Friday, August 30, 2013

How do People figure out whom to Trust in a Scientific Controversy?

http://map.sdsu.edu
This was an interesting question when I first saw it, especially with all the controversy about Fire Ecology or Climate Change and the average person's understanding of just what is good for Nature when it comes to wildfire. Although you can certainly associate the question with any nonsensical controversial subject coming out in the News Feeds lately. But this whole fire ecology debate is troubling because of the responses posted from the average citizen about the present wildfire on most Social Media venues. Where do they get their info ? Who do they get their info from ? Do they actually do their own homework even 'IF' their favourite respected authority is viewed as an Expert in the field ? Take a sample look at many of the comments I'm following on Yahoo of people's understanding of 
Fire Ecology:
"Needs to be burnt out and new foliage planted to replace it. All forests are a necessary oxygen producing part of our Eco- system."
"That is what mother nature has done for the last several million years. Mother nature doesn't care where you build she is gonna do what she gonna do. It's NOT global warming, the planet has gone through warming and cooling cycle's for millions of years" 
"Lost in this discussion is the fact that fire is natural for the forests, and all of the preventive measures taken in the past by the Sierra Club and the USFS caused this problem. By not destroying the undergrowth with controlled burns, they provided all the fuel this fire needed. Let it burn; the area will recover stronger than before, and no firefighters will be killed."
"Like it or not fire is part of Natures plan in cleaning up the forest. In fact, some species only germinate after a wild fire."
"Its funny. Forest are created by NATURE. (Not Humans.) NATURE creates fires to reset itself. (Not Humans.) Yet, Humans still dictate if NATURE recreates forests or not."
"It's mother nature taking it's course let it be, It will weed out a lot of idiot's quick!"
"Forests and forest fires have been here LONG before humans ever showed up. It is all a natural process that we have no business interfering with. Like anything else in nature, if you want to live in or near a forest, you take the risk. Forest fires are a necessary function of nature. Let em do what they are meant to do"
and on Global Warming or Climate Change
(Take special note: I'm not into the Evo vrs Creo debates, but I actually have found oddballs from both Kamps denying there is any change to Earth's historic climate as this 1st comment by this person who sat on a left aisle worldview seat)
“Explain tropical fossils under the melting ice then since this climate of today has never happened before. Do you deny evolution as well as ancient climates? You say this climate trend has never happened before. I dare you to say that out loud.” 
(Also take note from the opposite worldview Kamp. As a general rule these are rightwing Fundies who believe the Universe is only 6,000 years old. But if look at published posts around the Internet by many of those types of Global Warming deniers, they ironically use the prevailing Science on dating to back their opposition to Climate Change like the example below)
"Global Warming, Global Cooling and Global Climate Change have been happening for millions of years - long before any possible human influence – Climate Change is natural and nothing new." 


Wow! So where do all these people get their science away ? Did they even bother to investigate the subject matter for themselves to verify if the so-called scientific claims were even true ? Most people in commenting have never ever done their own homework when parroting what they view as Experts in a field. They often will acquire an instructor for themselves who tickles their ears as to how they choose view the world. Even Corporate entities will pay for the best biased Company Scientists money will buy. This is not only true of Science, but also of politics and religion, but let's focus here only on Science. A few days ago, an acquaintance of mine who is a Plant Ecologist from Spain who now lives in Portugal, pointed out an interesting article about University or College Students and how they determine what or whom they will put their Trust in about a Scientific controversy. First off, the article had this to say about the purpose of Scientific literacy students receive in School which will prepare them for the outside world when they leave school to deal with important issues:
"Even when people disagree about what it means, there is almost always this common thread: scientific literacy somehow involves preparing students and adults for the science they will encounter outside of school, very often in media reports." 
Sure enough, that's how it's supposed to work. But notice an example the article's author gave of Stein Dankert Kolsto’s (2001) ‘To trust or not to trust,…’- pupils’ ways of judging information encountered in a socio-scientific issue, who worked with a group of 22 Norwegian Grade 10 students to find out how they actually went about arriving at the truth and conclusion of a controversial matter. After getting students involved, take note at some disturbing findings.
"Unfortunately, this status also led to biggest challenge that the students faced: what does it mean when researchers (who are trusted sources) disagree? How do you decide which claims to trust then? About half of the students said explicitly that when researchers disagree, it is very difficult to know whom to trust."
"So what did the students do? Kolsto found that when they tried to sort of disagreements among scientists, the students’ views were clouded by the way that science appears in schools. In school science, there is almost always a right answer. Even when a teacher lets students debate a solution or an explanation, at some point there is almost always a true answer that the teacher eventually shares or endorses."
"The effects of “right answer” science teaching were clear in the way the students responded to disagreements among researchers. Their only resources for making sense of those disagreements were their school science experiences and their experiences with disagreements in everyday life. As a result, the students tended to see the disagreements as illustrating either incompetence or bias."
But the students wanted the teacher and Kolsto to tell them who was right. They wanted to know what the truth really was, and they became suspicious of the various scientists for not knowing how to study the issue properly or for going in with biased preconceptions. One student said, “It is probably because they have made their own opinions. They might have different backgrounds and have come across different information. Maybe they have made up their mind in advance, and then found that their opinion is right and taken that as a starting point” 
"What made it especially difficult is that the students felt they had no way of knowing which researchers were highly biased and which were not. They wanted the researchers to be mostly neutral and objective, but they had few tools for figuring out which ones were. They did look for information about the background of the researchers (such as their area of specialty), which is a very good beginning strategy." 
In the end, the students did make some positive progress, but the author concluded with this:
"Kolsto argues, and here I agree too, that there still needs to be more emphasis on the social processes of science in school, not just that scientists work together but exactly what that means. Before leaving compulsory science education, students need a much better understanding of how scientific consensus happens, how ideas go from contested and tentative to sometimes firm and widely supported and how arguments and disagreement can be an important part of getting to that place."
How do students figure out whom to trust in a scientific controversy?
Please read the entire article from the above link if you've a mind to. For the average poor Joe/Jane Q-Public on the street, the situation is even more dire on the informational educational front. They've gone to school and learning has ended there. Gathering and processing information is even more of a lazy process than mere inexperienced college youth attempting to learn how to learn. The human tendency at laziness when it comes to accepting a truth of a matter is more of an emotional, rather than intellectual one. The problem though with the main subject of the O.P. here is that the Natural World is taking a huge hit as a result of this purposeful or willful ignorance as opposed to mature responsible individuals actually developing a correct information gathering competence. The comments which are referenced above are a mere tiny fraction of what is out there on the Internet and elsewhere in Social Media debate circles. If there’s any advice I would give to everyone reading this post, it is this: take nobody’s word about Climate Science and Fire Ecology. (or for that matter anything else) That’s the motto of the 'Royal Society' , and it has guided scientists well for almost 400 years. Check out the facts for yourself, and draw your own conclusions from actual evidence, as I have mine when it comes to the Natural World. I would think the conventionally religious among you all would have known better as there is no excuse for not getting any of this. 
Proverbs 14:14
"Only a simpleton believes everything he’s told! A prudent man understands the need for proof."

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Extinction Phenomena: Should We be looking under Boards and Rocks too ?

credit: Spectrum Analytic
The conspiracy sites abound with all manner of rumors of the evil government programs of geo-engineering and other weather modification projects. The detrimental effects of the junk they are spraying from retrofitting former Bombers for weather modification for rain making and it's accumulation within forest soils. Aluminum being one of the most controversial components of the cloud formation particulates used for droplet formation. I don't necessarily like the conspiracy sites as they seem to sensationalize such potential ecological ruin with a obsessive passion normally found on the conventional News Stations where all manner of daily human suffering is reported with such an enthusiasm as to repulse an otherwise interested concerned viewer. But unfortunately humans seem to have that tendency to be attracted to such stories as a form of bizarre entertainment and I think that is where the conspiracy sites gain their momentum. However, the stories of cloud seeding and geo-engineering become more and more believable as more believable sources like the U.S. Military even now admitting on their own websites that this is what they are involved in and have been working on for years.[decades] So the rumors become more and more believable with each passing month as more reports and desperation of the times demand government's somehow fix the global ruin of weather mechanisms.
See the sites:  (USAF Air University: Center for Strategy and Technology) and (United States Naval Research Laboratory)


Normal Root Tip & Damaged One
There are relevant links at the very bottom of this post to weather modification as a weapon, but let's go back now to the possible effects of toxins found in rain and their effects on plant growth. It's basically not whether such toxins are the results of geo-engineering cloud seeding or pollution from all other human inventions like Factories, Energy Generation Plants, Automobiles etc. But the facts remain that such a chemical contamination within rain does exist no matter what the source and hence the decades long research into development of aluminum resistant plants has been going on. Especially so since the 1970s when all the News we heard was about "Acid Rains" , remember ??? Take the upper photo at the very top of this post. It is well known that aluminum toxicity can inhibit plant growth. The difference in the foliage from both of these Wheat plants are apparent from our above ground viewing vantage point. But what about underground, what happens there ? That's where the next magnification image above left helps us see things more clearly. Numerous studies have shown that as a defense against aluminum toxicity, plants will restrict their intake of water and nutrients. Of course this weaken the plant as can be observed above ground. But below ground, mycorrhizal colonization can also be restricted. The above image may also offer clues. The damaged root tip no longer has a normal functional root cap. When I was first interested in mycorrhizae back in the late 1980s and learning from Dr Donald Marx of PHC in his workshops, he said that germination of PT Mycorrhizae is triggered by the root tip cap actually coming into direct contact with the fungal spore. The spore will do nothing when or if it just touches any part of a woody root structure, but it's that root cap that is vital. Again, from that illustration above, the root tip on the right is mutated to the point of not have the same function and colonization may be impossible, hence further reduction in plants ability to obtain the healthy amounts of water and less nutrient uptake for the tree or shrub to survive. 
(I'll post relevant links at the bottom)

Could Acid-Rain be Killing Us ?
Okay, okay, so I got side tracked a bit. So what does all of that have to do with the Killer Rains otherwise known as Acid Rain ? I'll use this term killer rains as the modern day chemical makeup of rainwater appears to be deadly now days in certain areas over a long period of time. When I visited my former property this past Spring, I believe that more was going on than simply a lack of good rainfall. For some years now I have noticed changes in the wild with regards plant growth and foliage health. I have seen it here in Sweden and on my last two visits there in California, but especially this past Spring 2013. Here in Sweden, it was last year's [2012] growth on all broad leaf trees and shrubs that was attacked and eaten by all manner of insect pests and diseases and any and all fruit production [berries, apples, cherries, etc] was almost ZERO in both the wild and urban gardens and landscapes. This Spring almost everything Evergreen [Cypress, Juniper, Yew, Fir, some pines, etc] are either complete dead or halfway there. [ See Here ] This problem also is both in the Wild and Urban Landscapes. Urban landscapes I've always understood why bad things happen as a result of ignorance and mismanagement, but never so thoroughly deep in the wilds. Scandinavia in general is also known for ill effects from Acid Rains which originate from industrial central Europe like Germany and Poland. This is what I noticed with regards Manzanita and Sugar Bush (Rhus ovata) this past Spring in San Diego & Riverside Counties. Both are struggling in many places. The recovery of chaparral after Fire has also been radically slowed when you compare passed performance of where it traditionally always sprang back with a regrowth vengeance. Not this time. Take a look below of my old place and two year photo comparisons and ask yourself, "What is causing all of this ?".
Photo: Mine
This photograph was taken by me in April 2013. The reason I took this shot was because of the major foliage decline of the two Big Berry Manzanita shrubs and the fact that when I last viewed both of these shrubs in July of 2011, they were the perfect picture of  vibrant health and beauty for which they are known. I actually have two pictures, not the same angle, but illustration of what has happened since 2011. See if you can see what I mean below.
Photo: Mine
The Manzanita on the very right side of the photo is the same as the photo above on the right side. This shrub or small tree was very healthy, although I had concerns over the present owner's major chaparral removal which often times for unknown reasons, will kill Manzanita on people who clear land and leave only what they consider shrubs worth saving, like Manzanitas.
Photo: Mine
This Manzanita was the prize of the entire property when We first purchased it in 2005. This pathetic looking skeleton is only a fraction of it's former glory. If I have old pictures of it, they are the old Kodak type and buried away in boxes somewhere. But now look over on the right side above at the gal in the pink shirt. That is the Manzanita on the left side of that top photo. Both shrubs which were healthy in 2011 are now in danger of failing completely. Whatever negatives have been going on inside the soil has been going on for some time now. The large tree in the middle was once 10 times the spread of what you see here. It made me sick when it started dying back in the early 1990s. This tree had large branches that grew up into the sky, then angled down to the ground, proceeded to re-sprout roots where it touched the ground and grow out and upwards again, mostly to the west and southern exposure of the main tree trunk. There are some other puzzling indicators that lead  me to believe something other than mere drought conditions are causing these issues of plant growth and health decline. 
I've started wondering and reflecting lately if something underground that we don't see is perhaps also in decline. When plants decline we look for pests and disease we can detect on the plant itself. If nothing is present to the naked eye, then is it merely dying from old age ? It's so easy (& natural) to take note of all the LARGE living Flora & Fauna  we are familiar with when disappears from the landscapes they once occupied and worry or wonder, "Hey what's going on ?"  Humans by nature are very materialistic minded with little attention any more given to the spiritual side of things. (spiritual - things invisible to the material eye) That's where the expression, "out of sight makes out of mind", takes on more meaning than you may realize when it comes to environmental issues. Has anyone ever considered with all the excitement in the Eco-Activist world, that there just may be a major rapid decline of soil organisms or even the possible extinction of some species ? Even the smaller hidden insect critters which till and work the soil, generally go unnoticed as many are either permanently underground or only come out at night to perform their biological ecosystem maintenance tasks. The foundation for the material life on earth's surface (aside from water) is it's countless trillions upon trillions of microbiological organisms and other millions of species of nanocritters. I've always often thought that they truly never get the real respect they deserve. 
For example, back in 2006 before I left El Cajon CA to move to Sweden, in my mum's landscape under the mulch were literally thousands upon thousands of Sowbugs and Pillbugs (Rolly Pollies). When I was a kid, you could pull up a rock or log and find all manner of sowbugs, pillbugs, earwigs etc. This past Spring of April 2013 when I went back to visit, I noticed while I was cleaning up the landscape and trimming shrubs and trees within the woodland garden, I had a tough time finding many and I deliberately looked for them too. Why ? You see, when I first established that woodland theme back in 2002 and applied generous portions of mulch over the top of the soil for moisture retention and it's aesthetic value, I found that the ecosystem there inside the soil broke down the mulch rather rapidly. The system literally thrived.  I really wasn't expecting that. So for a few years before coming here, I was in the habit of bring over several truckloads a year of mulch I received for free and applying it onto the surface of the landscape. Three four times a year this would be applied and almost immediately the new material was broken down. Earthworms, sowbugs, pillbugs, earwigs, mycorrhizae, bacteria and the list is endless of other beneficial soil nano-machines which recycled the decaying vegetative debris by consuming and pooping it into the surrounding soil which in turn benefited the plants greatly. But most people don't have this view of critters in their gardens and landscapes, why ?

Perform a short Google on Pillbugs and/or Sowbugs. What's the number one viewpoint they are associated with in the description of them ? Perhaps it's something similar to  what the University of Kentucky says about them on their website: "Sowbugs and Pillbugs are similar-looking pests . . " and it continues. Now this is coming from a Science Research website of Higher Education. While it does mention their major contribution to the consumption of dead decaying organic matter, it nevertheless calls them pests and/or nuisances. So do most of the other links on the next couple of pages, generally companies seeking to sell their wares of magical toxic Chemical Elixirs to eradicate the pests. So any education from the start is basically squashed like so many insects. When I was a kid we had them, but they were always kept in check by the chickens who scratched the mulch in search of such goodies. These domestic foul actually simulated what takes place in nature with many ground foraging birds who accomplish the same task by rummaging through the dander underneath most trees and shrubs. Even still, I have seen less and less of these much maligned critters. But does anyone else notice this ? Is it important ? As time goes on, real Science of discovery and wonder realizes (too late) the importance of many things humans have killed and eradicated for whatever reasons. So it's an educational problem. 


Other things that have perplexed and concerned me are the lack of many beneficial microbiological organisms which should normally be found in very healthy populations out in the wild, but there's a feeling they are disappearing. One of my reasons for feeling this way is the very positive response of some surrounding chaparral shrubs for which I utilize as Mother Trees or Nurse Plants for newly planted forest trees. I've been informed and criticized for inoculating to soil around transplants when out planting in the wild. The reasons given are, "well the microscopic spores are everywhere in the wild, therefore you don't have to inoculate" . Really ? Than why do neighbouring Scrub Oak come to life when their roots connect with a Jeffrey Pine sapling I've just planted and inoculated with a mycorrhizal blend which contains Pisolithus tinctorius. Now the question is, "Wasn't this fungi already present along with countless others ?"  What happened to "the spores are everywhere in the air" ? I know, it's not much to look at, but boy it sure creates a rich flush of growth within the host plant community for which it is present. To most folks the truffle from PT Mycorrhizae looks no more than like some Dog's turd. It's true and it's one the the identifying characteristics I look for when hunting them. Which brings me to another important observation this past Spring 2013. I went to all the traditional collecting locations I had frequented in the wild for decades and there was nothing. No truffles. Even the place where I worked which was an urban setting, there were these Canary Island Pines which produced truffles at their root drip line base and that of Australian Bottlebrush for the almost 5 years I was there every single year and there was nothing. So what's happening ? This leads me to the point I made at the beginning here at the top of the page. Could it be the chemistry makeup of the junk that may be infecting our planet's rainfall content ?


Recently, [actually for decades) there has been talk of the detrimental effects on vegetation with regards Acid Rain. Mostly this was really hit hard on back in the late 1970s and 1980s, then it sort of died out. Now it's back in the news and with good reasons. Monday August 26, Eurekalert published the article,  "Eastern US water supplies threatened by a legacy of acid rain"  , from a research study by the  Cary Institute  , which researched  the effects of Acid Rains on forest soils and fresh water availability. Another paper on the effects of Acid Rain on mycorrhizal root colonization and root hair development was by Penn State's - College of Agricultural Sciences. The title is  Acid Rain: Implications for Forest Productivity . Like the Cary Institute's paper, it referenced the acid's ability at dissolving locked up chemical compound like limestone which makes the water more alkaline, but also dissolves aluminum which would normally be locked within mineral, but set free to create a type of toxicity for fungal growth and tree root colonization. Plants themselves with actually shut down nutrient and water uptake as a defensive measure, but that weakens them as you know. Here is a vital paragraph from that paper:
"When acid precipitation moves through the soil, chemical processes take place which  allow aluminum to break away from tightly held sites on particles of soil clay. The  aluminum is then dissolved in the soil water. If the soil water has a pH less than about  5.4, the aluminum in solution is generally toxic. As German scientists describe it,  aluminum under these conditions destroys or at least inhibits the function of the fungal  mycorrhizae and small root hairs of the trees."
"Aluminum toxicity is believed to be a primary factor in limiting plant root development,  i.e., depth and branching, in many acidic subsoils of the southeastern United States.  Disruption of the mycorrhizae and small roots seriously affects the ability of trees to take  in nutrients and water, and may even affect the trees' defense against natural pests and  diseases. With this deterioration in root function, the vigor of the trees is reduced and  may cause lower productivity or death in the most severe instances. For example, oak  trees subjected to gypsy moth caterpillars or drought may experience greater mortality  than expected if also under stress from acid precipitation."  
Interesting read and I encourage reading that entire paper to understand acid rain effects not just on forests, but every type of plant community around the globe. One of the things I mentioned was above is the problem of climate change and the terrible solution of geo-engineering or weather modification to reverse this downward weather trend, but in an unnatural artificial manner. This really isn't exactly new, it's been happening for some time, but the accumulation and toxic buildup of a point where nature is now being effected is new. For example, Russian authorities authorized the use of rain making weather modification over Chernobyl to prevent radiation release through west to east storm rainfall from reaching and releasing it's deadly contents on Moscow. This was actually reported on in the British news journal, The Telegraph in the article entitled -  'How we made the Chernobyl rain' .  Unbelievably and most sickening is the press release a few hours ago of world leaders embracing Weather Modification to counteract the effects of climate change which has brought drought and freakishly severe storms to many parts of the Earth. Once again, the Telegraph brought to everyone's attention the global meetings which have been arranged for discussing this proposal. Here is the post of a few hours back:  Scientists are attempting to control the weather by using lasers to create clouds, induce rain and even trigger lightning  No attempt at discussing anything about rebuilding Earth's natural weather creation mechanisms (Various Forests and other Vegetation Communities) or actually curbing the irresponsible industrial activities which have caused this mess in the first place. 

 But how can you educate an average global population of humans being mostly disconnected from the Natural World around when they are distracted by the artificial one Industrial Science has created for them ? How can you explain the extreme importance of things like Fungus, Bacteria, Insects and other beneficials they have mostly indoctrinated into believing are basically evil to the clean modern day sterile science-based world those in charge have provided for them ? It's hard to convince people to fight for something they mostly hate or have no idea exists or the danger to continued life on Earth if they are lost. With the discoveries good science have revealed, one has to believe that it really is that easy to find real world solutions for changing things around. But something holds things back. What is it ? If you are a regular viewer who get's their science from Discovery, History or National Geographic Channels, then don't hold your breath for much truth on the matter. The latest scientific focus appears to be on Ancient Aliens who once visited and colonized and ran the Earth and governed all of it's inhabitants while providing amazing technologies for building great civilizations. Wow, maybe these aliens are still around and preventing mankind from progress out of jealously. Okay, but is there a better explanation ? What do you people think ? What leadership will you believe in and follow ? Though this sounds absurd, it nevertheless is uncanny why this World's leadership continues on rejecting the real science. Remember, your life and that of your descendants may depend on the irresponsible decisions they make. Now, real quick, start looking under all those boards and rocks. Maybe you've been missing something important all these years ?  Turn around and counteract the ill effects brought on by "Nature Deficit Disorder" !!!  
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 Interesting Reading References: *

Image: United States Air Force University
They said on this site that they were working on owning the weather for military purposes  and they would create clouds as mirrors for pin pointing specific enemy targets on ground. This was back in 1996 as referenced in the link below. The image below here from this  year 2013 shows that they have already done this with HAARP. No conspiracy website, just an admission from their own Military pages. The facts are that they are not even pretending any more or attempting to hide anything from the public. Fix-it-Pill technological artificial advances as opposed rebuilding back up the biological mechanisms seem to be the scheme of choice no days. The potential for growing economies is considered far more more important than rebuilding what was lost out in nature. The attitude of "Damned if we do, Damned if we don't" takes precedent here as continued building economies to avert Social chaos is considered the lesser evil from global biological degradation. In the case of natural world mechanisms which drive and moderate weather systems, the artificial innovations are deemed doable to counteract human needs for raw materials to keep their consumerism going unchecked. 

Weather as a Force Multiplier: Owning the Weather in 2025


US Naval Research Laboratory (Feb 2013)
Sequence of images of the glow plasma discharge produced with transmissions at the third electron gyro harmonic using the HAARP HF transmitter, Gakona, Alaska. The third harmonic artificial glow plasma clouds were obtained with HAARP using transmissions at 4.34 megahertz (MHz). The resonant frequency yielded green line (557.7 nanometer emission) with HF on November 12, 2012, between the times of 02:26:15 to 02:26:45 GMT. 


NRL Scientists Produce Densest Artificial Ionospheric Plasma Clouds Using HAARP

credit: Pakistan Media Watch (2010)
The article claimed: "HAARP Conspiracy Debunked By Preeminent Pakistani Nuclear Scientist" Unfortunately a lot has changed since then. Yes Conspiracy Sites are a dime a dozen these days,  but more and more evidence being reported shows that such ambitions by men/women in power have no limits. Especially with a major military and economic Super-power like the USA, they have no plans for giving up their position any time soon. That's why such technological research continues on. It's certainly not a responsible thing to pursue, but  this is how this world works.


Some major News Today: 
Scientists are attempting to control the weather by using lasers to create clouds, induce rain and even trigger lightning.

Unbelievable!



Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Did you know ? Earth was once a much Crappier place to live than it is NOW!

(Speaking metaphorically of course)
No, I Mean Nutrients
Now that I have your attention. *smile* 

A few days ago the Science News Wires were a buzz with the latest on the extinction of Megafaunas from an ancient past ice age. Adults, like little kids, are intrigued with all manner of ancient mythical beasts, who while once very real in their past existence, are often times the subject of exaggerated storytelling which sensationalizes and creates a creature with more of ferocious reputation than what probably existed. But I tend to like a more realistic viewpoint in what those ancient animals were truly like. In many ways, I don't find them to be much different in their ecosystem roles than the modern wild animals we have today. They just did things on a grander scale. For example, I've always like Paleontologist, Jack Horner's take on T-Rex perhaps actually being a scavenger as opposed to that ferocious Hollywood Killer. Doesn't it make sense that even in such an ancient ecosystem, such large scavengers would be necessary to clean up the mess of a dead Brachiosaurus carcass which died for whatever reason ? Otherwise such dead carcasses would hang around for days, maybe even weeks stinking up the place, flies everywhere [& who knows how big those things were ?] and perhaps spreading disease. Problem is, most people really want their long held traditional centuries old stories, perhaps for no other reason than for it's entertainment value. You can compare this behavioral fascination with the violence angle to many of the modern Nature TV shows of countless "Crocodile Hunter Wannabes". Have you ever actually paid attention to the subject matter they are they're focusing attention on and the seemingly viciousness of these things when a creature strike out at the Show's Host ? It's all for show of course. It's not like the old days of Mutual Omaha's Wild Kingdom where Marlin Perkins simply showed everyone how the animals lived and what their little niche in Nature actually was. How many film takes do you suppose they had to do in order to get that incredibly vicious response they were looking for from the poor animal ? How much prodding, poking and torment did the poor thing have to endure before it lashed out in defense ? To the film editor though, it was well worth the effort. Well, the Ice Age Megafauna creatures are often depicted the same  way as well, and yet as the article brought out in so many of it's important points, they had so many amazing plant ecosystem maintenance effects back in that very healthy ancient world. Often when a documentary leans to much towards the entertainment angle, they often loose the more important learning features. Sadly, even today's Forested ecosystems are often times barely hanging on as a result of the removal of modern day wild animals through human influence. Reintroduce them and we may see amazing remarkable changes for the better. But it's that human stain that is so hard to rub out. Human's by their very historical imperfect nature are just lousy custodians of Earth. And yes, I'm also including those indigenous folks who are often depicting as being more animal, than ecosystem disrupting humans. Seriously folks, they were human. This has been this way apparently from the beginning according to the research. Where ever humans go and colonize, the natural world collapses locally in that area and degenerates into something less productive.

Chip Clark, Smithsonian's Natural History Museum

Giant Ground Sloth dung found at Rampart Cave 
around the Lake Mead Recreational Area (1938)

Rampart Cave den of Giant Ground Sloth
So I'd like to focus on the impact of not only megafauna, but also modern animals that we are more familiar with and their influence on a healthy vegetative ecosystem. Much of it has to do with Nutrient Cycling, and you may think of that in the same way as you do when it comes to water cycling. While I also enjoy good stories, fables and myths about ancient creatures and/or ecosystems, I'm always aware that our knowledge is still limited because frankly, no one was actually there as far as being an on the spot eyewitness to record and document accurate account of how life existed in the ancient past. This makes explanations a challenge to be sure. Maintaining many of the stories written about Earth's past requires ample insertion of imagination, something the Scientific Method was supposed to overcome. Unfortunately, we just don't have a time machine to go back and prove what was or what is not accurate in many of the Scientific Papers loaded with assumptions, brought to us by an over zealous Journalism Cult obsessed with exaggeration and embellishment more for it's entertainment value. Still, there are some clues which have been found that provide and element of light being shed on how some creatures lived and influenced their plant system. One of my favourite large ancient creatures from the historic past was the Giant Ground Sloth, whose mummified remains and dung have been documented and found throughout the southwest, especially in Arizona Caves in and around the Grand Canyon & southeastern Arizona where they once lived. I say mummified as opposed to fossils which generally make one think of ancient creatures encased in sedimentary rock, only to have most of their pattern form shapes imprinted with mineral as the organics decayed. One benefit of the mummified droppings is the ability of the research to actually discover just what the diet of a Ground Sloth was. Plants like high desert Ephedra [Mormon Tea or Squaw Tea], Yuccas [Spanish Dagger, Joshua Trees, etc], Mesquite, Acacia, Cactus, and even grasses. There are not many things that I know of that dine on such a diet today. Well, Javelina and Goats could probably come close. What effect has their disappearance been on such ecosystems ? This was actually the point of this study. What impact did their grazing and consumption of plant vegetation, and their feces have on these past plant ecosystems ? The study was not just speaking of grassland Savanna herbivores, but also animals with cast irons guts who preferred the rugged rangy Chaparral plants. The only way to truly illustrate such an example today of an animal with just such a cast iron gut and it's ability to greatly impact something as tough and feisty as a chaparral plant community is to show you how goats are being used by some for fire breaks and chaparral fuel reduction programs. Here is a video which beautifully illustrates an actual present day animal with just such an cast iron gut to take on even some of the nastiest vegetation and the ecosystem effect it can create by doing so. This animal is known as the common Goat! 


This video is about 15 minutes in length: 
 Bill Burrows: "Brush to Product & Going Green"


So in that video, this Holistic Land Management guy, Bill Burrows, demonstrates just exactly how a very large herd of Goats can with very little effort, brutalize and reshape an otherwise tough rangy vegetative environment we all know as Chaparral. Not many animals left today can accomplish this necessary task. But although I found their program to be a bit of overkill in the damage department, nevertheless, we can through imaginative pondering, picture just how Megafauna could have possibly shaped the Earth's environment and all the while spreading vital recycled nutrients and other microbiological organisms throughout the ancient landscape which kept the ecosystem under continual productive enrichment. And of course, such efficient biological chaparral mastication machines would have also been kept in check by the the mega-predators of the day. But back to that August 12th, 2013 article from the University of Oxford, they demonstrated how large animals acted as carriers of key important nutrients to other plants and animals over thousands of years on large continental scales. Here are some important quotes from that source:
"Up until 12,000 years ago, much of the world looked like an African savannah."    
[side point here: I'm not sure I buy into their 'most of world Africa Savanna' imagination here. I believe there were also heavily forested systems like the present Tropical and Boreal Forests we have now, but more open than presently found as a result of rich biodiverse animal presence]   
"For instance, South America was teeming with large animals, described by scientists as ‘megafauna’ – a term for animals with a body mass of more than 44kg (the size of a large dog). These megafauna in South America, which overlapped with the earliest humans, included several species of elephant-like creatures, giant ground sloths, and armadillo-like creatures the size of a small car.  In South America, most nutrients originate in the Andes mountain range and are washed into the forests through the river system.  However, on dry land, these nutrients are in short supply unless they are transported through animal dung and bodies. While small animals distribute nutrients over small distances, large animals have a much greater range. According to the study, the extinctions of large animals 12,000 years ago wiped out one of the main means of transporting nutrients far from the rivers creating a nutrient deficiency which continues to affect plant and animal life in parts of the region today."

Nutrient rich flood plains with their lush plant life
 are understandable, but how did all those important
 nutrients move further inland in drier regions ?

"The study finds that the effect of the mass extinction of megafauna 12,000 years ago was to switch off a nutrient pump – vital nutrients, such as phosphorus, were no longer spread around the region but became concentrated in those areas bordering the floodplains and other fertile areas. It concludes that even thousands of years after the extinctions, the Amazon basin has not yet recovered from this step change. Nutrients may continue to decline in the Amazon and other global regions for thousands of years to come, says the paper." 
The Royal Society: "Ecological consequences of Late Quaternary extinctions of megafauna" 

Okay, so far very interesting. Sounds logical that large megafauna had major impact on Earth's vegetative systems. But this article like many are talking about ancient times, especially with regard to the use of the word/term 'prehistoric'. That word/term for me (and this is for me personally), makes me think of a time prior to human writing and documenting things for which we today have access to. If we could fast-forward a bit by several thousand years to say, just a thousand years ago in North America, then we also have a human population not necessarily documenting through hand written text of what life was back then and the animals which were in much greater abundance that we actually have today. So what impact did the modern animals we know of, have on plant life ecosystems just in the past several hundred years ? I would say plenty. I believe part of the problem we have today are the consequences of irresponsible human behavior which has contributed to modern day extinctions in many areas of Earth's wildlife which no longer impact much of the vegetation. Could this also be another reason for vegetation decline in many areas today ? I'm reminded of this very subject from a post a few days back by Chaparral Biologist, Richard Halsey who made this commentary about loss of animal richness and it's impact on vegetation in which he referenced a comment by a Chaparral Institute member, Kurt Schasker who also referenced a 2009 study which I also remember reading a while back:
 The Royal Society (2009)
"I have never bought into the notion of a "fire cycle" since I started learning about chaparral. It doesn't make sense that nature would evolve to turn perfectly good calories into smoke and heat, instead of life.  I ran across this article recently that indicates what I'm talking about: Ecological consequences of Late Quaternary extinctions of megafauna 
"In my mind the giant megafauna, specifically the browsers, had a huge impact on American ecology."
"Consider the shrub ox, close relative to the musk ox, as a shaper of chaparral ecology. These creatures tend to stand and fight as a herd when threatened, and make easy targets to human hunting techniques."
"From the point of view of Wildfire Science, I suggest that fire itself is unnatural. A biorich environment full of both browsers and grazers would never provide a landscape that would burn."
I also have to say I have the same sentiments as Richard Halsey and Kurt Schasker. I don't believe that the megafires which presently bring repeated destruction year after year were a normal ecological component of the past, though there was some fire no doubt prior to human presence as plant systems do have an element of fire recovery strategy encoded within their DNA. But getting back to the past 100+ years, other studies have shown that as recently as a few hundred years ago, though there was fire, not the megafire or forest canopy Fires the globe is experiencing today. (SMU Research: Ancient tree-ring records from southwest U.S. suggest today’s megafires are truly unusual) . The study relied on more than 1,500 years of tree-ring data and hundreds of years of fire-scar records gathered from Ponderosa Pine forests. Once again, what role did millions of then existing large animals play across North America even with the presence of Native Americans ? I previously alluded to this with my post Dances With Myths: Indigenous Native Peoples and Fire Ecology where I attempted to provide a more realistic picture of the average Native American as more of a real human, instead of being who has been romanticized as the ultimate land management Ecologist. Yes, who better than a Native to have a vast amount of knowledge about surviving off the land. But they still clearly had some impact on nature. I just don't believe it was always a positive effect. Take for example a couple of illustrations I used in that post of what the potential for massive animal numbers could have been on an earlier ecosystem even prior to European arrival.

Image - Wiki Commons Crabtree13 (2010)
"Tule Elk, Lake Pillsbury near Hull Mountain, Mendocino National Forest, Lake County, California"
From Wikepedia:
California Tule Elk once numbered over 500,000+ just in the San Joaquin and Central Valleys. This doesn't include the  Roosevelt Elk of the Redwoods or the large Antlered Rocky Mountain Elk of the Modoc Plateau who may also have had  huge population numbers and impacted those ecosystems. 
Ponder this for a moment. What impact on California vegetation would 500,000+ Tule Elk grazing and pooping everywhere have had in the San Joaquin Central Valley along with a few thousand Beaver in a lush well watered Paradise ? Do you think that historical animal rich environment had a huge health impact on the region's vegetation ? As that article brought out from the Chaparral Institute's Richard Halsey referenced, there was far more of an impact than just nutrient recycling. There was also vegetation shaping and influencing which would have also had more of a phenotypic plasticity impact with regards fire ecology. Megafires which also include the present ongoing Canopy or Crown Fires, would have not been helped along by the then prevailing forest or other vegetation design. Here are some helpful quotes from the other article:
"Most of the extinct megafauna were herbivores. I focus specifically on changes in the structure, composition and dynamics of plant communities that can be attributed to the loss of those large herbivores that were present in terrestrial ecosystems at the beginning of the Last Glacial cycle ca 130 ka (i.e. thousands of years ago), but which went extinct before the historical period."   
"Big herbivores have big effects on plants." [side point, as has been illustrated, so can large herds of much smaller animals] "Beyond the direct impacts of herbivory on the physiology, form and growth of individual plants, herbivores shape plant communities in many ways: by reducing vegetation density and creating gaps; facilitating species coexistence; dispersing seeds; suppressing sensitive species; reducing fire potential by preventing accumulation of dry plant tissue; and accelerating nutrient recycling via urine and faeces"
Dropping much further down the paper, we come to the subheading section labeled:
Flammable New Worlds
"The prediction that fire should have increased after megafaunal extinction holds true in most cases where it can be tested, but with much variation in the way in which fire subsequently affected vegetation dynamics. In the northeastern USA, Robinson et al.'s (2005) data are consistent with a pure form of the ‘herbivore replacement’ hypothesis. Burning increased several hundred years after megafaunal extinction, suggesting that plant biomass that had been consumed by herbivores before the extinctions was consumed by fire afterwards, after an interval of increased accumulation of fuel. This did not induce a change in the dominant vegetation type, as would have been the case had fire consumed more biomass than herbivores had formerly done, or selected for plants with very different forms or life strategies."
"Many of these plants were originally most successful in ecological zones that were heavily used by large herbivores, which maintained dry and open conditions and suppressed fire. If these conditions changed as a result of herbivore extinction, and especially if fire became a more significant control of vegetation, ‘megafauna plants’ might have declined as a result."
"Plants species that had depended wholly or partly on large herbivores for seed dispersal should have suffered declines in distribution and genetic variance following megafauna extinction, potentially leading to extinction."
(source)Ecological consequences of Late Quaternary extinctions of megafauna

Credit: Jasper - InciWeb

Understory fire in 2009 Aspen Fire
Grand Canyon North Rim
There is no doubt that the removal of any animals from within an ecosystem would have had consequences which were negative. The open spaces created, the removal of dead or older vegetation would have been eliminated. Hence even plant systems such as the southwest's chaparral plant community would have been much larger as far as old growth than we could possibly imagine today. Such browsing would NOT have had the total destructive effects that fire have. Not that fire wouldn't have happened, but it just would not have had the same modern day destructive effects and would no doubt have been a more rare event prior to the arrival of humans. Also such an ecosystem would have had healthy old growth which would have influenced an also healthy hydrological cycling of rain and a much moister climate with a higher humidity level. Such fires if & when they happened would be more of an understory fire which would have blown a lot of white smoke as opposed to the common big billowing black mushroom clouds we all see presently. I remember during the El Nino wet period between 1978-1983 in the San Jacinto Mountains, when lightning did strike or in the case of some idiot trying to start a fire, all that would result was lots of white smoke. Even the lightning strike by my former home on Table Mountain near Anza CA during one of those Monsoon events merely burned the understory of the Redshank Chaparral, something you would not expect of what most folks consider nothing more than dead rangy brush interior material. I know because I walk over and inspected the area thoroughly when I came back home that afternoon. It was about one acre and all the old growth Chaparral was still perfectly intact,  but with a cleaner carpet understory floor beneath the canopy.

So how do we know all of this and how can we be sure ? As I've previously stated above, the scientific method opportunity for studying Megafauna's presence & effect on ancient ecosystems is gone, and it's almost impossible to gauge the large impact of modern wildlife on vegetation given that most of their once vast numbers have been eliminated. So in many ways the scientific method is still tough to put into practice. Replacing it with a Lab or imaginary computer model is out of the question also. However, we today have animals which humans have selected in vast quantity because of their great economic value for consumerism which do allow us to see an impact either for a positive or a negative effect on vegetation. I've already mentioned goats, but we also have sheep and especially cattle which European Enterprises in the late 1800s provided in such greater numbers than the land could accommodate, that they became the beginning of the end for many ecosystems around the globe. I actually took a few pictures around Lake Henshaw in San Diego County to show a positive impact on shaping vegetation. Unfortunately, most domestic livestock animals have had many of the wild instincts for moving and roaming bred out of them. They are more docile and easier to handle as a result. Unlike the wild animals who keep on the move from predators, these animals tend to stay put and grind vegetation down the the soil. Look at most late 1800s and early 1900s photos and you will see what I mean. This is where humans have to do actual management of them by prodding the livestock along. In the two photos below there are examples of the pruning services for which animals will provide under the proper management. 


Photo Mine (May 2013)
Mataguay Creek looking west towards Lake Hensahw from Hwy 79 in San Diego County
In both photos we have a clear illustration of what large animals can do for a landscapes understory by pruning is up from the ground. Like wild grazing animals, they prefer far more than just grassland diets. Something the early pioneers and some modern day ranching interests just don't get. Although, allowing permanent pasturage in and around riparian ecosystems can have some long term negative effects which could last decades. In historic times past, predators laying in wait near watering hole sources would have kept the situation in check as prey animals would not have lingered for very long after drinking. 
(Negative Effects of Livestock Grazing Riparian Areas)


photo: Mine (May 2013)

For me this is a historical grove of Fremont Cottonwoods south of Cal-Trans Maintenance Yard on California State Hwy 79 just east of Lake Henshaw in San Diego County
Photo Mine (June 2016)
And yeah - Wow! - Just three years later as the extreme drought conditions continue in San Diego County


(Credit: Victoria Sánchez)

Palaeontologists in Argentina
have discovered that dung balls
reveal much about the ecology of
lost world of giant mammals
Interesting and educational, but let's not forget all that processed biomass excreted onto the ground. There is no doubt that large animals as well as other smaller herd animals do their deposit thing while feeding on the move. But someone else had to get that material into the Earth's soil and that is where Megafauna alone providing the vast raw materials for nutrient enrichment still had to have help in this Dung Recycling process. It wasn't enough to have the large, medium or small animals providing the raw materials to lay on the surface. The system required a vast army of insect workers to get that fertilizer deep into the soil where it would doo the most good. Last week the University of Helsinki came out with a nice article about the role played today by dung beetles which is most likely no different than in the historical past. This is the way nature recycles and rebuilds it's soils. Now somewhere there has got to be some practical application here, because chalking all this research up to just mere interesting reading isn't good enough. It offers no of hope of change which is needed to bring the Earth back from the brink. Industrial Farming and Forestry practices under the guise of building economies is literally killing this planet. So when you look at the natural patterns in Nature, we can actually find that they truly are not overly elaborate on the surface in the sense you cannot replicate them and this is important. If you look at and observe the simple holistic patterns in Nature's recycling system, they really are not overly complicated from a replication standpoint. The Industrial Agriculture especially when it comes to livestock management is almost always stationary by keeping livestock locked up in giant confinement houses. Yet if you look at Nature, it's always on the move over open country. Megafauna and the common fauna we have today is also always on the move. The industrial Ag program separates the livestock from it's natural feeding program, from it's fertilizer input onto the soil for in which the land is blessed, except that under the industrial application that concentrated manure now becomes a  liability instead of a blessing. The Orthodox Science which runs this world has effectively broken apart these very simple yet intricately complex carbon cycles that were once the fundamental ways in which Nature recycled it's soils and replenished them. The idea here is to create a terrain in the landscape where the good bugs beat the bad bugs, but the cycling mechanisms which once did this for the most part have disappeared and with it many of the once pristine and healthy ecosystems. Recently, more info on the modern Dung Beetle has been released and it's fascinating. We actually had tons of these little beetles down there in Anza Valley when I lived there, especially around where people had horses or cattle penned up. Very kool to watch and please follow the link below. 


swamp.com.au

University of Helsinki had a great article Aug 22, 2013 on the benefits of Dung Beetles dining on 'Meadow Muffins' or otherwise known as 'Prairie Pizzas'. 

Beetles Modify Emissions of Greenhouse Gases from Cow Pats
More Illustrations Which Teach

Wild Thyme Farm

Natural Forest Succession Pig Meadow over 21 years
http://www.wildthymefarm.com
"Just to the west of Ridgecrest Boulevard is Pig Meadow. It was the site of the most recent clearcut, around 1985, just a few years before the property was acquired. It was not replanted after harvesting, and continuous grazing since then kept the area open, leaving only stumps, ferns and grasses. In early 1988, a neighbor's lone 300-pound pig held court in the clearcut, and so it was named "Pig Meadow". By the end of that year, all the livestock was removed, new seedlings rapidly appeared and the transition back into forest had begun."
1988 Liza. Up to this time, goats grazed the high meadow, a wide open grassy field. 
1999 John. No goat grazing over the past 10 years. Young fir trees up to 20 feet high and many bushes have grown up alongside the road and in the meadow. 
2001 Robert and Nesta. Firs have been thinned and limbed up. New firs have been planted in the spaces to complete the promenade. 
2009 John and Nesta. Before the firs have been limbed or trimmed.
"When the property was acquired in 1987, the high meadow was being grazed by the neighbor's free-ranging sheep and goats. With no fences to contain the livestock, the animals foraged deep into the surrounding forest, creating an attractive pastoral landscape. Grazing livestock in a woodland is known as "Silvo-pasturing", as it achieves the dual purpose of growing trees while providing continuous forage for animals. Trees that make it above browsing height can achieve maturity, but relentless grazing prevents any tree regeneration and eliminates most brushy understory species. When the neighbor passed away in 1988, the animals were removed and the fringes of the high meadow started on the path to natural forest succession."
Chaparral Institute
And who gets the blame when things go wrong ? For example, let's jump back up into the Fire Ecology subject. When our modern megafires consume housing and other human infrastructure, who or what generally gets the blame for the disaster ? Do they bring up the fact that humans have altered Earth's environment so badly that it's sophisticated operational maintenance systems have been so thoroughly thrown off balance which has degraded our planet's weather mechanisms so badly, that the fire behavior is not what it once was ? No! There's a sort of an old time religious blame game card being played here. You know, in the old days there was an old expression and I think the Insurance Industry may still use it. Have you ever heard of that saying, "Act of God" ? Do you remember that ? Generally, it's a term used to mask one's ignorance for the inexplicable. The problem now is that modern science has effectively killed God in the minds of many and in it's place we have such expression as "It was the bad weather conditions caused by Climate Change" - "It was the dense Chaparral buildup which caused the severe wildfire"  which in other words essentially translates now as "Acts of Nature". So it's now Nature's fault. It's never the fault of the private property owners who wanted that dream home on a mountainside and hired the local Joe Six-Pack to bulldoze an impossible road access where there was no business having one. It's not the fault of failed prescribed burns which allowed invasive grasses and weeds to grab a foot hold because after all, it was science-based. It's not the fault of the home builders and community planners who altered a river's course in an ancient floodplain. You see where this is going ? There is no reason for debate any longer. Presently, there is so much research information out there now that is good science, which has rightly exposed the corporate influenced science as horribly flawed and shed light on the reality of the way the Natural World actually operates. Below is a prime example of where valuable mob or herd grazing management could and should be utilized, but as per official agenda by the prevailing scientific orthodoxy prescribed burns are the only option on the table. What an incredible waste of good livestock fodder which requires no farmed hay or grain feed. Not to mention the reintroduction of nutrients and microbiological organisms reintroduced into the ecosystems through the animal dung and urine. Plus the ground disturbance of animal hooves. We are not just talking grass as feed, but browsing of shrubs and saplings for which wild animals perform as well.

Photo: Jesse Miller/UC Davis

"Glade grasslands are fire-adapted ecosystems that contain diverse plant communities. This glade in Missouri has been managed with prescribed fire and mechanical thinning of woody vegetation."
Update Alert! September 20,2017 


U.C. Davis: Ozark Grasslands Experience Major Increase in Trees and Shrubs
Landscape Ecology: Holding the line: three decades of prescribed fires halt but do not reverse woody encroachment in grasslands
I'm going to finish up here for the moment, but I also have a second part on this. The information on this subject  has far too much practical application to allow this to be mere passing interest story. Stay tuned for Part II.