Tag Archives: biodiversity

Friday Fellow: Tree Tumbo

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Today I’m introducing one of the most bizarre plant species in the world. Found in the Namib desert, in Namibia and Angola, the Welwitschia mirabilis, usually simply called welwitschia or tree tumbo in English, is the solely member of the order Welwitschiales, a group of gymnosperms in the division Gnetophyta.

welwitschia_mirabilis

A specimen of Welwitschia mirabilis in Naukluft, Namibia. Photo by Sara&Joachim*

The tree tumbo has a unique appearance. The seedlings have two cotyledons (the original leaves produced by the seed) and later develop two permanent leaves that grow opposite (at right angles) to the cotyledons. These permanent leaves grow continuosly, reaching up to 4 m in length. While growing, the leaves split and fray into several straps and occupy an area of about 8 m in circunference around the plant. The stem is woody and the flowers appear on a central part called crown. The species is dioecious, meaning that male and female flowers appear in different plants. Pollination is usually carried out by insects.

Living up to 2 thousand years, the tree tumbo is a very peculiar desert plant. Its leaves are broad and very large, different from what is the rule in the desert. Its root system is also very shallow, not penetrating deep in the ground. It seems that most of the water used by the plant is captured by the leaves from the morning fog.

Although having a very restrict range, the tree tumbo is not (yet) and endangered plant, as its population is considerably large. However, due to its popularity, some areas attract collectors, and since its growth is so slow, it may eventually become a vulnerable plant.

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References:

Bornmann, C. H. 1972. Welwitschia mirabilis: paradox of the Namib Desert. Edeavour, 31(113):95–99.

Wikipedia. Welwitschia mirabilis. Available at <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welwitschia&gt;. Access on March 1, 2017.

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Friday Fellow: Paraná pine

by Piter Kehoma Boll

As the first conifer Friday Fellow, I decided to choose one of my beloved ones, the Paraná pine, Araucaria angustifolia, also known as Brazilian pine or candelabra tree.

The Paraná pine can reach up to 50 m in height, although most trees are smaller than that. They have a very particular shape and are easily distinguished from the surrounding forest where they occur, the so-called Mixed Ombrophilous Forest or Araucaria Moist Forest, in southern Brazil. The trees have a cylindrical trunk with a dark and thin bark that detaches in large and flexible pieces, being gray on the outer surface and reddish on the inner one. The crown changes its appearance during the development, being conical in young trees and with a candelabrum-like shape in mature specimens. Mature trees usually stand with their crowns above the forest canopy, which gives the Araucaria moist forest its particular look. The leaves grow in a spiral pattern around the stem and are very hard with a sharp point that can easily pierce through the human skin.

araucaria_angustifolia

A group of Paraná pines in Campos de Jordão, Brazil, close to the northernmost distribution of the species. Photo by Vinícius Ribeiro.*

The species current distribution is almost restricted to Brazil, from northern Rio Grande do Sul to southern São Paulo, with some small populations occurring in neighboring areas of Argentina and Paraguay. Once an abundant species, its population has been drastically reduced due to the heavy logging until the middle of the 20th century and the exploitation for the use of its seeds, called pinhão in Portuguese. As a result, it is currently considered as Critically Endangered by IUCN.

araucaria_angustifolia2

An adult tree in the municipality of Colombo, Paraná, Brazil. Photo by Mauro Guanandi.*

The paraná pine is a dioecious species, i.e., males and females are separate plants. As most conifers, it is pollinated by the wind. The large cones, which take two years to become ripe, contain a number of large and edible seeds used as food by many animals, as well as by humans. Pinhões cooked in salty water is a typical dish in southern Brazil during winter. One of the main seed dispersers of the Paraná pine is the azure jay, Cyanocorax caeruleus, which buries the seeds for future use.

araucaria_angustifolia3

A cone and lose seeds of Araucaria angustifolia in a market. Photo by Marcelo Träsel.**

As most (if not all) conifers, the Paraná pine forms mutualist associations with fungi, such as the glomeromycete Glomus clarum. Thus, in order to preserve this amazing tree, it is also necessary to guarantee the preservation of all its partner species, such as mycorrhizal fungi and seed dispersers.

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ResearchBlogging.orgReferences:

Angeli, A. (2003). Araucaria angustifolia (Araucaria). Departamento de Ciências Florestais – ESALQ/USP. Available at: <http://www.ipef.br/identificacao/araucaria.angustifolia.asp&gt;. Access on January 26, 2017.

IUCN (2016). Araucaria angustifolia The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2013-1.RLTS.T32975A2829141.en

Soares, T. S. (2004). Araucária – o pinheiro brasileiro. Revista Científica Eletrônica de Engenharia Florestal, 2 (3).

SOUZA, A. (2007). Ecological interpretation of multiple population size structures in trees: The case of Araucaria angustifolia in South America Austral Ecology, 32 (5), 524-533 DOI: 10.1111/j.1442-9993.2007.01724.x

Zandavalli, R., Dillenburg, L., & de Souza, P. (2004). Growth responses of Araucaria angustifolia (Araucariaceae) to inoculation with the mycorrhizal fungus Glomus clarum. Applied Soil Ecology, 25 (3), 245-255 DOI: 10.1016/j.apsoil.2003.09.009

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You can help biological research from home

by Piter Kehoma Boll

There are a lot of people around the world that, although not being scientists, are science enthusiasts. I guess many of you reading this article fit in this category. You may be a housemaid, a lawyer, a taxi driver, or simply a young student, but you have a big interest in science.

Well, what if you could help science from home? That’s actually possible in several ways. There are plenty of programs, applications or websites in which you can help to do research on several different areas. Here, I’ll focus on biological research, since biology is the subject of this blog.

So, let’s start! See below how you can help.

1. Take photographs of wildlife and make them available online

A lot of people love to take photographs of wildlife. Some websites, such as flickr, are crowded with amazing images of all kinds of lifeforms. Unfortunately, most people protect their work under copyright laws that prevent the photographs to be used without direct permission from the author or by buying it.

But you can be more generous and distribute your work under a creative commons license. This makes sure that you have to be mentioned as the author of the work while still allowing others to use it. There are several different creative commons licenses. Choose the one that suits you! The important thing is to allow your works to be used on other websites, on books, scientific articles, etc, and thus helping to spread scientific knowledge.

You can upload your photographs on flickr, Wikimedia Commons, or even on your own website, as long as you indicate the right creative commons license. Be generous!

wikimediacommonsplanarians

I’ve uploaded many of my photos of land planarians on Wikimedia Commons.

2. Record the lifeforms you see

More than only sharing your pictures, you can record the location where you found the species. Thus, you will help the scientific community to improve the knowledge on species distribution around the world. A wonderful place to do that is the website iNaturalist.org. Even if you don’t know the identity of the species you found, you may upload your records there and someone will eventually identify the species for you. Likewise, you may help identify records from other users.

inaturalist

I’ve uploaded many records on iNaturalist.org

3. Share your bibliographic research on Wikipedia and EOL

If you are an undergraduate or graduate student, an academic researcher, or simply someone who loves science, and you read a lot of scientific articles, books, encyclopedias, etc, do not lock your knowledge within yourself. Make it available to others! And a wonderful way to do that is by editing Wikipedia.

I guess everyone knows Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit. If you have been reading about the sexual behavior of earthworms, or the use of a plant extract in the tratment of cervical cancer, just check the Wikipedia’s article on the subject and, if the information is not there already, do not hesitate and add it and, of course, cite the source! Wikipedia may be a little confusing to handle at first, but once you understand it and get excited, no one can stop you!

Furthermore, if you information on a subject that does not have an article on Wikipedia yet, simply start a new article!

wikipediarsp

The article Reproductive system of planarians is one of my contributions to Wikipedia.

Another project that you can help is the EOL (Encyclopedia of Life), a website that aims to gather information on all lifeforms and let them available in a single place. After you have registered, you will have some limited freedom to add new content, but eventually you may ask for a higher position that will give you access to a greater number of features.

Do you know other ways to help biological research from home? Let a comment to share it with us!

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Friday Fellow: Silvergreen Moss

ResearchBlogging.orgby Piter Kehoma Boll

Found throughout most of the world, you probably have encountered this fellow many times in your life, but did not pay any attention. After all, it is just a moss!

Scientifically known as Bryum argenteum and popularly named silvergreen moss, this tiny little fellow lives on cracks of stones, walls and sidewalks, thus it is also known as sidewalk moss. It usually forms small lumps composed by many plants growing tightly together. The small leaves of each plant are also tightly packed together, giving it the appearance of a small piece of wool thread. The tip of the plant usually have a silver tinge that may be more or less intense, hence the name silvergreen moss.

bryum_argenteum

This is the general appearance of the silvergreen moss. Lumpy and soft. Photo by flickr user harum.koh*

As with all mosses, the green tapestry that forms the main part of the silvergreen moss are gametophytes, haploid organisms that are either male or female. The males produce a male gamete that swims towards a female plant and fertilizes its gamete. As a result, a new sexless plant grows on the top of the female, the so-called sporophyte. You can see the sporophytes as small stalks with a bag on the end.

bryum_argenteum2

A bunch of sporophytes growing on top of the gametophytes. Photo by Paul van de Velde.*

Extracts of the silvergreen moss has shown antimicrobial activity, being effective against several species of bacteria and fungi, making it a promising candidate for the development of new medicines.

Living from the poles to the equator, the silvergreen moss has a huge ability to adapt to extremes of temperature, humidity and altitude. It also shows a considerably high tolerance to heavy metals, and that is most likely the reason why it is so common along roads.

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References:

EOL – Encyclopedia of Life. Bryum argenteum. Available at < http://eol.org/pages/864280/overview >. Access on September 29, 2016.

Sabovljevic, A., Sokovic, M., Sabovljevic, M., & Grubisic, D. (2006). Antimicrobial activity of Bryum argenteum Fitoterapia, 77 (2), 144-145 DOI: 10.1016/j.fitote.2005.11.002

Shaw, A., & Albright, D. (1990). Potential for the Evolution of Heavy Metal Tolerance in Bryum argenteum, a Moss. II. Generalized Tolerances among Diverse Populations The Bryologist, 93 (2) DOI: 10.2307/3243622

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Friday Fellow: Sun Beetle

ResearchBlogging.orgby Piter Kehoma Boll

Who says beetles cannot be cute? Take a look at those guys:

pachnoda_marginata

They are eating a piece of banana. Photo by Wikimedia user Evanherk.*

These little fellows are beetles of the species Pachnoda marginata, commonly known as sun beetle or taxi cab beetle. Native from Africa, they reach up to 30 mm as adults and 60 mm as larvae and are one of the most common beetles raised as pets.

pachnoda_marginata_peregrina

An adult with the wings exposed, about to fly. Photo by Wikimedia user Drägüs.*

The sun beetle has nine subspecies, each with a particular color pattern. The most well known subspecies is Pachnoda marginata peregrina and is the one shown in the photos above.

Since the sun beetle is easy to keep in the lab, it has been eventually used in scientific studies, especially some related to the neurology of the olphactory receptors.

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References:

Larsson, M. C., Stensmyr, M.. C., Bice, S. B., & Hansson, B. S. (2003). Attractiveness of Fruit and Flower Odorants Detected by Olfactory Receptor Neurons in the Fruit Chafer Pachnoda marginata Journal of Chemical Ecology, 29 (5), 1253-1268 DOI: 10.1023/A:1023893926038

Stensmyr, Marcus C., Larsson, Mattias C., Bice, Shannon, & Hansson, Bill S. (2001). Detection of fruit- and flower-emitted volatiles by olfactory receptor neurons in the polyphagous fruit chafer Pachnoda marginata (Coleoptera: Cetoniinae) Journal of Comparative Physiology A, 187 (7), 509-519

Wikipedia. Pachnoda marginata. Availabe at: < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pachnoda_marginata >. Access on September 8, 2016.

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Friday Fellow: Witch’s Butter

ResearchBlogging.orgby Piter Kehoma Boll

Last week I introduced a cyanobacteria that reminds me of my childhood and that is commonly known as witch’s jelly or witch’s butter. But witch’s butter is also the common name of fungus, so I thought it would be interesting to introduce it today. Its scientific name is Tremella mesenterica.

tremella_mesenterica

Witch’s butter on dead wood. Photo by Jerzy Opiała.*

Also known as yellow brain, yellow trembler or golden jelly fungus, the witch’s butter is found in all continents and appears as a lobed and curly jelly material growing on dead wood and may be mistaken as a saprobic species, a wood decomposer, but that’s not true. The witch’s butter is actually a parasite of saprobic fungi of the genus Peniophora, such as the rosy crust Peniophora incarnata.

The witch’s butter is edible, but usually considered tasteless. Some preliminary results indicate that it may reduce blood glucose levels, therefore having the potential do be developed into a hypoglycemic agent for the treatment of diabetes mellitus.

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References:

Lo, H., Tsai, F., Wasser, S., Yang, J., & Huang, B. (2006). Effects of ingested fruiting bodies, submerged culture biomass, and acidic polysaccharide glucuronoxylomannan of Tremella mesenterica Retz.:Fr. on glycemic responses in normal and diabetic rats Life Sciences, 78 (17), 1957-1966 DOI: 10.1016/j.lfs.2005.08.033

Wikipedia. Tremella mesenterica. Available at <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tremella_mesenterica&gt;. Access on September 22, 2016.

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Friday Fellow: Witch’s Jelly

ResearchBlogging.orgby Piter Kehoma Boll

I wonder how many people can say they have a bacterium that reminds them of their childhood. Well, at least I can say that I have.

When I was a boy and started to know about the amazing world of living beings that fill our planet, I spent most of my time outdoors looking at every small corner of the backyard and nearby woods in search for interesting lifeforms. And one that always caught my attention was a strange brownish green gelatinous mass that appeared on the ground in the rainy season.

nostoc_commune

Have you ever found something like that on the ground? Photo by flickr user gailhampshire.*

At first I thought it was some species of green alga, but was unable to identify the species. Many years later I finally found out what it is, a colony of cyanobacteria called Nostoc commune and commonly known as star jelly, witch’s butter, witch’s jelly and many other names. It is found worldwide, from the tropics to the polar regions.

As in other cyanobacteria, the witch’s jelly is formed by a colony of unicellular organisms connected in chains. Those are embedded in a gelatinous matrix of polysaccharides that gives the colony its jelly appearance.

nostoc_commune

Chains of Nostoc commune in the matrix of polysaccharides seen under the miscroscope. Photo by Kristian Peters.**

During dry periods, the colonies of witch’s jelly dessiccate and become an inconspicuous thin layer on the ground. They may remain in this state for decades, maybe centuries, until the ideal conditions come back.

In some places, especially Southeast Asia, the witch’s jelly is consumed as food, being a traditional food in the Chinese Lunar New Year.

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References:

Lipman, C. (1941). The Successful Revival of Nostoc commune from a Herbarium Specimen Eighty- Seven Years Old Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club, 68 (9) DOI: 10.2307/2481755

Tamaru, Y., Takani, Y., Yoshida, T., & Sakamoto, T. (2005). Crucial Role of Extracellular Polysaccharides in Desiccation and Freezing Tolerance in the Terrestrial Cyanobacterium Nostoc commune Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 71 (11), 7327-7333 DOI: 10.1128/AEM.71.11.7327-7333.2005

Wikipedia. Nostoc commune. Available at: < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nostoc_commune >. Access on September 19, 2016.

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