Collecting Lichens

So, after the wind storm, which seems not to have lived up to major storm watch warnings, out I went to collect lichens. In the photo on the masthead above, the light green color on the oaks is their thick covering of lichen – easily seen when the leaves are off in the winter. Lichens get blown out of the trees quite easily, and whole branches and twigs often litter the ground after a good storm (below you can see the green blobs that are those branches):

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It’s always interesting to walk around the path that winds through the woodland and savanna. There are wonderful surprises in the landscape. For instance, now that the humidity hovers around 80% – 99% the mosses and lichens are in full swing. During the winter they green up when most plants are dormant; reproductive structures pop out when conditions are best for spore germination. [My previous lichen post may be instructive for what follows.]

HypogymniaThe round structures on the tips of the lichen above are called apothecia; they contain the spores. But what strikes me is the blue-green octopus that is the lichen body – combined with the apothecia it looks like an extraterrestrial organism.

Here’s an example of the colorful abundance of lichens. This branch I picked up  – and yes, there is a branch under there – is a little over 2 feet long, and 1/2″ thick at its narrow end. There are at least seven or eight species of lichens and two kinds of moss crowded onto the surface, totally obscuring the actual branch. Some lichens grow on others in a multilayered cacophony. Just imagine the surface area created by these lichens and mosses, providing a place for algae, algae-eaters, and other microorganisms and invertebrates to flourish. Birds often find tasty morsels among them, and also use lichens to build nests. There is so much diversity of life on a single oak branch, add to that the vertical structure they provide, and it is easy to see why they are so important.

IMG_4171Here is a look at what I have sorted out so far, separating and removing the different kinds from their twigs and branches:

IMG_4172What are my plans for this pile of stuff?

Lichen dyes for yarn and wool. Here is one of the dyed samples using Lobaria pulmonaria (left). The dye color depends on chemistry and is unrelated to the lichen color.IMG_4173

We love our vultures

The turkey vultures are back in the Willamette Valley. Familiar circling objects in the sky, sometimes first perceived by a passing shadow overhead. As this piece in Conservation Magazine notes, vultures’ decline worldwide could signal another hole in the safety net of ecosystem services that keep humans alive.

This fine portrait of vultures in the Neighborhood Naturalist reveals that the Cherokee call them “peace eagles”, and that the turkey vultures in the Americas are not closely related to those in Africa, Europe, and Asia, but to storks and flamingos! (Click down to page 3 for the vignette on vultures.)

What we talk about when we talk about ‘ecosystem services’

I have to post this excellent synopsis of what ecosystem services are, and how we affect their functioning – including the definition of “externalities”. The article is from the Vancouver Sun, but applies to anyone.

Next time a flood occurs, think of the cost of prevention as an investment, the disaster costs as a penalty for using our natural capital unwisely…. Not unlike that of the recent bank failures.

Here’s a snippet:
People often talk about “nature’s bounty,” especially during this harvest month. But how much is it really worth?

Well, humanity’s failure to figure out and charge a fair price for Earth’s natural assets costs trillions in the long run, according to a new UN report released today. And Canada’s share of that loss is substantial.

It’s much more than just the obvious forest products, fish catches and that sort of thing. In addition to these — the report calls them provisioning services — it identifies:

– Regulating services such as filtration of pollutants by wetlands, climate regulation through carbon storage, water cycling, pollination and protection from disasters.

– Cultural services such as recreation areas and spiritual and esthetic retreats.

– Supporting services such as soil formation, photosynthesis and nutrient cycling.

A number of factors make it difficult to put a value on these things, let along to collect an appropriate payment from those who use up such resources or who monopolize the benefits. But the numbers at stake are huge.

The report estimates, for example, that 3,000 large companies in the world are responsible for “externalities” — that is, net costs foisted onto the public — of $2 trillion.

These companies got this astounding benefit — seven per cent of their combined revenues, or as much as a third of their profits — by not paying for greenhouse-gas emissions, overuse or pollution of water, air emissions, waste and unsustainable use of fish or timber.

How do they get away with it, year after year and in jurisdiction after jurisdiction?  more…

Endangered Species

Well, this is not one of them. However, this Silvery Blue butterfly (Glaucopsyche lygdamus) looks very similar to the endangered Fender’s Blue (Icaricia icarioides fenderi).  But Fender’s blue has a row of faint markings, at the edge of the hindwing, like ghosts of the dark spots.

I was ecstatic the first time I saw a Silvery Blue until I learned about the second row of spots. I still am very enamored of these guys though. You have to wonder why the flamboyant STRIPED antennae? Such wonderful details!

Our oak savanna and woodland project probably would not have been supported were it not for the Fender’s Blue. Support for habitat improvement often comes in the form of money for the management of endangered species. Once a species is on the endangered list, the agencies responsible for watching out for them are required to come up with a plan to bulk up the population – plant or animal – and try to make it possible for them to reproduce and expand on their own (the official term is “recovery”).

Our project is providing more habitat close to existing Fender’s Blue populations, and I have planted the preferred food plant of the larvae – Kincaid’s Lupine. Kincaid’s Lupine is a plant that needs an upland prairie or savanna habitat, and is one of those species that is disappearing with the oak habitat – it is designated as threatened in some areas, endangered in others. My lupines are still small, but here are some of the current crop I am still trying to establish (not as fantastic looking as the butterfly, I know).