Monthly Archives: May 2020

Planet Earth 2 – Grasslands – Aine Mallon

Planet Earth 2 – Grasslands – Aine Mallon

Episode five-Grasslands – Aine Mallon

Introduction

Throughout this report I will be discussing the range of species that thrive within grasslands and how their survival skills have enabled them to adapt these habitats, as grasslands are prone to fires, flood and frost and still flourish. Within this, I will be relating these adaptation skills from the diversity of species to the human world and how we can look to the animal kingdom for hope and new ways to help us through this difficult time. I will be concluding my report with the issue of climate change in relation to the grasslands and how the impact of human activities which increase the rate of climate change are destroying the grassland areas.

Northern India

Grasslands create a unique world, within them there is a continuous cycle of abundance, destruction, and rebirth. Within Northern India, the Saiga antelope is a common herd found here during springtime mainly for the new grassland, but also for giving birth to their young. The tall grassland is a perfect place to hide their young as they remain hidden from the surrounding predators. The Saiga antelope is well adapted for the continuous changes in the grassland due to the different seasons as they have ‘lanky legs’ built for life on the move. As well, they have noses which can detect the smell of grass from hundreds of kilometres away. Other species have also adapted to grassland life such as the harvest mouse. They can climb to the top of grass for food source as their prehensile tail acts as a fifth limb.

AM Grasslands

We are witnessing how this species have adapted to its surrounding habitat. Due to COVID-19, we are facing some restrictions, however from this species, we should consider how important our surrounding landscape is for our survival during this time too. One must not neglect the outdoor world and remember how to make the most of the natural world for our emotional, physical, and mental health.

How the weather impacts species within the grassland

All the rain that grasslands need for survival will arrive all at once, it was recorded that thirty centimetres of rain landed in the space of a day, which causes the grassland to undergo radical change. Within Southern Africa, when rainwater arrives it transforms the Okavango grassland, where almost 8,000 square kilometres are flooded. This causes problems for the predators (lion pride) as big cats are not very fond of water, and their usual prey such as antelopes and zebras are much quicker in the water than they are. However, to overcome this the lion pride came together to attack a larger species, which the growth of grassland attracts, a buffalo. This is a much bigger prey but when the lions come together, they have strength in numbers.

AM Grasslands

Today, farmers can relate to this issue as weather will affect their work and food source availability. The projected increases in temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns, changes in extreme weather events, and reductions in water availability may all result in reduced agricultural productivity. Farmers face challenges as they supply food to the supermarkets for society. Therefore, they work together continuously and come up with new ideas to mitigate the loss of their crop yields.

It is important to remember that when we are faced with challenges in life, there is no need to panic as there will always be another option to overcome the issue. During this COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen countless efforts from all the key workers, as well as volunteers working together to deliver goods and services to those who need. Just like the animal kingdom, success can be achieved from working together.

Grass cutter ants

These ants can be found anywhere that grass grows on the planet, some grassland blades are so tough that no large grass eaters will eat them. However, the ants ‘harvest’ these blades underground where the blades are placed into a garden of fungus, the rotten grass feeds fungus and the fungus feeds the ants. It is a continuous cycle of life here. In Northern Australia, termites memorialise their industry in sculpture and they are built on the north-south axis to protect them from extreme heat and flood. However, the ant eater can destroy these sculptures with their claws and their 60-centimetre length tongue with hook like features to scoop up ants from under the ground.

AM Grasslands

The impact of human activities and climate change on the grasslands

Bigger animals are not the only reason for the destruction of these sculptures for the ants. Natural fires are generally started by lightning, with a very small percentage started by spontaneous combustion of dry fuel such as sawdust and leaves. Fire destroys their homes and the exposed grassland, however the stems remained unharmed and the grass can grow again and regenerate.

Although grasslands can grow again after fires, frost, and flood, as climate conditions shift geographically so will the distributions of many plants and animals. The relatively flat terrain of grasslands increases vulnerability to climate change impacts because habitats and species must migrate long distances to compensate for temperature shifts.

Land practices are converting grasslands to cropland which increases soil erosion and surface runoff, and therefore attributing to habitat loss for many species depending on it for survival. It is important to protect and restore wetlands, for species as well as being an important part of grassland ecology. We can protect these grasslands by promoting more activities such as rotating agricultural crops to prevent the sapping of nutrients. As well as planting trees as windbreaks to reduce erosion on farm fields.

Planet Earth 2 – Grasslands – Aoibhe McCarron

Planet Earth 2 – Grasslands – Aoibhe McCarron

Planet Earth 2 – Grasslands

Guest Blog by Aoibhe McCarron

This week’s episode focused on grasslands. Grass covers around a quarter of all land on earth and can grow half a metre a day in the right conditions, creating a unique habitat which hosts a vast range of creatures. Rain in the grasslands is sporadic, meaning grasses are extremely hardy; they thrive in floods and can grow very quickly to get out of the water and have more access to sunlight, an adaptation to life in an environment which can be dry or drenched. Many grassland animals follow a nomadic lifestyle, following the scent of the rains to avoid starvation.

The Eurasian steppe is the largest grassland on earth taking up about a third of land on our planet. These grasslands can go for many months without rain, and when rain finally arrives it brings new growth and with it new life. Saiga antelope give birth to their babies on these grasslands; a mother antelope leaves her twin babies hidden in the grass while she grazes, where they are safe within the cover of the grass. These babies must learn to walk quickly as the herd is constantly moving on to find fresh grass. They have long lanky legs which are an adaptation to life on the move, and a uniquely shaped nose specialised to detect new growth from up to 100km away, an adaptation to their diet and nomadic lifestyle. This is not dissimilar to how people have grown and adapted quickly to thrive even in quarantine.

In Europe, the little harvest mouse makes her nest on grass fronds. The tall meadowland grasses are like a mini jungle habitat for her. She is specially adapted to life here and can climb grass fronds with ease, she has a prehensile tail which can grip like a hand and act as an extra limb in emergencies. She climbs to the very tops of the grass to find food in flowers, but there is danger here.  An owl approaches and she escapes by falling to the ground. The mouse seems lost here but she can read the stem pattern above to find her way home, an adaptation to life in the grass which can all look the same. This is reflected in us humans essentially hiding in quarantine, like the mouse amongst the fronds, to keep ourselves safe from the virus and navigating our lives from home using technology.

In the African Savannah, Carmine bee-eaters are aerial hunters excellent at catching insects in flight. Their problem is that they have no means of flushing insects out of the grass. To combat this they ride on backs of larger animals like ostriches and elephants which are bulky enough to kick up insects from the grass as they walk. This way they can catch the insects flushed out by the larger animal. This is a learned adaptation to their habitat, similar to how humans have adapted to our current situation, people who are vulnerable or in need receiving help from family and friends to get essentials like food.

In the dry season, predators that hold year round territories must be specially adapted to find prey as it is scarce, since many nomadic animals will have left to follow the rains. The Serval cat has long legs providing it with a high vantage point to spot prey , and hunts with radar ears so that it can pinpoint prey hiding in the grass. However, her rodent prey is just as well adapted, it knows that she can detect sustained movement and moves in short bursts to escape.

Perhaps like our cousins in nature, we could learn to move and adapt to changes, like those nomadic animals. Or to help each other out and tolerate one another’s needs, like the ostrich and the little carmine bee-eaters, rather than acting selfishly during this crisis.

 

 

 

Planet Earth 2 – Grasslands – Sophie Gregson

Planet Earth 2 – Grasslands – Sophie Gregson

Planet Earth 2 – Grasslands
Guest Blog by Sophie Gregson

One quarter of all the land on earth is covered by a single type of plant: grass. It is almost indestructible and can grow half a metre a day. The grass in northern India is the tallest grass on the planet, home to some of the most impressive creatures on the earth. The cycle of abundance, destruction and rebirth affects every creature on the grassland; once the grass is gone they must move on.

The largest grassland on the Earth is the vast Eurasian Steppe, stretches one third of the way around the planet. Spring rain brings fresh grass and with that an abundance of new life. Baby Saigon antelopes are left hidden in the grass until they are able to walk, the grass is their home and gives them security from predators. As along as they remain quiet they will be safe, however they will soon have to move on in search of the freshest grass if they wish to survive. The antelopes are similar to humans in the sense that they wish to provide security for their young, many see animals as pointless beings but it is clear to see they have a strong paternal instinct when it comes to their young.

SG Grasslands

Credit to BBC America

In Southern Africa water transforms one of the most remarkable grasslands on Earth, the Okavango. Every year eight thousand square kilometres of grassland are flooded, for lions this poses a major problem. There may be plenty of prey but the water makes it difficult for the lions to hunt them down, however with the attraction of floods new possible prey arrives. Buffalo arrive in herds of two thousand, the biggest bulls don’t run, they don’t fear the lions. The lions hunt in a group, one goes out front to distract the bull while the rest attack from behind. Distraction is used by humans for many things usually in day to day life, the fact that the lions are smart enough to adapt this and use it to their advantage demonstrates at their hunting technique is a lot more complex than first suspected.

SG Grasslands

Credit to istock

On the African Savannah, seasonal grasslands are filled with life. Carmine bee eaters are amazing aerial hunters, experts at catching insects in mid air however they have no way of flushing their prey out of the grass. Once insects are alarmed they tend to stay put therefore the bee eaters rely on someone else coming along and stirring things up a bit for them. A kori bustard is the worlds heaviest flying bird, therefore it should easily stir up some insects. As the kori walk through the grass, the bee eater will sit on its back waiting for the insects to try and escape, once they fly up the bee eater quickly snatches them before they can escape. Working together in order to survive is also a key feature in the human world, without teamwork and the dedication of others humans would not survive. We rely so heavily on each other to provide food, heat and security that without each other we would be lost.

The main theme demonstrated in the animal world and human world is that we both work together in order to survive, from lions hunting together to humans collecting fruit together, it’s all the same. Without one another, we would have nothing.

 

Improving Your Garden for Wildlife – Making Bird Feeders

Improving Your Garden for Wildlife – Making Bird Feeders

Improving Your Garden for Wildlife – Making Bird Feeders

Blog by: Lisa Critchley

There are plenty of birds in the garden at this time of year: courting, nesting and raising their young. I have watched starlings from courtship to nesting, and over the last week or so, have seen house sparrows bringing their fledglings into the garden to forage for food. Most people tend only to feed the birds during the winter months when food is in low supply but it is still helpful to feed the birds during this time of year, even when food seems plentiful. The RSPB website has a lot of information on summer bird feeding, including what mixes to use and keeping the feeding area hygienic.

No matter how small your garden is, or even if you do not have a garden, you can still improve your outdoor space for wildlife. Even if you only have a window that looks onto a street, you can still get inventive with bird feeders – you can attach them to guttering or use suction pads to stick them to your windows. If you have a tree outside your house, you can hang a feeder off that (check with your council first), you can even scatter birdseed on your windowsills. You really do not need a garden to make your outdoor space more bird friendly.

If you want to improve your garden or outdoor space for wildlife by making a bird feeder, watch the video to see how or read this article!

Bird Feeder 1

The bird feeder I will teach you how to make is a dry feeder, so it has no fat binding it together like in winter. This is because the fat may melt in the warmer weather, make a mess and go rank. You will probably find most of what you need to make these bird feeders around your house:

  • Clean, dry, plastic bottle with cap – a clear bottle is best so you can keep an eye on the feed levels.
  • Drawing pin to make holes in the bottle
  • Scissors to make the holes larger
  • Sticks/old pencils/doweling rods to make the perches for the birds to stand on
  • String to hang the feeder up
  • Bird feed – garage shops and supermarkets have bird feed at this time of year. Please note, if you or a member of your household is allergic to peanuts, check the ingredients list as a lot of bird feed contain peanuts

Bird Feeder 2

  1. First, make two holes opposite each other near the base of the bottle for the first perch. Use the drawing pin to make the initial hole and scissors to make it bigger; do not make it so big that the perch easily slides out. Be careful using scissors and if you are a child, ask an adult to help you. Turn the bottle 90 degrees and make two more holes above the first for the second perch. Push your perches through the holes.
  2. Turn the bottle upside down and put some drainage holes in the base, do not make these too big or the bird feed will fall out. The holes are to allow water built up from condensation to drain out.
  3. Make two holes near the neck of the bottle; these are for the string to go through so you can hang the bottle up. Take your string and thread it through the holes, it may be easier to take the bottle cap off for this.
  4. Cut a hole above each perch, about four centimetres up. This hole has to be big enough for the birds to get to the feed but small enough that the feed does not all fall out.
  5. Now fill your feeder up and screw the lid back on.
  6. Find a suitable place to for the feeder to be and hang it up. Make sure that the place where you hang your feeder is safe from cats. Hang it high enough off the ground and do not place it too close to a roof or top of a wall where a cat may be able to get to the birds from.
  7. The last thing to remember is bird hygiene. You will need to clean your feeder and ground underneath it every so often to prevent the spread of diseases amongst birds.

It will take the birds in your area a bit of time to find and get used to your new feeder so be patient. Once they find it and trust that it is safe to use, they will come flying in (‘scuse the pun…) to feed, especially as their young will be demanding more and more food as they grow.

Bird Feeder 3

The day after I hung my bird feeder up, starlings visited it. They are beautiful birds with their freckles and iridescent feathers and they certainly make a racket! Did you know that they also imitate other sounds around them? I remember thinking it odd to hear a curlew call whilst sitting in my brother’s garden in Northumberland, but then I saw the starling sitting in the tree! As the starlings use my feeder, they end up dropping seeds on the ground and house sparrows have flocked in with their fledglings to eat the fallen seeds. A shy wood pigeon has also visited. These birds were always in and around the garden, I hear them throughout the day in the tree and hedge, but it is nice to see them clearly when they come to eat the bird feed.

Remember to tag us in your bird feeder making adventures and let us know what birds visit your garden! If you need help identifying the birds, the RSPB website is a very useful resource for this.

Bird Feeder 4

I want to say a huge thank you to our funders, Heritage Lottery Fund, for making this video and all our continued work possible during the lockdown. We at Lough Neagh Landscape Partnership are very fortunate to still be able to reach out to the public to continue to educate, inform and upskill them in natural and built heritage around Lough Neagh.

Improving Your Garden for Wildlife – Making Bird Feeders

Anyone can improve their outdoor space for wildlife, no matter how small it is. Watch this video to find out how to improve your area for birds by making a summer bird feeder.

Posted by Lough Neagh Landscape Partnership on Wednesday, 20 May 2020

 

 

The Scale of Belonging – Dr Liam Campbell

The Scale of Belonging – Dr Liam Campbell

These last few weeks I have not been too far from my home – I’d say a radius of 6 miles at the most and it has been a big lesson in the art of belonging and the local and has got me thinking. There is something about the scale of belonging and getting to know a place a lot better.

The silence of landscape conceals vast presence. Place is not simply location. A place is a profound individuality. Its surface texture of grass and stone is blessed by rain, wind and light. With complete attention landscape celebrates the liturgy of the seasons, giving itself unreservedly to the passion of the goddess. The shape of the landscape is an ancient and silent form of consciousness. Mountains are huge contemplatives. Rivers and streams offer voice: they are the tears of the earth’s joy and despair. The earth is full of soul (O’ Donohue, 1997: 115).

When you read Lough Neagh Places – Their Names and Origins ( 2007 ) by Drs Patrick Mc Kay and Kay Muhr, you realise that there is something deeper about a sense of place and attachment than some  theories can “get at”. Heaney (1984: 131) writes that there are two ways in which we can know a place, “One is lived, illiterate and unconscious, the other learned and conscious.” The danger of relaying on the use of generic terms such as “Nature” and “environment” is that these objectify what we love and obscure the particularity of thousands of places, townlands and parishes across the land, another way of inhabiting a place of belonging. In doing so we can unwittingly undermine any attempt to know and love our “place” as a place and not as a concept.” “ Philosophy is a place-based existence. It comes from the body and the heart and is checked against shared experience” (Snyder, 1990: 69). A sense of place partakes of a culture and a shared body of “local knowledge”, with which people and whole communities render their places meaningful and endow them with social and spiritual importance. It is often evoked in the names of the place in their native language.

Cranfield Ancient Site

Viewing the land as a set of resources has tended to encourage its quantitative evaluation ( and we often have to do this for work – if you don’t put an economic value on something,  then it may not be considered of  any worth and get the notice of the government bodies   and yet is this to put it into a realm  where it simply goes up and down in value ?)  , or perhaps its quantitative assessment automatically frames the land as a set of resources. There is no doubt that pastoralists evaluate the land in quantitative terms as is evidenced in the way townlands were divided and established. There are c.63,000 of these townland units in Ireland (McErlean, 1983). These medieval landscape assessment systems which emerged as an expression of landholding may seem like a quantitative evaluation, and in a sense they are, but they have an underlying environmental logic that is rare in contemporary resource assessment. In this system the more extensive territories occurred on poorer lands i.e. the larger townlands were usually in the poorer uplands. Generally  the folk knew their land and what it could “hold” in an ecologically friendly way. This was measurement not for commercial exploitation, but for future survival, and a deep affinity with the natural world of which humanity is one part. The differences are not perhaps so great. The land may have been measured but the interaction with the land is not directed by wholly material concern and also reflects the spiritual, intellectual and emotional concerns which we will explore later. As O’Connor (2001:4) has said, “[t]o know the townlands of Ireland is to know the country by heart”.

We all need to belong somewhere but the kind of belonging may be different from what it was formally. A re-localization may be taking place in this time of not being able to travel too far from home. Local heritage studies and local heritage tourism have seen a rise in interest in recent years. In many of the parishes around the loughshore  you will find the names of town-lands prominently displayed on carved stones or on signs  by the roadside. We have, I think, probably seen a reaction against the placelessness of the global and a search for the re-connectedness to the local and to home – where we know and are known.

Lough Neagh Eel Visitor Centre

Brain Turner, (2004), tells of how there is an increasing disjuncture between local communities in many places and the landscapes they inhabit. He reflects on a little experiment with three generations of men of similar background in the same parish in rural Ulster. The oldest man, aged 73, could name and place 156 townlands in his locality and his mental map of the place was one where people, townlands and farms are closely meshed together. A middle aged man in his forties could name thirteen townlands and his sixteen year old son could only name the townland in which he lived. The intimate topography of farms, townlands, coastlines and river pools, unimportant to the military or political designs of map makers, is vanishing with the language. Each generation seems to know fewer and fewer place-names and their meanings. There is a contraction of knowledge about local topographies that results in the whole fabric of ordinary, neighbourhood history fading from our mental maps. Field names and river names were often a sensitive indicator of when Irish was a living language in the rural community.

There is something about the notion of a scale of place and belonging that is worth exploring. People may need a human scale of place and belonging to complement the global, a means of inserting their own experience, feelings and opinions into an often alienating world. Many well-intentioned philosophies want us to declare ourselves as global citizens to “think, globally and act locally”. However, Wendell  Berry questions this:

Properly speaking, global thinking is not possible. Global thinking can only do to the globe what a space satellite does to it: reduce it, make a bauble of it. Look at one of those photographs of the earth from outer space, and see if you recognize your neighbourhood. If you want to see where you are you will have to get out of your spaceship, out of your car, off your horse, and walk over the ground (Berry, 1993: 19-20).

These last few weeks have helped me get out of my “ spaceship” and “ walk over the ground “

John Feehan (2010) whom I turn to a lot for advice, contends that the appropriate scale of belonging is actually biologically determined, a dimension of biophilia (the affinity that our species feels with others). “Therefore, we can only be “at home” when we are close to the natural world in, “a place with which we are commensurate” (2010: 69; orig. emph.), of such a size that we can get to know it, relate to, and feel we have taken root. The sense of identity that is commensurate with the human need to belong and lead a purposeful and fulfilling life is for him most easily and naturally achieved on the scale of parish, in the broader economic and ecological sense.

 

Parishes were mapped out at the Synod of Rathbreasail in the year 1111. Here we see the transition from a medieval system of church based on monasteries to one based on a diocesan structure in which rivers and loughs  were to play a major part.  The boundaries of the early Irish Church were defined largely by what we could term river basin districts and all diocese had an “exit” to the sea, even if they were inland (Duffy, 2007). The parishes were originally co-extensive with the tuath, the territory controlled and farmed by a clan or extended family, just as diocese corresponded to larger political units (Duffy, 2007; McErlean, 1983). The parish is made up a number of different townlands of various sizes depending on the “quality” of the land. These would have been farming units most often bounded by some form of water. Over time the parish boundaries changed as the size of the population changed and political and social arrangements were to change. For Feehan the parish is the area for which we are made. There we spend our lives, biologically, psychologically and spiritually.

This is characterised by intimacy; a closeness to the earth cut to our human measure. Feehan is not arguing for the parish in the literal sense of an area that stops at a line on the map “but at the horizon where the sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening – yet a flexible horizon that expands and contracts with time and place” (Feehan, 2010: 166). In an earlier work he appears to suggest that our ability to travel “beyond the horizon” merely expands our understanding of the place it defines (Feehan, 2006). Ó Muirthile (2001: 55) argues that central to his local writing was naisiun na mbailte fearainn [the nation of townlands] and its sister concept duthaigh anama / locus animae [soul territory]. Soul is real in relation to place in this land.

An American academic that I came  across come years ago called Kirkpatrick  Sale in a great book called Human Scale, points out the social and ecological consequences of alienation from a place of human scale and intimacy with that place:

There can be no communal-interest among 200 million people, or 20 million, even 2 million, because there is no way the human heart with all its limitations can perceive the interconnectedness of all those lives and their relevance to its single life; we cheat on our income tax and drive at 65 mph, and ignore beggars on the street because we perceive no community at the scale at which we live. Nor can there be communal interest over distances of 3,000 square miles, or 300 miles, or even 30 miles, because there is no way for the human mind in all its frailty to conceive of the complexity of an ecosystem so large and its single place within it … Only when the shepherd knows his world and the people in it and feels their importance to his own well-being, only when he realises that his self-interest is indeed the communal interest, will he voluntarily limit his flock. Only then will the looming tragedy of the commons be avoided (Sale, 1980: 334).

I think that over these last few weeks, we may have rediscovered this sense of human scale – long may it continue.

 In the introduction to Lough Neagh Places it states “… a wider aim of this book is its contribution to the fostering of local pride and tourism in the area by drawing on visual as well as descriptive attention to the lough and its hinterland. At its broadest, this fascinating new compendium of local information is envisaged as supporting environmental, economic and social projects intended to assist with the sustainable development and management of this world-renowned wetland area…”

This is what we try to do.

Getting to know our place a bit better involves the walking, looking, smelling, hearing and a bit of research on the linguistic and historical heritage of this great place, Lough Neagh.

Planet Earth 2 – Jungles – Sophie Gregson

Planet Earth 2 – Jungles – Sophie Gregson

Planet Earth 2 – Jungles

Guest Blog by: Sophie Gregson

Jungles cover less than six percentage of the earth’s surface, but they are home to half of all the plants and animals on land. They receive just the right amount of light, water and nutrients and have every day for millennia. Life here in these edens should be easy…

Jungles 1

Indri are primates that call the forests of Madagascar its home, to survive here it faces one major challenge: over population. Every species here is competing with one another for food and space which is very limited, this jungle is the most competitive place on earth. If they wish to survive they must adapt in order to compete with their surroundings, this is extremely similar with mankind. Mankind also has a major problem with overcrowding with more and more houses having to be built in order to support the fast growing population, land is becoming less and less available with this in mind many people have decided to adapt to this. The tiny home movement is one that I definitely support, these homes don’t exceed five hundred square feet but contain all the necessary equipment for day to day life. They are also eco friendly and built to live off the grid not to mention they are absolutely beautifully crafted. Demand is simply so high for certain products that small farmers could no longer keep up, they either had to sell their land to bigger companies or completely change their way of farming to mass production. Just like the animals, humans have had to adapt the way they live the way they produce food in order to survive.

Jungles 2

Spider monkeys live together in groups, they spend their whole lives in the tops of the trees. Once the young are born they must learn to climb to the highest points in order to search for food. They must learn to use their tail as a safety net which can be difficult as well as deadly, one bad move and it could be certain death. The family will show the young how to climb, the brother and sisters will teach the younger ones how to use their tail using play while dad keeps a close eye. As the young practices and travels throughout the forest the dad is always close by and watching to ensure they are safe, if they ever do run into trouble dad is always on hand to help. Just like humans the spider monkeys demonstrate a parental bond with their young, a sense of responsibiliy to ensure their safety while they learn and grow. Just like the spider monkeys, human families will teach their young skills through play, using games to teach shapes and numbers isn’t much different from the spider monkeys using chase and tug with their tails to demonstrate how it must be used. These skills are a necessity in life and key to their survival.

Jungles 3

Many problems we face in the human world animals also struggle with. In both the animal kingdom and the human world over crowding is a massive problem, the fight for space and resources is something that we on earth, both animal and human, will always have to face. With more and more being born everyday the world just seems to be getting smaller and smaller, almost like we’ve out grown our planet but we’ve no where to go…

Jungles 4

Planet Earth 2 – Jungles – Aine Mallon

Planet Earth 2 – Jungles – Aine Mallon

Planet Earth 2 – Jungles

Guest Blog by: Aine Mallon

Introduction

Jungles/rainforests are often called the lungs of the planet for their part in absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen which the animals and plants depend upon for survival. Jungles are home to half of the world’s animals and plants on land. In this report I will discuss how different species within this habitat have adapted to survive due to many factors such as competition for food and limited space, along with the negative implications related to human activities and climate change. I also want to highlight how we can refer to the survival skills within the animal kingdom during COVID-19.

Indri-primate

Survival is not easy for this species as they face many challenges in relation to all striving for food and space in the area. The jungle has been described as the most competitive place on earth for survival. However, the indri has adapted to jungle life by making distinctive songs, which can last from 45 seconds to more than 3 minutes. This is done not only for solidifying contacts between groups, the songs may communicate territorial defence and boundaries, reproductive potential of the group members, and warning signals. This reminds other species to not cross their territory because the jungle is a sanctuary for all to live peacefully.

Jungles 1

Another primate which has adapted to their habitat in the jungle is the spider monkey. They are built for climbing because of their distinctive features: the prehensile tail and the hook-like hands, both making the spider monkey ideal for arboreal (tree) life. What we can gather from both these species is their dependence on their family as they thrive in big social groups. During these uncertain times what we can rely on is family and friends to help get us through this. Technology has allowed us to see loved ones when we cannot visit, through skype and FaceTime, to still be there for each other. Family is very important within the human and animal kingdom, during COVID-19 we are relying on loved ones to support one another and it is bringing families together again.

Jungles 2

The Hura-tree

Everything in the jungle competes for space. This evergreen-tree was said to have raced for space to ensure it received light from the sun to grow in to a giant tree, now it has risen above the gloom of the jungle floor. With this tree being so tall (some are measured at 40 metres) it allows it to reach the sunlight meaning that many plants can use it. Its successful growth has given life to other plants including orchids and figs. This is a prime example of the features and characteristic of the jungle working together to sustain all matter of life. It is also a safe place for a diversity of plants to grow because of its common name ‘Monkey-no-climb tree’ which is in reference to the characteristic spiky trunk. Plants can thrive here on the taller parts of the tree to receive enough sun for photosynthesis as well as having no fear of monkeys too.

We have witnessed a range of panic-buyers overloading with one of the same items, however the competition for resources has calmed down now. People are beginning to see the bigger picture and that this is a time to help all those in need by volunteering to deliver necessities to people’s homes.

 

The impact of the weather for different species

Jungles are the richest place on earth, they have even been known to ‘make their own weather.’ Trees are a vital part of this in the jungle, because the trees gather rainwater on their leaves which is then returned to the atmosphere as vapour, in a way, the trees breathe out clouds. Rainforests are subject to such heavy rainfall, for example in Brazil, trees can be submerged from rain. Due to this it provides an opportunity for other species you would not expect to find in the rainforest. The river dolphin has been found here during the heavy rainfall season. They are almost totally blind in this water; however, river dolphins use their conical-shaped teeth and long beaks to capture fast-moving prey in murky water. These species are well-adapted to living in warm, shallow waters.

Jungles 3

It is very unusual to see dolphins here, but we have witnessed many shocking sightings of species in parts of the world during COVID-19. Dolphins and swans were indeed spotted in some of Italy’s waterways after the nationwide lockdown was imposed. In the jungles, where there is very little human interference, we have learnt that dolphins migrate to these waters. Just like in the rainforest, as our world has been put at a stop with no tourism and work, we are witnessing a change in the natural environment and where once was the busiest and polluted canals in Italy, is a sanctuary for different species. COVID-19 may be a way for the nation to see how the natural world will reclaim its space during this silent time, and the environment will heal itself.

The impacts of human activities and climate change  

The jungles are a place of wonder and magic, meant to be a safe place for the species within it however 10,000 square kilometres of Amazon rainforest has been destroyed in the last year. 90% of animals spend their whole lives in trees but deforestation is continuing at alarming rates. The loss of trees and other vegetation will increase the rate of climate change, desertification, soil erosion, fewer crops, flooding, increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and a host of problems for indigenous people. Tropical deforestation accounts for up to 15% of net global carbon emissions each year.

Trees and other plants, like all living things, are made up of carbon. But when forests are cleared or burned, much of that carbon ends up in the atmosphere, like burning fossil fuels. This carbon changes the planet’s climate and contributes to rising temperatures, stronger storms, more severe droughts and rising sea levels.

We need to act now and there are many ways everyone can help protect the jungles to protect its value and species within it by,

  • Teaching others about the importance of the environment and how they can help save rainforests.
  • Restore damaged ecosystems by planting trees on land where forests have been cut down.
  • Encourage people to live in a way that doesn’t hurt the environment.
  • Support companies that operate in ways that minimize damage to the environment
Planet Earth 2 – Jungles – Michael McCoy

Planet Earth 2 – Jungles – Michael McCoy

Planet Earth 2 – Jungles

Guest Blog by: Michael McCoy

Covering less than 6% of the Earths surface, the Jungle is home to more than half of the plants and animals on land. Filled with lush tropical plants, each species competes not just for food, but also for space making the jungles some of the most competitive places on the planet.

 Spider monkeys have adapted to life in the jungle through the adaptation of large limbs with long, gripping tails for holding onto branches. This allows the Spider monkeys to be able to climb and navigate its way through even the tallest of trees. However, only 30% of Spider monkeys reach adulthood as many young can easily fall from great heights and not survive. The young are more encouraged to develop this technique by themselves under minimal supervision of the parents. Only in great peril will the parents step in to save their young. Humans themselves have adapted in similar manner for teaching their young how to survive in the world, although we take more care to ensure accidents don’t happen. In Human society we have schools where students learn the vital skills such as communication. Although we do not have a tail to help with climbing, humans have adapted by inventing climbing equipment (e.g. ladder) to access areas that would normally be out of our reach.

 Draco Lizards could live their entire live on one tree as it would provide the lizard with enough food for a lifetime. However, only one tree would be sustainable for one lizard. Therefore, if two Draco lizards come into contact on the same tree they have two options: they must fight or flee. Many individuals choose to flee if competing against larger rivals. The lizards can extend their ribs and connecting membrane to create wing-like features which helps the lizards glide to safety if fleeing. For Humans, instead of fighting over resources, people have adapted by trading. Trading allowed the exchange of resources without there being any physical confrontation. In today’s age, food is traded in exchange for money, which helps with the growth of more food. As resources are not distributed equally, many people will transport food from one area to another using aeroplanes and trucks.

The blood of the jungle is water, as it flows through the rainforests in rivers and consistent periods of rainfall is key for the survival of many plants and animals alike. The jungle creates its own weather by allowing for rapid evaporation of water from leaves which results in low clouds over the canopy. The clouds then release the water in torrential downpours. Every species has to deal with this, many do so by hiding under leaves for shelter. Humans have adapted from extreme rainfall by building houses in high up areas and having roofs which prevent water seeping through to ensure people are warm and dry. The heavy rainfall can cause flooding with some areas being submerged in 30 feet of rainfall. This has allowed for the adaptation of aquatic species to thrive.

Along the riverside, many species live and thrive as they have access to both water and food. Crocodile–like creatures known as Caiman live in the rivers and attack any species it can find by sneaking up on the prey with its streamline body and capture prey with its powerful bite. Prey includes fish mostly as well as some mammals such as Capybara, the largest rodent species in the world. The Capybara have adapted to swim in the river to be able to eat fish themselves, move between riverbanks as well as being able to cool off in the warm sunny weather. Humans have always seen rivers as important resources as they also utilise the river for fresh supplies of water. Humans have been able to catch fish through creating nets and inventing fishing poles. Water was also extracted for bathing, drinking and getting rid of waste. Civilisations have travelled in search of water and have built their homes near it. Even today, many of the great cities such as London, New York, Budapest and Paris have rivers flowing through them. Rivers have proven essential for the development of Human life.

 The Jungle forces many species to have specialised traits and characteristics, this includes courtships. Male Red Birds-of-paradise preform a dance to impress the females. The dance includes moving up and down on branches of the trees. The female then chooses a partner based on the dance they preferred the best. Wilson Birds-of-paradise stay near the ground, and require a bit more effort to capture the attention of the female. The male must first find a patch of light so they can be easily seen, have a branch that hangs down so he can stand on as well as removing any brightly coloured leaves, especially green ones. This is all so the female is not distracted and will focus solely on him. Humans today are quite similar with people focused on the way they look to attract a partner. Make-up and other cosmetics have been introduced to enhance features along with some even using plastic surgery for cosmetic effect. A large amount of people also do regular exercise to get bodies they feel are adequate and desired by partners and wear expensive clothes to impress potential partners. However, not everyone focuses on just looks like birds do, but also look for partners with a particular personality and attitude.

The jungle is a wondrous place filled with the most remarkable of species which aren’t found anywhere else. However, the jungle does face many threats including deforestation which has seen many of these great species disappear.  As we too had relied on the jungle for survival, is it not our right to help protect these places for many, many years to come?

Planet Earth 2 – Jungles – Aoibhe McCarron 

Planet Earth 2 – Jungles – Aoibhe McCarron 

Planet Earth 2 – Jungles

Guest Blog by: Aoibhe McCarron  

This Episode of Planet Earth II was about jungles and their inhabitants. We start off with a family of spider monkeys living in the top layer of the canopy. Spider monkeys are primates like us but they are adapted to this extreme niche by having long limbs and a prehensile tail that can grip like a hand. 1/3 of Spider monkeys never make it to adulthood due to the extreme heights they live at, but this is the risk they take to keep themselves safe from danger on the jungle floor and competition lower down in the trees. Our current situation reflects this, we must stay at home to keep ourselves safe and avoid catching the corona virus.

Next we meet the Draco lizard, they are the size of a pencil. Once they find the right tree, it can be a home for life supplying a constant conveyor belt of ants for them to feed on. When the little Draco lizard finds the perfect tree, he unfortunately finds this tree is already occupied by another Draco. What he does to escape a fight is an incredible adaptation to his habitat of ancient tall trees, he leaps from the tree and uses his wing like skin flaps to glide to freedom.  The lengths he takes to avoid competition and conflict with others is not unlike our current isolation situation. Like him, we should avoid conflict and taking many resources for ourselves. To share them equally is to increase our chances of survival.

In Ecuador, there are over 100 species of hummingbird, all competing for the same thing; nectar. The swordbill is one of these hummingbird species and is the only bird to have a beak longer than its body. This is a special adaptation which helps him outcompete other hummingbirds; they have their own supply of nectar from long flowers that other hummingbirds can’t reach. However, with this comes sacrifices, the swordbill cant preen his feathers like other hummingbirds and the long beak can be hard to clean and sometimes makes life a little awkward for him. This is the sacrifice they make to ensure their food supply and survival, similar to the sacrifices we are making right now to ensure our survival as a species.

In Brazil, the ecosystem is so jam-packed, that it supports giants.  There are Capybara (the world’s biggest rodents), otters the size of men as well as 10 foot long Caiman. Each section of the river/jungle edge is ruled by a different queen Jaguar, who have an abundant supply of Capybara to prey on. No other ecosystem in the world supports this many big cats. The male Jaguar is much heavier and does not bother with the Capybara, they are too wary and there is too much competition from females. He leaps into the water and preys on Cayman. This is an ecosystem where due to extreme competition, giants must eat giants. This is reflective of the competition we are currently facing as a species. We must think outside the box like the male Jaguar to avoid overcrowding and make sure there are enough resources for everyone.

In Costa Rica, The glass frog is adapted to his jungle environment by being almost completely transparent, so that predators cannot see him. He guards several clusters of eggs. Wasps approach, they specialise in hunting frog’s eggs so he must be on high alert. He defends the youngest clusters of eggs. His back is very similarly patterned to an egg cluster, so this acts as a decoy and confuses the wasps and they try to prey on him. He uses his strong hind legs to kick them off. This is a huge risk the little frog takes to protect his young, as a single one of the wasp’s stings could kill him. Fortunately he is successful in fending off the wasps and protecting the majority of his young. This is not dissimilar to the huge risk front line workers are taking to protect their children, by moving out of their homes or staying away from their children as much as possible. As hard as this can be, it will ensure that more children and families survive to see the end of this pandemic.

The episode finishes off with a family of Indri in Madagascar. These are the largest lemur species, and like us, primates. They are so closely adapted to the jungle that they cannot survive anywhere else and the jungle is their sanctuary. In the past 10 years in Madagascar alone, 10000 square kilometres of jungle have disappeared and along with it, half of all Indri families. Each jungle animal must find its own way of surviving the jungle competition, almost all plant and animals have their origins there, and we must remember that we too once depended on the jungle.  Just like the COVID 19 pandemic is separating families, we have been doing the same thing to our jungle cousins for many years.