Global Worming

May be too graphic for small children or small adults. Statement that there is nothing we can do about Jumping Worms–not so! Go to the end of this blog post for hope!

The quotes below (and the title) were extracted from a nicely-illustrated Atlantic article entitled Cancel Earthworms by Julia Rosen.

There is, and has been, a subterranean invasion going on beneath our feet here in the American Northeast; and the invaders are worming their way across the rest of the continent with nothing to stop them.

Most folks are not aware that, where the glaciers prevailed long ago, the land was scoured to bedrock, and the native earthworms were wiped out. The ones that replaced them are European imports. Chief among them, night crawlers and Jumping Worms.

The latter were “Originally from Korea and Japan, they are also known as Alabama worms, snake worms, or crazy worms. And they have the potential to remake the once wormless forests of North America.”

While we have been brought to understand that the more worms in our gardens, yards and woodlands, the better, it ain’t necessarily so:

“The earthworms are in the soil because the soil is healthy,” one authority says. “They are not necessarily doing anything for it.

“Their burrows create channels that allow nutrients and pesticides to leak from fields into nearby waterways, and carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide to escape into the atmosphere. In fact, a 2013 review of recent research found that worms likely increase greenhouse-gas emissions.”

Leaf fall that builds up under a forest of hardwood trees deposits a wealth of soil-creating minerals and organic matter.

“But when (jumping) worms show up, they devour the litter within the space of a few years. All the nutrients that have been stored up over time are released in one giant burst, too quickly for most plants to capture. And without cover, the invertebrate population in the soil collapses.

As the surface of the forest goes, so goes the neighborhood.

“With their food and shelter gone, salamanders suffer and nesting birds find themselves dangerously exposed. Plants like trillium, lady’s slipper, and Canada mayflower vanish, too. This may be because the worms disrupt the networks of symbiotic fungus that many native plants depend on, or because worms directly consume the plants’ seeds.”

“Jumping worms take out all the understory plants, leaving nothing for deer to chew on but the young trees. And that could spell trouble for the region’s prized maple syrup industry.  “In 100 years’ time, maybe it’s going to be Aunt Jemima,” he says. “That’s a real bad horror story for people in Vermont.”

The take-home: there is little to be done. Experts recommend you purchse “only mulch and compost that have been treated to kill stowaways, and to avoid city compost made of leaves collected from sites all over town. He urges them to inspect potted plants for jumping worms and to buy bare-root varieties whenever possible.”

HINT: look for coffee-grounds looking worm casts. Find the whitish clitellum near the head vs toward the middle on night crawlers. And observe the much more frantic gyrations (too much coffee?)? See this website for a (non-claymation) short video and other information.

NEWS FLASH: We have just learned that all chickens over three months of age will be drafted into the newly-formed National Poultry Patrol. Hundreds of thousands will soon be airdropped into at-risk national forests and private woodlots in an attempt to control the spread of Jumping Worms. You heard it here first.

Here is a link to the claymation video for those reading Fragments via email subscription where the header image is missing.

Contagion: Contained?

As a biologist, I’ve always been interested in epidemiology of disease, and as a zoologist, particular those that originate in wild or domestic animals. And so there has been quite a bit to keep up with regarding the zoonoses of the past few decades.

And so the Wuhan Coronavirus is something I’m following daily, more to see how the medical staff inside the ambulance are dealing with the patient than to chase the ambulance. This is a study, more than ever, of how national medical systems around the world communicate and cooperate, as well as a revelation of how a generally science-illiterate world populace adjusts their thinking and their behavior in light of the level of risk where they live.

And towards the end of keeping up, no great surprise, I have a “ledger” of facts and opinions worth noting, in my digital clipboards (plural, since I use several methods of grabbing and organizing stuff.)

Recently I’ve become interested in spaced repetition learning and tools that make that so much easier than distant-yesterday’s “flash cards.” And one tool of note is still in fairly early development. I had a video call a month or so ago with the very young and helpful developer of RemNote (take a look) and am hoping to interest the rising students in our family in this (or this kind of) tool.

I only this morning poked the button that tells me I can share the “narrative” version of my notes. I could share the “testing’ version as well, in which case every phrase on either side of : becomes question (on side one) and answer (on side two) of a “rem” card for periodic study.

So click on the Blue Button below for my “pertinent facts” gleaned from a very current very informative NYT article that you can consume in 90 seconds. You’re welcome.

Bioprospecting, Ecological Services and Feeding 10 Billion

So this is one of those rabbit trails I have no idea will come between the first and second cup of coffee in the morning browse.

From the Anthropocene Magazine link called provocatively “Making Nature Pay for Itself” I followed the trail to a plant-based ivory substitute to the Author of the article David Simpson to the Breakthrough Institute where he publishes to the environmental iconoclasts Nordhaus and Shellenberger and their notions that nuclear energy and big ag are the only ways to save the natural world.

And while I am using Roam Research wonderful and recently-available and still-developing tool for cognitive connections to hold onto this trail to follow on another morning, I paste the early stages below because, well–because it’s my space and I’m pretty much the only one using it, and maybe–if unlikely–somebody else will stumble across this and follow the scent. Towards…dunno. But that’s the thrill of exploring ideas, isn’t it?

  • Phytelephas – Wikipedia tagua or vegetable ivory, bioresource utilization #blogthis see also The Problem with Making Nature Pay for Itself | Anthropocene [[**R. David Simpson**]]
    • Given trade restrictions in elephant ivory as well as animal welfare concerns, ivory palm endosperm is often used as a substitute for elephant ivory today, and traded under the names vegetable ivory, palm ivory, marfim-vegetal, corozo, tagua, or jarina. When dried out, it can be carved just like elephant ivory; it is often used for beads, buttons, figurines and jewelry, and can be dyed. More recently, palm ivory has been used in the production of bagpipes.[4]
    • Vegetable ivory stimulates local economies in South America, provides an alternative to cutting down rainforests for farming, and prevents elephants from being killed for the ivory in their tusks.[4]
    • How an obscure seed is helping to save the elephant – BBC News
      • Numbers of elephants in the wild are still falling; it’s estimated 100 of them are killed by poachers every day for their tusks to meet the continuing demand for ivory.
    • The Breakthrough Institute was founded in 2007 by Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger. Breakthrough’s early work built on Nordhaus and Shellenberger’s argument, first articulated in their 2004 essay “The Death of Environmentalism,” that 20th-century environmentalism cannot address complex, global, 21st-century environmental challenges like climate change.
      • “Toward that end, Breakthrough has been a leading advocate for innovation in advanced nuclear designs and business models.
      • In particular, we have made the case for industrial food systems. Large-scale industrial food systems are more land-, water-, and GHG-efficient than small scale low-intensity farming, and are better able to harness technology to increase land productivity, which holds the key to both climate mitigation and preserving biodiversity.
      • ecomodernism, a movement built on decoupling environmental impact from human well being. In 2015, 19 coauthors, including several Breakthrough representatives, published An Ecomodernist Manifesto, which laid out this new environmental vision and sparked a debate about the future of environmentalism that continues today.
      • Bioprospecting environmental services conservation rural-to-urban transition #energy #biodiversity #agriculture

Landscape, Place and Memory

This topic of recent interest holds the potential for a vastly expanded ramble, with a point and even a conclusion perhaps, in another life time. But for now…

Suffice it to say that I have been revisiting the mysteries of memory, and the various historical ways humans have possessed it, or lost it–individually and collectively.

And so, beyond the arcane details of the “Major System” of phonetic numeric memory, the Locus System of memory palaces, the Vaughn Memory Cube, the Peg System and the world of synaptic chemistry of remembering that we are just beginning to understand, I’ve come across other diversions down other rabbit trails.

Briefly, to be further explored…

At some point the Gregg Shorthand characters are apparently derived on the same basis as the major system phonetic-based number system where f and v are homonyms, as are t and d, ch and sh, hard k and hard g. The historic roots of “shorthand” go back to Tiro (who died in 4 BC), Marcus Tullius Cicero’s slave and personal secretary. Many of his scribbles persisted as letters of today’s English alphabet. Greggs came along much later (1880’s).

Gregg’s system puts down the SOUNDS of the speaker, not the English spelling. The Major memory system does the same, and accounts for the method by which memory champions remember telephone books and pi to 300 places.

This matters to me because I so often heard my mother recoiling from her memories of her shorthand teacher in high school. I was so impressed with mom’s ability to jot down phone conversations in that cryptic curlycue writing that I learned a bit myself when I went back to get the PT masters in 1987 and needed to get down as much information as my hands could master.

But what really resonated with me in this revisiting the history of memory is that in pre-literate civilizations, memory was pegged to landscape. Lacking a written language, the memory “locus” system was based on PLACE. And so the rivers and forests, birds and mammals, mountains and deserts were both landmarks and memory marks for the transmission of knowledge from generation to generation.

STONEHENGE: was it erected as a shrine to a civilization’s collective story at the highest level, with each stone being the peg upon which tribal history was hung? There is support for that notion.

Lynne Kelly (science writer) – Wikiwand

This ancient mnemonic technique builds a palace of memory | Aeon Ideas

The Indigenous memory code – All In The Mind – ABC Radio National (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

One Word, Benjamin: Plastics

This advice was innocent enough, in a smarmy and ominously-prescient sort of way when the “the graduate” got this insider tip so many decades ago. It was certainly the way the world of profit and growth were going, even then, on our way to a shrink-wrapped future.

And woe to us, the tsunami of plastic has continued unabated ever since. From where you sit to read this, how many seconds does it take for you to find five objects made partly or entirely of plastic?

And now we have reaped the whirlwind of hormonal and other poorly-considered health issues from the biochemical to the biosphere level, as a consequence of so many Benjamins grabbing for the golden ring of plastics-for-profit.

It has been a wonderful-terrible answer to our problems of packaging and fabricating the temporary conveniences of our lives the last half of the last century. But by the middle of the present century, we must have broken our plastics addiction, for a vast number of reasons.

So now we can’t hope for a carbon-free future if it is not also plastics-free. We are overdue to find a replacement, while dedicating all manufacturing to “redesign plastics without harmful pollutants, reform regulation to account for low doses that may have harm, and recharge health advocates.”

If you have questions about what impact plastics are having on human and marine and any-other-biology or about what alternatives are currently being researched to help us break our plastics habit, you’re in luck.

The first Plastic Health Summit was held this year.