Keeping the Meadows Sweet

On the flowers of Meadow Sweet there is a pale Mirid Bug, a species in the Hemiptera, that seems to occur quite often. Facebook has recently developed citizen scientist media streams for various topics. The Insects and Invertebrates Ireland page of Facebook, has as of August 2021 almost 11,000 members.

The altruism of providing language for names of things is an action of communal education on this webpage. Giving Latin names by specialists for photograph captions is both work of recognition and taxonomic identification and new learning rolled into one. The Latin name is the standard index keyword scientists use for all species in nature that we explore for in the landscape.

Plectania laplatensis is a black bugarioid discomycete from Tasmania, that has appeared on the media stream that has puzzled fungus photographers from Hobart and surrounds. I have been aware of black discomycetes, such as Pseudoplectania sphagnophila, as I wrote about in one of my first papers on discomycetes thirty years ago, but this one, laplatensis, was new to my ken from 5 days ago, when the latin name was mentioned in a tag or a comment on a photograph in this amazing mushroom and fungus media stream on the Tas Fungi facebook page. Bulgarioid is a reference to Bulgaria inquinans, a black jelly discomycete on shed oak boughs, that is gregarious and ruptures through the bark, in places with old oak trees such as Charleville Forest in Tullamore and Longueville House near Mallow. The Tas Fungi facebook page has been moderated since 2016 and now has more than 16,000 members.

These two examples of media streams in their own way are creating a new way of doing Natural History in Ireland and Tasmania.

Ireland suffers from unsettled weather in Summer, and that has a knock-on effect on what species are out and about year on year. Through the 2000’s we all learned from Donegal Hedgerow, an epic site active from 2003 that by 2007 had collated photography of 1300 species. Each year has its own specialities and population surges.

Tasmania is in a different situation. Science there has addressed moderate to high proportion of the species that are being uncovered by photographers of nature. Fungi are difficult subjects for natural history as they putrify and rot in a few days, but that said, if dried, labelled and curated for herbarium storage, then scientific progress can be built upon. As in many places, the quantity of taxonomic guide books that have been made is still very low, and knowledge divulgation to the core set of photographers is difficult. There is a clear need for a fungus guide to genera for photographers, so that they can tag photos with genus names for computing on the cloud.

That aside, people are learning about species every day on the computer with these media streams and that must be a public good. People seldom have the energy to do a review a series of signtings of a particular species, but whenthey do, valuable comparative notes are exchanged, which increased the visibility of species in nature by describing their ecolgy more objectively that has ever been done before. Dates of photographs, species associations across taxonomic groups in photographs and so on are valuable to index.

Keeping the meadows sweet will also have to consider Data Centres and their demand of electricity and computer power. Wind farms provide some of this power.

As a society, the computer people of Facebook need to be congratulated for really taking to this task of providing a citizenship of living things, where they live, where they can be seen, when they can be seen, what conditions they make do with, and information on all sorts of other species associations.  

The myths of biology are gradually been pared back with this new 2020 narrative order of nature. Biological explanation is just that, talk of parasitism, mutualism, photosynthesis, evapotranspiration, pollination, and all these ideas. There is now mush more clarity of what species these biological ideas apply to among the general nature educated public, and people are gradually beginning to move from beyond biology to aesthetics and beauty, and ethics and conservation, via concepts of sustainability in this climate crisis and this biodiversity crisis. We all know and can now clearly demonstrate that low powered mechanical intervention is the least damaging option for nature, and that in Ireland we are learning to see nature in all its variety, and in Tasmania, bush walks are valued for providing nature to contemplate, and allowing our vigil of nature to nourish our souls.

Howard Fox

756 words

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