Planet Earth 2 – Islands
Blog by Aoibhe McCarron
This week in quarantine; my fellow placement students and I have decided to watch Planet Earth II to see how animals adapt to their changing environment and see if there are any lessons we cant take from them. This week we watched episode 1 (in isolation of course), the episode is about islands, and aptly focuses on life in isolated or extreme environments, adapting to changing environments and working together. In the documentary David Attenborough says ‘The challenges on these islands reflect the challenges faced by all life’, islands are a microcosm of our living planet.
One of the islands in the documentary is Madagascar. Madagascar is one of the oldest islands on earth and has over 250,000 species occupying every niche. We see several lemurs in the episode, who all live extremely different lives and in different habitats. All lemurs came from a single ancestor and there are now thousands of species adapted to many different niches, which makes for little competition and harmonious living (most of the time). This evolution to such a wide range of niches is an adaptation to the vastly varied habitats in Madagascar, lemurs and other animals have been able to make their homes even in the most desolate and harshest environments to reduce competition between species. This is not dissimilar to humans adapting to living in all sorts of different environments around the world, from the deep cold of north Norway to the dry heat of the Sahara.
We then move to one of the Galapagos Islands. The island is young with lots of volcanic activity so there isn’t a great variety of species which can survive there. However, there are many reptiles living on the island. The main species are the aquatic Iguana and the Racer snake, however there are other smaller reptile species there too and these live in mutually beneficial relationships (symbiosis) with the iguanas. Small crabs and Lizards eat dead skin and flies that pester iguanas, providing them with food (and a good exfoliation for the iguanas). This behaviour is an adaptation to the volcanic environment which doesn’t provide a wide range of food sources. As humans, we too have to work together to survive. Each person in our society has a different role to play much like the different species on the Galapagos, for example we have food growers, street cleaners and nurses, all playing their part to ensure society runs smoothly.
On Christmas Island, one of the most spectacular sites is the march of the Red Crab. Unfortunately, lots of tourists share that opinion, which has increased traffic on the island causing many of the crabs to be run over. As well as this Yellow Crazy ants which have come off boats have now established a super colony on the island. They use acid to kill the Crabs, these are not a natural predator of the crabs and therefore the crabs do not have any adaptations to defend themselves. This is all down to the action of humans.
In a way, we are like a disease on the natural world in the same way that COVID-19 is on us. I really enjoyed watching planet earth II, and I think it would be great for us to take a leaf out of our neighbours in nature’s book. If the planet can change to adapt to the changes we’ve made, then surely we can change too. At this time especially, we live in competition with each other. We’ve all seen the pictures of people coming out of the supermarket with 50 toilet rolls, which causes some people to have a lack of resources ; if we could all be a little more considerate of others resources like groceries and toiletries could be shared out equally and increase all our chances of getting through this together.