Monday, February 23, 2009

more on worms

Here it is, my participant pack has arrived (together with a nice id chart for worms). There are 26 different species of British worm - and there was me thinking there were only two - from an aptly named compost worm to an octagonal-tailed worm. There is even a Black-headed worm.
The survey task is to dig a hole 20x20x10cm and collect all the earthworms for identification, as well as noting foreigners - beetles, flies, bugs, snails, slugs and spiders. Then, followed by some remedial soil characteristics and measurement of pH that's about it - although I still have to work out what the sachets of vinegar and mustard are for.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Soil and earthworm survey - March 2009

Being organised by OPAL - Open Air Laboratories - in conjunction with the Natural History Museum. The national earthworm survey is about to start, with bees being later in the year.

Get involved - even if its only from your back garden.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Shifting baseline syndrome

A conservation theory which says that people’s perception of the environment is determined by what they see now, with their own eyes, and does not take into account what things were like in the past.

A study undertaken by Sarah Papworth, a PhD student at Imperial College London, found that ‘young members of the community are less aware of past changes’. Not rocket science you might say, but if people do not perceive there is any degradation in the world around them they may be less willing to engage in conservation in any form. Questioning village residents about common birds now, and twenty years ago, older villagers were better able to judge how numbers had gone up or down. People who thought there had been no change in bird populations were more likely to think birds common now were also common twenty years ago.

Sarah suggests, reported in Conservation Letters, that there is both ‘generational amnesia’ – where younger people do not know what things were like in the past, coupled with ‘personal amnesia’ where people assume that what they see now is how the world has always been.

Conservationists are now taking into account shifting baseline syndrome when planning activities – it is now more and more common for researchers to use local residents’ recollections alongside traditional methods when compiling data on changes in biodiversity over the years.

Birds' strategic mobbing fends of parasitic invaders

When I first read this headline I was thinking fleas and lice – but we’re talking cuckoos. A study recently published looks at how reed warblers are further adapting to the attentions of cuckoos. Evolution has progressed to the extent that cuckoos now lay eggs similar to those of reed warblers so that they are not rejected. The strategy now employed by reed warblers to prevent their hosting a cuckoo chick is to ‘mob’ the invading female cuckoo thus preventing any eggs from being laid. However, it’s not simply a question of mobbing every cuckoo in sight. The study found that mobbing cuckoos in high-risk areas had the benefit of preventing laying, offset against the actions attracting predators. In low-risk areas there were no such benefits with mobbing appearing to attract further cuckoos (and predators).
The strategic defense employed by reed warblers – mobbing, or not, according to the likelihood of being parasitized – has been likened to a military ‘defense-in-depth-strategy’. Next it’ll no doubt be close body combat and guerrilla tactics throughout the reedbed.
Article appears in Current Biology

Reed warbler feeding a parasitic common cuckoo chick in a nest. (Credit: Photo Per H. Olsen/Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain Image)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Eye Eye

If you have a few minutes to spare and wish to test your birding skills have a quick look at Ingeborg Van Leeuwens' (University of Dundee) birding quiz - all based on eyes! The only help you get is (shows my area of weakness) if you can't work it out it's either a duck or a goose!

It can be found at:

Demog Blog

A new BTO led blog initiated on the back of this being the 100 year of ringing in the UK. This blog is created by Mark Grantham who is now the voice of the BTO Demography Unit (after spending his more recent time being the voice of Birdtrack)

Demography - "The study of the characteristics of populations, such as size, growth, density, distribution, and vital statistics"

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Is it a bird, is it a box?

Fashion versus function - a statement that can be applied to almost anything. Now, however, it has been applied to nestboxes. Retail outlets, including many garden centres, are selling nestboxes that are, to be truthful, ornaments rather than functional bird nesting boxes. The RSPB have warned against purchasing these items as nestboxes as they can be deathtraps - tin roofs can fry nestlings if the box is placed in direct sunlight, ceramic boxes do not give proper insulation and colourful boxes could invite predators simply as they investigate what they are actually seeing. Good timing. With the BTO Nestbox challenge starting next week it would be nice to get everyone using a nestbox 'fit for purpose'.