res.png, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The above is a map of the distribution of tropical rainforests. As you can see, the habitat is in large chunks in South and Central America, Africa, Madagascar, and in the south-west Asian islands.
 Now compare that to this:

 By KarlUdo - Own work, CC BY 3.0,
The above is the distribution of temperate rainforests. While they can be found in a variety of countries, they are in much smaller areas than in their tropical counterparts.

 Perhaps the most well-known definition of a temperate rainforest is by Alaback:

"Annual precipitation over 140 cm (55 in)
Mean annual temperature is between 4 and 12 °C (39 and 54 °F)."

However, this applies only to North American temperate rainforests.
In short, the habitat in general is anywhere where a forest recieves large amounts of rainfall, creating a typically damp habitat.

By Wsiegmund - Self-published work by Wsiegmund, CC BY 2.5,

An image taken in the Pacific temperate rainforest ecoregion, in North America. It is the largest temperate rainforest ecoregion in the world.
This location is of special interest for being a standout example of the habitat. In certain areas, the biomass is at least 4 times that of any similar area in tropical regions.

The Pacific temperate rainforests are mostly coniferous, but they do sometimes have an understory of deciduous shrubs and trees. It rains a lot during the winter, but not so much during the summer - however, during the latter season, fog creeps through the forest, letting water droplets collect on surfaces, which then drip to the ground, keeping the envioroment moist. The habitat is mostly coastal, which leads to an interesting combination of both marine and forest species - for example, salmon come in from the sea, and swim up the rivers which wind their way through the rainforest. The salmon, returning inland to spawn, attract predators, such as bears. Grizzly bears, although once more widespread in the habitat, are now mostly confined to areas north of the Canada-US border. Black bears and their beautiful white subspecies, the Kermode or spirit bear, are present here.
An unusual species found in this habitat is the marbled murrelet. This small seabird feeds mostly on sandeels, and will also feed on other small fish - but what's odd about this marine piscivore is its nesting habits. Most seabirds nest on cliffs, so that they are relatively safe from predators, and so they are beside the sea. However, the close proximity of the rainforest to the ocean has meant that the marbled murrelet has decided to take the jump to nest not on cliffs, but in the forest. It makes nests out of moss and lichen amongst the branches of conifers, sometimes up to 80 km inland!

 By Gus van Vliet (not with USFWS) - [1], Public Domain, 

A marbled murrelet swimming

The Appalachian temperate rainforest can be found in the southern Appalachian Mountains. There are multiple subcategories of forest that can be found within the habitat: at low elevation, mixed woodlands can be found, at middle elevation spruce is predominant, and at high elevation it is fir. The Appalachian rainforest is notable for its high diversity: around 10,000 species can be found here, including several endemic species of vertebrates. There are more than 30 salamanders that can be found here, as the damp envioroment is perfect conditions for them. Most do not have lungs, instead breathing directly through their skin.
There are also 2 species of endemic turtles. Perhaps most predominant are the fungi: there is an estimated 2000 species living here, with many more yet to be identified.

The Valdivian temperate rainforest is located in Chile, with a small part creeping into Argentina. They can easily be told apart from other temperate rainforests discussed so far by the plant life here. Angiosperms are the most predominant trees, but conifers are also present, in the form of monkey puzzles, fitzroyas, and others. Understories consisting of bamboo and ferns can also be found, home to species such as Chusquea quila, an endemic bamboo, and giant rhubarbs.

 By Albh - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
The understory of the Valdivian temperate rainforest

There are a variety of unusual mammals present in this habitat, including the monito del monte. This small marsupial is a nocturnal, arboreal insectivore, occaisonally feeding on fruit. Worryingly, this endearing little mammal is declining, due to deforestation and fragmentation of habitat, and predation by introduced domestic cats. The locals also kill them because they believe they are bad luck, and they think that it causes diseases and is venomous - this has led to incidents such as houses been burnt down simply because this creature was seen inside. In reality, these animals are harmless, but may soon need our help if they are to survive.

 By José Luis Bartheld from Valdivia, Chile - Monito del Monte, CC BY 2.0,
A monito del monte clings to a bit of bamboo

The world's smallest deer, the pudú, is also found here, although it too is threatened. Finally, the smallest cat in the Americas makes its home here: the kodkod, or güiña.

 By Mauro Tammone -, CC BY 3.0,
A kodkod

 The Japanese temperate rainforest is a habitat found on Japanese islands, dominated by firs in alpine areas, and beeches and other broadleaves being predominant in areas of lower elevation. Up to 5300 species of plant can be found in this habitat, 40% of which are endemic to Japan.
Several unique creatures can be found in the Japanese temperate rainforest, such as birds like the black woodpecker, and mammals like the arboreal Japanese dormice, Japanese serow, and Japanese macaques. In the forest streams, the vulnerable Japanese giant salamander can be found.

Of course, this is just a brief look at the temperate rainforests. They are also present in New Zealand, Australia, UK, and elsewhere - but I decided to focus on the examples which were particularly unique, or simply interested me more than the others.

I think that the damp, foggy, dripping, mossy habitat of the temperate rainforest is a wonderful one - and the flora and fauna which live there are fascinating. Unfortunately, they are also threatened by habitat loss and other dangers.
I hope that you have enjoyed this look at the temperate rainforest, a unique and wonderful habitat, and have maybe been inspired to think about rainforests differently.

Until next time, keep on the wild side! 

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Looking back at the summer

First of all, a little update on our wildlife garden. It's looking really nice this time of year, as the dryness of the summer is abating, being replaced with more frequent rain showers, which means that our pond is rather full, and looking lovely. There are lots of spiderwebs about, and a large common garden spider has made its web spanning from one of our conifers to some figwort. When you find a spider, it's always worth taking a close look at it, because you suddenly see how intricate and beautiful it is. For example, the other day we had a medium-sized house spider scurrying across our carpet. Most people would immediately either jump onto the safety of a chair, scream for somebody to put the spider outside, or simply crush it. I know a certain charming character who took great pleasure in explaining to me, in grim detail, the different ways that his father kills spiders. I, on the other hand, was down on my hands and knees, with my face pressed against the carpet, peering intently at the spider's mouthparts. 

The summer seems to have passed so quickly! It's been good, though, and I've done some great things. I've done some rockpooling with the Phoenix group and had some great encounters with some unusual marine life (see here), and done a variety of other wildlife-related activities, like a beach clean and making an insect hotel. I have been to Jersey and learnt about the conservation work that Durrel Wildlife Park is doing, and been greatly inspired by it. I've seen some great wildlife in Jersey, including some new species to me, and explored the beautiful coastline and its wildlife (see here). I've searched for Roesel's bush crickets at Humber Bridge Country Park, unfortunately showing that the likelyhood is that the species is not currently present in the locations that we explored. I learnt more about a variety of creatures, including treehoppers, immortal jellyfish, and the insect with gears in its legs! I also turned 14 this summer, went boating on a river, experienced sleeping in a wood in a hammock, and went camping with my friends several times. Our shed became home to a wasp nest, which is now huge (see here), leading me to learn some more about this fascinating creature. I learnt more about the different species of flora and fauna in our garden, and identified a bird pelvis (see here). I also have a mystery mammal pelvis, which is yet to be identified (see the previous link). I found my first cellar spider in our house (see here), and did some nature hunting on our local patch, too (see here).
Not all of my wildlife-related experiences have been so positive, though - some have been painful! In Jersey, I slipped while rockpooling and ended up with lots of barnacle scratches (it looked rather like I'd been attacked by a bloodthirsty predator!), and in Humber Bridge Country Park, I found how painful a nest of angry European fire ants can be!

Overall, it's been a great summer. I can't wait to see what the rest of the year brings!
 Until next time, keep on the wild side!

Monday, 19 September 2016

Rockpool Excitement!

Somehow, rockpooling seems to have become quite a regular topic on the BioBlog! It is one of my favourite ways of looking for wildlife, as I love both the sea and the life forms which reside in it. Today, the subject is again rockpooling, this time with the Phoenix Group, which I have talked about several times before, here, here, and here. I did do rockpooling with the group once before, at Robin Hood's Bay, which can be seen in the third link, so this time I was hoping for a similarly great outing. As usual, Phoenix did not disappoint.

We travelled to the Flamborough coast for our rockpooling, and met up with Anthony Herd from the Living Seas Centre. I have met Anthony several times before, and he's a great guy, and very knowledgable on marine life. He regularly goes in search of aquatic creatures on this stretch of coastline, but even he was excited about today, as it was an unusually low tide, revealing the lower shore. Here the water would normally be quite deep, allowing kelp to grow, attracting a variety of life forms which you wouldn't find higher up on the shore. This unusually low tide allowed to explore this particularly biodiverse area which normally we would only be able to reach by diving down to it!

The weather was sunny and warm, and so we got straight to rockpooling, following the tide as it went out, exploring area by area as they were revealed. My first find was hidden under a rock: a group of tiny long-clawed porcelain crabs. I'm not sure why, but there's something that I find very endearing about this diminutive species. Its carapace grows to around 1 centimetre wide, and it has a different method of feeding from other crabs which you can find in British waters. It is a filter-feeder, rather than a scavenger, catching organic particles in the water column, then eating them. There is another species, the broad-clawed porcelain crab, which has a similar lifestyle, but I don't think that I need to explain the different between the 2 species!

After our porcelain crabs (which could be found under most rocks), our finds came thick and fast. I was pleased to find several small edible crabs, as I don't generally find these in Filey, which is where I usually go rockpooling. Next was a shore crab, then some breadcrumb sponge and star ascidians under the same rock, and then, the highlight of my day: what appeared to be a slender seaweed stem. Once Anthony put it in our white bucket, it quickly become clear that this was actually something that I've always wanted to see, a worm pipefish! These slender, eel-like fish are relatives of the seahorse, with tubular snouts with a small mouth at the end, used for sucking up food particles. Like seahorses, the male looks after the eggs, but in the pipefish's case, he doesn't keep the eggs in a pouch. Instead, they are stuck to a patch of soft skin on his underside in rows.

 See if you can spot the 3 worm pipefish in this picture!
By Gabrielle Ringot - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Not long after our find of the worm pipefish, shouts from a nearby group of rockpoolers attracted our attention. 2 girls had found a close relative of our specimen: a snake pipefish. This is an entirely different creature to the worm pipefish, as it is much longer, bears stripes down its side, and it has a dark marking running from its snout to its eye, and then along its head.

Next we found a small-ish common lobster, which began to flop rapidly through the rockpool when I tried to capture it. What I like to think of as 'flopping', is technically known by the less snappy name of the caridoid escape reaction, sometimes called lobstering or tail-flipping. This is the process of lashing out with the tail, forcing the creature backwards through the water. It is a method of movement used by shrimps and lobsters, usually only to escape danger. More information on the caridoid escape reaction can be found here.

Other crustacean species were discovored fairly quickly after that, including squat lobsters, hairy crabs, chameleon prawns, and the velvet swimming crab. The latter was revealed in large numbers as the tide went out. In fact, by the end of the day, I'd seen enough of the species to last me a lifetime! They are quite attractive crabs, with large olive to brown bodies, bluish or even purple claws, and bright red eyes. Their hind legs are flattened and beautifully marked with blue and black stripes, and rimmed with hairs. These are used for swimming, hence the name of the species. However, these crabs may be pretty to look at, but never have I encountered such an aggresive wild animal. Normally a crab may try to pinch you when you pick it up - yet the velvet swimming crab seemed to go out of its way to hurt you. Several times a crab would dart out from under a rock, nip me, then scurry back again. I started looking carefully around the rock for crabs before lifting it up, after several times having angered a crab. Non of this would have been so bad, if it wasn't for the shear number of them: there were literally hundreds of crabs. Non of my fingers ecaped the day unscathed by the pincers, and even my ankles were nipped several times.

Moving on from crustaceans, we also found several fish. Our first find was a 5-bearded rockling, a fish that rather resembles a catfish, and after that there were the pipefish, and a butterfish. We also found a few unidentified gobies in one particularly large rockpool.
I was expecting to find beadlet sea anemones, but I found not one. However, I did discover several dahlia anemones, a fairly large, dumpy species with short tentacles. They have a somewhat warty appearance, and are variable in colour: they can be pink, brown, reddish, or cream. The individuals that I found were a sort of brownish-red, but one had a yellowy sort of body with attractive red streaks on it.

I think out of everything, my favourite find was a rather unexpected one: a bloody Henry starfish. This name actually refers to 2 species, Henricia oculata and H. sanguinolenta, which are difficult to identify, so all that we can say is that the starfish that I found was one of the 2. I was very excited about my find, because this species is my favourite British starfish. It is bright pinkish red, with a maximum diameter of around 20 centimetres. Most other starfish that we could have found are active predators, the bloody Henry, on the other hand, feeds mostly on plankton and organic particles in the water column, occaisonally eating sponges and hydroids. According to this website, the species is only present on the south, west, and north coasts of Britain and Ireland - but we found our specimen in the east!

After a morning rockpooling, we ate our lunch and rested a bit, then carried on to Danes Dike. On the beach there we spent the afternoon doing a beach clean, collecting a large amount of plastic, but also rope, aluminium cans, fishing line, and strips of rubber from the underneath of lobster pots.

Overall, what a great day! We got to see some great marine wildlife, then help our native coastline by participating in a beach clean. Sounds like a day well spent to me.

Until next time, keep on the wild side!