Tag Archives: #Mexico

Beneath the Sea

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It always counts as a surprise when we find out that unexpected networks have been operating right under our collective noses. We use the word ‘discovery’ to describe the newness to our understanding, even if, in retrospect, it might be a bit like describing a city’s take-out food delivery system as a ‘discovery’ just because no one had noticed a connection between all the scooters with restaurant names and the arrival of restaurant food at private homes.

The discovery, in this case, is something that makes a lot of sense: At least one kind of sea grass that flowers underwater manages to employ underwater pollinators in a manner similar to terrestrial flowering plants that use airborne pollinators like bees, bats and birds.

A meadow of Thalassia testudinum, turtlegrass. Photo: ICMyL via DGCS

A meadow of Thalassia testudinum, turtlegrass. Photo: ICMyL via DGCS

There aren’t many plants that actually flower under water – most produce their flowers above the water surface. Thalassia testudinum, known as turtlegrass, grows in large meadows, and produces small flowers near the seabed. The male flowers release pollen in the evening, and until now it was thought that the pollen was carried to female plants solely via water currents.

But a study published last fall in Nature Communications showed that there is another factor that increased the distribution of pollen. In a series of aquarium-based experiments, it was demonstrated that a variety of invertebrates, from spider crab larvae to tiny crustaceans to marine worms, are drawn to the male and female flowers, and these fauna were proven to fulfil the criteria of being characterized as pollinators* even in the absence of water flow.

The researchers from the National Autonomous University of Mexico state that that other, larger animals might also contribute to pollination, but that these were not included in this particular study. Unlike bees, there’s no hive or honey involved. But, like their terrestrial counterparts, the fauna here were attracted to the flowers for feeding, and moved between the blossoms in search of more food.

A male turtlegrass flower releases its nocturnal pollen. Photo: ICMyL via DGCS

A male turtlegrass flower releases its nocturnal pollen. Photo: ICMyL via DGCS

Look at the intelligence of turtlegrass. It has small flowers, and they aren’t packed densely together, waving in the breeze. Rather, they are close to the sea bed and spaced well apart. Relying solely on water flow to pollinate might not do the trick. Why not make the petals sticky and attractive to the myriad small creatures abundant in the water, and get them to do a bit of the heavy pollen lifting for extra evolutionary insurance?

I applaud lead researcher Brigitta van Tussenbroek and her research team for noticing and studying this fascinating network of activity, which they have given the name zoobenthophilous pollination, i.e. pollination carried out by animals close to the sea bed. The discovery of the role fauna play in underwater pollination could help better understand and protect these ecosystems, which, as van Tussenbroek and her colleagues state, “are amongst the world’s most productive ecosystems. (They) improve water transparency, stabilize coastlines and store carbon, and also provide food and shelter to a diverse faunal community.”

I have the feeling it may just be the beginning of a deeper understanding of many things that are right in front of us, but which we aren’t yet seeing. All it requires is a willingness to shift our perspective.

A female turtlegrass flower with visiting invertebrates, bits of pollen and sand. Photo: ICMyL via DGCS

A female turtlegrass flower with visiting invertebrates, bits of pollen and sand. Photo: ICMyL via DGCS

*From the study “Experimental evidence of pollination in marine flowers by invertebrate faunathe criteria for the animals to be considered pollinators are:

(1) both male and female organs (of the flowers) are visited, (2) the visitor carries pollen, (3) the visitor transfers pollen between male and female sexual organs, (4) pollen deposition by the visitor results in successful fertilization, estimated as pollen germination on the stigmas, pollen tube growth or seed set.

Comfort Zones

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I’d be the first to admit that my knowledge of tequilas is mainly limited to the stuff I did in shot form back in college in the tradition of salt on the hand and lick (to kill the taste), toss back the shot (grimace), bite the lime (to kill the taste).

I haven’t spent much time revisiting the drink except in the occasional margarita, even if some of those were made with excellent tequila and a variety of juices besides lime. I had a smoky pomegranate version at some point, and the fact that I can’t remember where is an indication of just how good that cocktail was (I want to say it was in Los Angeles? Maybe London?).

Fresh, handmade tortilla chips in a variety of flavors. Addictive. All photos: PKR

Fresh, handmade tortilla chips in a variety of flavors. Addictive.
All photos: PKR

Here’s a suggestion that margaritas assume the new role as the drink of New Year’s Eve, and while I can’t say I’ll be exchanging my champagne flute for a margarita glass at the stroke of midnight, it’s a legitimate proposal.

On a recent trip to Baja California, I had the pleasure of getting outside my comfort zone and into some really good tequila, the kind of stuff that isn’t easy to find outside the country.

My father happens to live near Ensenada, and if he’s as much of a whisky fan as I am, he’s also become something of a tequila aficiodano.

Religious candles, shoe polish and insect spray, an unexpected combination of cylinders.

Religious candles and shoe polish, an unexpected combination of cylinders.

 

One of the tequilas he pulled from the shelf was the Herradura Ultra, a newish addition to the Herradura premium line that is a mixture of añejo (aged 1-3 years) and extra añejo (aged over 3 years). In the case of the Ultra, a 25-month-old añejo is mixed with premium extra añejo that’s been aged in bourbon barrels for up to four years in American White Oak barrels.

 

herradura-tequila-ultra-01

The common brown hues are filtered out, some pure agave nectar is added, and the result is a clear drink with a crystalline taste that rings like a bell. It’s got a lovely oakiness, with sweet hints of vanilla, almond and fruit. Meant to be chilled and then served neat, just the way I like the best spirits.

This stuff is so smooth, it has almost no resemblance with the stuff I knew from way back when. Salt on the hand and a lime? Banish the thought!

I was smitten.

Tequila Herradura, as the Grupo Industrial Herradura is generally known, was founded in 1870 in Amatitán, Jalisco, Mexico. The distillery is now owned by U.S. run Brown-Forman, but Herradura continues its traditional production from growing the agave to the finished product, and the spirit is still made from agave hearts roasted in clay ovens, then fermented with wild yeast.

Clown cupcakes, perfect for anyone trying to combat coulrophobia, fear of clowns.

Clown cupcakes, perfect for anyone trying to combat coulrophobia, fear of clowns. Also perfect for anyone trying to induce coulrophobia in others.

We bought two bottles at a supermarket in Enseneda to bring home to France, a place that had a range of tequilas comparable to the whisky shelves in good European supermarkets and which opened my eyes to everything I must be missing. I’m sorry to say that we won’t be drinking our imports all to quickly, because at the time of this writing, Herradura Ultra isn’t yet available in Europe.

You might be wondering why this post doesn’t have any images of the tequila itself in our glasses, or the tequila shelves.

An inexplicable cake and cupcake set featuring what I suppose a Santa's belt cake and elf cap cupcakes. At least, that's my interpretation. There's nothing like going into a large foreign supermarket to get out of your comfort zone when it comes to food assumptions.

An inexplicable cake and cupcake set featuring what I suppose a Santa’s belt cake and elf cap cupcakes. At least, that’s my interpretation.
There’s nothing like going into a large foreign supermarket to get out of your comfort zone when it comes to food assumptions.

Those images, which I had dutifully recorded in anticipation of this post, were lost along with my phone when I dropped it into the Pacific Ocean on an early morning walk. I was dodging an unexpected wave that swamped the shore and took my phone back out to sea with it when it retreated. The images here were from our other camera.

One thing I won’t be dodging in the future is premium tequila.

The phone-thieving and ever unrepentant Pacific.

The phone-thieving and ever unrepentant Pacific.

 

 

 

Pulse Taking

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‘Long memory’ is a term used in probability analysis. It originated in hydrology to predict flood patterns on the Nile River.

But do rivers remember where they once flowed?

Floraskin – Huth & Domenig Via: Data Is Nature

Floraskin – Huth & Domenig
Via: Data Is Nature

A large pulse of water was released along the Colorado River this year, an historic ecological undertaking meant to restore the once-lush downriver sections and delta. The goal of the 130 billion-liter (34 bn gallon) pulse was to imitate the spring floodwaters that once coursed the length of the river, but which have been diverted for other uses further upstream.

These images show the river before and after the water pulse was released. The river bed and tributary channels have been little more than dry markers for the memory of a river that once carried 18.5 trillion liters (4.9 trillion gallons) of water every year.

Before: An April 2013 view shows the dry river shell in northern Mexico. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory image by Robert Simmon, using Landsat 8 data from the U.S. Geological Survey

Before: An April 2013 view shows the dry river shell in northern Mexico.
Credit: NASA Earth Observatory image by Robert Simmon, using Landsat 8 data from the U.S. Geological Survey

After: Water flows through the same area, April 2014. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory image by Robert Simmon, using Landsat 8 data from the U.S. Geological Survey

After: Water flows through the same area, April 2014.
Credit: NASA Earth Observatory image by Robert Simmon, using Landsat 8 data from the U.S. Geological Survey

The final destination of the water is the Colorado Delta, which once formed a rich connection between the river and the Gulf of Mexico. The Delta has rarely seen river water since 1960.

As it turns out, the water pulse may not reach the Delta at all. Sand bars and shrubs are slowing the flow, even as conservationists work to re-establish trees and wetlands in its wake.

If there is such a thing, the long memory of the Colorado River may have to wait a while longer before it once again meets the Gulf of Mexico at the end of a long journey home.

 

http://www.livescience.com/45281-colorado-river-pulse-satellite.html

Transboundary Pulse

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It’s a strange notion, the cutting off of water across an invisible territorial boundary. There are few actions we can take as humans – both for communities and for the environment – that are more baldly assertive than diverting rivers and water flow.

The Colorado River delta sits at the very end of the 2330 km-long (1450 m.) Colorado River, which winds southward from Colorado to the Sea of Cortez in Mexico. An object of human geo-engineering for hundreds of years, it’s only in the last century that the Colorado River became one of the most controlled, divided and litigated rivers in the world.

Over the past fifty years, so much water has been used in the United States that the river hasn’t reached the delta or the Sea of Cortez at all, turning what was once a lush system of lakes and marshes into a parched desert.

Collage of historical descriptions of the delta and an image of the dry delta of recent years. "The river enters the sea by a mouth four leagues wide...The Rio Colorado bathes (the land) like the Nile bathes Egypt, giving it great fertility." Source: Jordan Wirfs-Brock/

Collage of historical descriptions of the delta and an image of the dry delta of recent years. “The river enters the sea by a mouth four leagues wide…The Rio Colorado bathes (the land) like the Nile bathes Egypt, giving it great fertility.”
Source: Jordan Wirfs-Brock/Univ. of Colorado Boulder

But this week, for the first time in five decades and timed to coincide with World Water Day, water from the Colorado River flowed at more than a trickle on the southern side of the border in Mexico.

In 2012, the 1944 U.S.-Mexico treaty on river use was amended with an addition known as Minute 319, which aims to support reclamation of the delta through controlled ‘pulse flows’, large surges of water that then trickle off in an imitation of the pre-dam, pre-diversion river that flowed heavily with the snow melt in spring and tapered off through later months.

The surges created by this pilot project should help spread tree and plant seeds across the delta, while the tapering off should provide irrigation for plants to thrive. It’s hoped the influx of water and the re-establishment of plant life will also support the delta’s dwindling wildlife, including many species of migratory birds.

It’s an unusual cross-border project in that the water release isn’t specifically for commercial purposes, but to support environmental restoration.

Cross-border water cooperation and sharing to support ecosystem recovery: I suppose these days, that’s a strange notion, as well.

Colorado River Dry Delta, terminus of the Colorado River in the Sonoran Desert of Baja California and Sonora, Mexico, ending about 5 miles north of the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California). Photo: Peter McBride USGS / Wikipedia

Colorado River Dry Delta, terminus of the Colorado River in the Sonoran Desert of Baja California and Sonora, Mexico, ending about 5 miles north of the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California).
Photo: Peter McBride USGS / Wikipedia

Think of it as a surge of water. It’s what happens when there’s a big rainfall or the snow melts into a river. The flow increases for a few days or weeks, and then it goes back to normal. Rather than weather, this environmental experiment will be a release of water from a reservoir. It is designed to mimic the kind of natural pulse flows that help keep rivers healthy by spreading native plant seeds and creating conditions for those seedlings to grow and thrive. – See more at: http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/areas/coloradoriver/colorado-river-pulse-flow-qa-with-eloise-kendy.xml#sthash.2WwHpQtj.dpuf
Think of it as a surge of water. It’s what happens when there’s a big rainfall or the snow melts into a river. The flow increases for a few days or weeks, and then it goes back to normal. Rather than weather, this environmental experiment will be a release of water from a reservoir. It is designed to mimic the kind of natural pulse flows that help keep rivers healthy by spreading native plant seeds and creating conditions for those seedlings to grow and thrive. – See more at: http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/areas/coloradoriver/colorado-river-pulse-flow-qa-with-eloise-kendy.xml#sthash.2WwHpQtj.dpuf
Think of it as a surge of water. It’s what happens when there’s a big rainfall or the snow melts into a river. The flow increases for a few days or weeks, and then it goes back to normal. Rather than weather, this environmental experiment will be a release of water from a reservoir. It is designed to mimic the kind of natural pulse flows that help keep rivers healthy by spreading native plant seeds and creating conditions for those seedlings to grow and thrive. – See more at: http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/areas/coloradoriver/colorado-river-pulse-flow-qa-with-eloise-kendy.xml#sthash.2WwHpQtj.dpuf

Darwin and the Long View

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Axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum) Source: National Geographic

Axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum)
Source: National Geographic

I wonder what Charles Darwin would have had to say about the Mexican axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum), a feather-gilled salamander sometimes jokingly referred to as the Darwin fish.

The axolotl once swam in abundant numbers in its only native habitat, the network of mountain lakes upon which Mexico City was eventually built. It was a food staple, it was considered useful as a medicinal for respiratory ailments, and Aztec legend held it to be a transformed god who had escaped the politics of fellow gods by transforming into a salamander and hiding among the reeds.

The axolotl is all but extinct in its native lakes, a victim of the usual suspects: pollution, water drainage, invasive species, and overfishing.

Outside its native habitat, the axolotl is one of the most studied creatures on the planet due to its strange longevity (up to 15 years) and its ability to regenerate almost all parts of its body, including parts of its brain. So the animals are bred and maintained for research, and are also popular in hobbyist fish tanks.

Efforts have been underway for years to protect the axolotl’s native environment, but at this point, the IUCN Red List only lists a few dozens of the salamanders living in the wild.

Tenochtitlan on Lake Texcoco Source: Tectonica

Tenochtitlan on Lake Texcoco, the site of the future Mexico City.
Source: Tectonica

It’s the 205th anniversary of Darwin’s birth today. In thinking about what Darwin might have thought about conservation efforts and endangered species lists, I came upon this quote by Peter Ward. Ward has compared human impact on the environment and world’s species to that of the presumed asteroid that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs, saying that this time, humans are the asteroid.

On this topic, he said, “If we were to go back about 63 million years ago and look at a very tiny rat-sized mammal that would give rise to all of the rest of the primates, it would be very difficult for us to say, Well, there is the future of intelligence on this planet. That tiny rat-sized creature would look anything but intelligent.

“The point, to me, is that species not only have an inherent value in the present day, but they have a future, that we cannot tell where the next global intelligence, if there’s going to be one, will come from. We do not know what species will give rise to some charismatic group, or some very important group. If we take the long view, the millions-of-years view, then we must not only think about species’ value, but future species’ value.”

Axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum)

Axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum)

Darwin spoke of the success of species in terms of survival, but what would have made of the axolotl’s circumscribed type of survival.

And what would Darwin, who studied past extinctions but still lived in world where it must have been virtually unimaginable to envision the disappearance of the vast rainforest, the plentiful wildlife on land and on sea, the abundant amounts of fresh water, what would Darwin have had to say about whether the current wave of extinction could be considered a force of ‘natural selection’?

Charles Darwin (age 29)

Charles Darwin (age 29)

Narrowing Focus

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The monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) population on the Mexican Monarch Reserve where they overwinter is the lowest since annual surveys began back in 1993. The oyamel fir forests provide a warm winter home for the monarchs, known for their great migration across North America. The population is down 59% from two years ago. In 1996, monarchs occupied 45 acres (18.2 ha) of forest. They now occupy 2.94 acres (1.2 ha).

Monarch butterfly wing Photo: Rare Giants

Monarch butterfly wing
Photo: Rare Giants

The entire migration process takes five butterfly generations to complete one full cycle, and over the past twenty years, fewer monarchs have been surviving the cycle to have their progeny return to the reserve.

The demise of the milkweed plant, mainly due to the use of glyphosate herbicides, means the butterflies are unable to find enough of their main food source. But extreme weather, deforestation and forest degradation, and regulatory rollbacks for protected areas also contribute to the dangers facing the species’ survival.

In Barbara Kingsolver’s novel Flight Behavoior, monarch butterflies disappear from Mexico almost entirely and find a new forest home in a completely unexpected location, alighting for a season before moving on. There’s always the hope that intensified efforts to replant milkweed and to strengthen protected migratory paths will help. And maybe, prior to the annual surveys, the monarch population experienced massive contractions that went unnoticed, only to recover again.

Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim has just announced a $100 million contribution to a variety of monarch programs. If there’s message here, it’s this: If you live in North America, go out and plant some milkweed. In your garden, on your balcony, on roadsides and byways. Sign a petition. Send a letter to your congressperson.

For now, the circle of monarchs retracts, a narrowing lens by which to observe these amazing creatures of long journeys on small wings.

Photo: Raul Gonzales

Close-up, monarch butterfly wing
Photo: Raul Gonzales