18 de junio de 2021

Waterfall Glen Nature Walk in Lemont, IL-- 6/14/21

Hello, I am back for my second nature walk! This week, I really focused on observing the plants around me. I am back home in Illinois, so I enlisted 2 of my friends to go hiking with me at a beautiful forest preserve nearby called Waterfall Glen. We hiked for about 2 hours, and it was a perfect day! The sun was shining, it was about 78 degrees (so not as hot and humid as Texas), the trails weren't crowded, and there was a light breeze. My first general impression about the trails was that everything was just SO GREEN! It was beautiful! We were completely surrounded by lush vegetation, and the trees were so tall that they provided such beautiful shade. It is crazy to think that the tall trees, mostly angiosperms, that provide such cooling shade only appeared in the fossil record about 145 million years ago, and have been the abundant plants since. I wonder what the planet looked like before angiosperms were so diverse and abundant? It is really not that long ago in geologic time when such large plant groups existed. It would seem so strange to walk around an Earth with only flat, low-lying plants. I guess in terms of plants, we used to have a flat Earth, haha! It's cool to think about how different adaptations, importantly vascular tissue, allowed trees to reach such great heights. I also wonder if without the angiosperms to provide shade, if we would still see the biodiversity that exists in other plants and also animals today. I think the trees and their provided a habitat and suitable climate that allowed many organisms to thrive. Another random shower-type thought I often ponder is the fact that the only reason so many plants are green is due to the shared presence of chlorophyll a and b. If chlorophyll reflect a different wavelength of light, say purple, we would have a purple planet! I bet the selection for chlorophyll has something to do with the spectrum of light the sun emits and which wavelengths are most abundant, and also with which wavelengths chlorophyll absorbs to do photosynthesis. I also believe the ubiquitous green color of plants support the fact that there was just one single transition from freshwater alga to life on land for plants! During my walk, I saw a few flowers of different colors on plants, and they were so pretty. For example, I saw a yellow Creeping Buttercup, clover flowers, and some purple flowers of the genus Securigera. I wonder how different this trail looks in the spring when all of the flowers are blooming at once? I bet it is so colorful and lively with pollinators! I also saw one plant, a Black Raspberry plant, with fruit on it. I find it so cool that fruit is one adaptation that allows for further seed dispersal. This is such a fascinating example of how plants utilize animals to their advantage to help spread their genetic information!
One of my favorite things about observing plants was noticing how much diversity there was in leaves. The first thing I noticed was that sometimes leaves come in groups of 3, sometimes 5, and sometimes 6, for example. For someone who really knows their plants, this is probably helpful in plant identification. I also noticed that some leaves were rounder, some were very skinny, some large, and some very small. I wonder what selection pressures caused so many different leaf shapes and sizes? Something I did notice about every leaf is how waxy it was. I learned that this is the cuticle, and it was one of the main adaptations that allowed plants to transition to land. It prevents the plants from drying out. In class, we listened to a very interesting episode of the Ologies podcast called "Bryology" with Dr. Robin Kimmerer. To be honest, before listening to this podcast, I didn't really know what a moss was. I thought it was just some type of unwanted plant that forms on the ground. This actually happened to be one of the most interesting episodes of Ologies though! I really like thinking about mosses now as miniature forests that are teeming with invertebrate inhabitants and a mini ecosystem existing within them. I was also fascinated to learn that mosses have antimicrobial properties, and that some animals (such as Caribou, or birds in their nests), use these antimicrobial properties to their advantage! I love how closely all organisms on Earth work together to thrive and flourish (that is when they are not being pathogens or parasites). I was also so intrigued that some indigenous populations use moss as a diaper because of its absorbent properties. Because of all this, I was determined to find a moss. I could not find one, and then my friend randomly goes, "Hey Courtney want a picture of some moss," and I was like "of course!" She was a little surprised by my excitement, but I was once like her and thought mosses were completely useless.
My favorite park of Waterfall Glen is of course... the waterfall (although it's actually a dam). When we got to the waterfall, I saw a lot of green algae, which I learned is in the kingdom Plantae, but is actually a protist, but is closely related to land plants, and so plant has a very different colloquial and scientific meaning, ugh. Nonetheless, the algae were cool to see covering the rocks, even though they made the rocks very slippery! We need to be thankful for these slippery things though because they are such important primary producers in aquatic ecosystems! Last summer when I went to waterfall glen with my sister, we saw a huge watersnake, so I was so determined to find one again! My friends didn't believe me that they existed at Waterfall Glen, so when a super long one darted out from under a rock while we were crossing the stream, they were in for a big surprise! We also so a lot of crayfish in the river, some spiders on the rocks, and lots of beautiful damselflies near the stream (which, like dragonflies, I think are so, so pretty). One of the weirdest non-plant things I saw on this hike was a bunch of white "spit" on a tree. I was so confused what the white foam was. I did some research and learned that this is created by spittlebugs! I guess their name is very fitting for the frothy mess they create when they eat plants!
This was overall a very successful, fun, informative walk. I saw so many different kinds of plants, and now that I have learned about the complexities that exist with plants beyond what meets the eye (such as alternation of generations, different modes of reproduction, their metabolism, and more), I am so much more appreciative of the beautiful landscape they create!

Ingresado el 18 de junio de 2021 por courtney_redey courtney_redey | 50 observaciones | 1 comentario | Deja un comentario

10 de junio de 2021

White Rock Lake nature walk in Dallas, Texas: 6/9/2021

Hello everyone! My family is currently on a trip in Texas, and I have really enjoyed observing the biodiversity here and how it differs from the biodiversity I see at home in Illinois. Another stark difference is the weather! It was a lot more hot and humid on this walk, which led to a lot of mosquito bites (we forgot bug spray :( ) . There was a cool breeze coming off of the water though, and the trees provided some nice shade from the burning sun. My mom and I found a beautiful reservoir called White Rock Lake that was only about 10 minutes from our hotel, and we walked for about 45 minutes around the lake. At home, we really enjoy going for walks together, but never have we took the time to really observe species around us, especially those that are not plants or animals. I can't believe how many times I have walked past lichen and other types of fungi without really knowing what they are and why fungi are so important. Every time I saw a tree with some fungi on it during this walk, I made sure to get really close to it to see what else I could find lingering on the bark. I was also really fascinated by how many snails I could find on the trees. They were so, so small and so easy to miss. I noticed a correlation between the amount of fungi on a tree and the number of snails and/or insects on it-- it seems like the more fungi, the more snails. I learned afterwards that many snails and even some types of insects eat fungi, so this correlation would make sense! In contrast, some areas of the woods seemed so bare. I wonder what makes the beta biodiversity of such a small wooded region so different? Maybe it has to do something with the amount of water plants can get, the light available, or other nutrients in the soil? One of my favorite things about observing fungi in particular on this walk was how diverse they are, both ecologically and morphologically. Some of them looked more mat like (maybe a slime mold and not even a fungus?) and were found on the ground, while others were flatter and stuck off the sides of trees. They also came in many different colors. I really liked the bright yellow Candleflame lichen and how it seemed to "paint" itself a plain brown tree, and the lichen that formed beautiful rosettes on bark. I also liked the puffball mushroom, Lycoperdon, that I found. At first I just thought it was a white rock, then noticed how it seemed to be spiky. Later that night I was watching the lecture about fungi and got pretty excited when I realized that I saw a puffball! I think that it is so cool that they "explode" to spread their spores. Prokaryotic, fungal, and plant reproduction is so interesting to me. I now realize that I had such an anthropocentric way of viewing many things, reproduction being one of them, before starting this class and really taking the time to observe nature. I noticed how distinct the fruiting bodies of the Ascomycota and Basidiomycota are, and how these structures give rise to beautiful diversity. It was also interesting to think about these fungi as being beneficial for the trees they grow on/near. I always thought of fungi as bad and parasitic, but had fun explaining to my mom the symbiosis that are occurring and that without the fungi, none of these large trees and beautiful plants could be here! Another cool finding was leaves that were cut out in seemingly characteristic patterns. After watching the video about leaf cutter ants, it seems like that is what is doing the cutting. In fact, leaf cutter ants are very common in Texas! I love thinking about how this fascinating insect forms a mutualistic relationship with a fungus. I wish I got to see the fungal garden it was growing. I also thought it was kind of funny that I captured a picture of poison ivy without even knowing it. Luckily I didn't touch the plant. That could've been bad! I like learning about how plants and microbes can cause problems for humans, and how we learning about these problems can help the future of medicine. As my mom and I were driving back to the hotel, I told her that I am glad my professor assigned us to go on a nature walk while in Texas. I never would have thought to find a reservoir near Dallas to explore. I also told her that I am now starting to see how ecology and evolution relates to medicine perhaps more than any other science. Exploring microbes in nature is where we find new medicines, learn new gene editing technology, and learn how tightly intertwined microbes are to human well being and disease. Lastly, I loved seeing various beautiful webs on my walk. I saw classic detailed spider webs, and huge balls of webs that I later learned are formed by caterpillars or web worms. These structures are so fascinating because I don't think humans would be able to replicate their strength and intricacy if we tried. They also stand as a beautiful symbol of the web of life that connects all species together :)

On this walk I really started to appreciate aspects of nature that I never appreciated in the past. While my mom and I did get some strange looks for veering so far off the path and climbing through plants, it was totally worthwhile. There is so much more biodiversity that meets the eye. I can't even begin to fathom how rich White Rock is with bacteria, archaea, protists, and other microorganisms that I still couldn't see. It makes me realize how much of a blip eukaryotes are in the tree of life.

Ingresado el 10 de junio de 2021 por courtney_redey courtney_redey | 31 observaciones | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

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