Today is my last day at FUNCAMP and I’m currently sitting in the hotel lobby, waiting for our lift to Belo Horizonte and the National Botanical Congress. It’s likely to be a 7 hour drive, but longer if we stop for food, toilet breaks, and to look at birds and interesting landscapes (which we will!)
Yesterday André and I went to Campinas city centre accompanied by two of his former professors, Cristina and Zezo, to have lunch and discuss future collaborations when they come to Northampton for a sabbatical in 2014. Campinas is big and busy, hot and hectic. Temperatures were in the low 30s centigrade in the open streets, but as soon as we passed beneath the shade of any of the larger trees, the heat was blocked and we were much more comfortable. City trees provide multiple ecosystem functions: they store carbon, of course, but they also significantly alter the local microclimate.
Nowhere is this more apparent that in subtropical and tropical regions, but you can also feel their effects even in a British city, where the presence of trees cools parks and pavements, insulating against high temperatures. Do trees in temperate cities also insulate against cold in the winter? I’m not sure but it would be an interesting area to research.
Trees are also beautiful, of course, and so the analogy with birds works on multiple levels: a city without trees is like a bird without feathers, because trees and feathers are both functional and ornamental. In Campinas many of the trees were from families familiar to me, such as figs, legumes and mangos. But others were new, including a species of Lagerstroemia from the loosestrife family (Lythraceae).
Does it matter whether the trees are native or not? That’s a debatable point; the last day of the pollination course at Unicamp on Friday included a session of student presentations of the projects that they’ve worked on all week. One of them was an assessment of the diversity and origin of the trees within the park adjacent to the campus. The students identified 64 tree species, 45% of which were native to that region of Brazil. The remaining 55% are from other parts of Brazil, or from other countries, but nonetheless they provide resources for pollinators and birds within the park. Perhaps this is acceptable in urban areas but not in areas of nature conservation or wilderness?
Our lift is here so I will sign off, except to note that my bird list is getting longer (over 50 species now) and that the award for Mammal of the Week goes to the agouti. This a pretty, colourful relative of the guinea pig was abundant in the park in Campinas and completely charmed me with its confident and graceful demeanour. If only I could bring one home…..