The first bird I identified when I arrived in Brazil on 1st November was a feral pigeon (Columba livia) foraging around the airport; the first bee I spotted, visiting flowers around FUNCAMP, was a honey bee (Apis mellifera). This tells you a lot about the widespread, near ubiquitous distribution of such species, which have been moved across much of the planet, accidentally and on purpose, by human activities. For someone who is deeply interested in biodiversity, seeing these species is both humdrum and interesting. Humdrum because they are so familiar, we see them everywhere we go, they are not exciting and exotic. Interesting because they tell us a lot about the effects that humans have on their environment, how we are altering it by the introduction of non-native species.
Away from the large cities I saw introduced species such as these less and less frequently, such is their association with humans. But of course there were also plenty of native Brazilian species that have become associated with human activities. Some of these had a familiarity about them which transcended the fact that they were species I’d never see in Britain. Black Vultures (Coragyps atratus) are the best example. I would frequently observe them perched on lamp posts in towns, scanning for food or squabbling amongst themselves, and also spotted a huge number feeding on the refuse being piled into a landfill site. Back home I associate this sort of behaviour with various species of gulls. Strange and familiar.
Back in Northampton I’ve been reflecting on my month-long visit to Brazil, catching up with colleagues, telling stories that get more impressive with each iteration. It’s been a packed couple of weeks and Brazil seems a long way away, not just geographically.
The Biodiversity Index did not win the Green Gown Award that it was short listed for, as I previously reported, but it did receive a Highly Commended citation. Green Gown have asked us to produce a video, so a few days after I returned home, and still with a bit of my brain in Brazil, I took part in a short recording session about the Biodiversity Index, which will be released shortly. The video is produced by Jo Burns and her company Amplitude Media. Jo is a graduate of the University of Northampton and this is a nice example of how the University is supporting former students as they develop their careers.
At the end of last week we also got the news that the Biodiversity Index has been shortlisted for a Guardian newspaper University Award in the sustainability category. More recognition for the work we’ve done on that project, and we are very pleased! The result will be known early next year.
As of this week our paper on “How many plants are pollinated by animal?“, published in the journal Oikos in 2011, has notched up its 100th citation according to Web of Knowledge. The less conservative Google Scholar puts it at 164, so the true answer will be somewhere in between. Clearly peers think it’s a useful bit of work. And to think it was almost rejected by Oikos, saved only by an appeal. The idea for the paper arose when I was trying to find a solid figure in the literature for the proportion of plants that are biotically pollinated. Lots of figures were being bandied about, but once you follow the reference chain back through the papers that cite them you find that numbers which are cited as solid facts disappear into speculation and guestimates. Like many of the simple and obvious questions, the assumption is that we “know” the answer. That’s no basis for science-informed policy, but I suspect that it happens all too frequently.