Category Archives: Tenerife

Why conservation is like paella: thoughts and photos from our Tenerife field trip

 

A couple of days ago I posted a photograph on Facebook with a comment that “after a hot day of collecting data there’s nothing better than a nice big Tenerife paella!”:

Karin and the paella.jpg

My wife Karin and I had ended up in the small town of Candelaria, tired and hungry after sweating our way through the Malpais de Guimar  counting and measuring plants.  Big plates of hot food were just what we needed!

After I posted the image a Spanish colleague commented that the dish was “closer to being an arroz con cosas than a paella”.  The term translates as “rice with things” and is used to convey the fact that the original Valencian dish of paella has been bastardised and changed across the Spanish-speaking world, and no longer reflects its culinary tradition.  Knowing nothing of that culinary tradition I took a look at the Wikipedia entry for paella.  It makes for interesting reading, not least the fact that in the original dish one of the main ingredients was the meat of water voles and that the dish was cooked on an open fire fuelled by wood from orange and pine trees to give a distinctive smoky flavour.  There was also a lot of geographic variation in the dish, so what constitutes an authentic paella is debatable.

Although there was no sign of rodent flesh or naked flames in the dish that we ate, it was certainly delicious!  But the comment about arroz con cosas got me thinking about shifting baselines in cooking and conservation.

The idea of a shifting baseline is that expectations of what is “correct” or “normal” or “natural” change over time depending upon what each generation has experienced.  It’s been mainly applied in conservation; for example, the Lake District of England is seen by many as a “natural” landscape of rolling hills and low mountains, but originally it would have been covered in deciduous forest.  Likewise large parts of Tenerife contain a high proportion of alien plants (such as agave and prickly pear) but local people and visitors see this as natural.  The baseline of “naturalness” has shifted for people.  Returning these landscapes to their original condition would mean a drastic shift in the composition of the vegetation.  And what point do we return that condition to?  One hundred years ago?  One thousand?  Ten thousand?  It’s an issue that is widely debated in the conservation literature, especially in relation to rewilding.

Likewise, over time paella has evolved and been adapted by different chefs, and what is currently cooked in restaurants only partially reflects how the dish was originally cooked.  Other than for epicurean purists, our culinary expectations have changed.  There’s been a shift in the paella baseline.

Anyway, enough metaphorising, here are some photographs from our trip.  To set the context, University of Northampton students and staff, including Pablo Gorostiague who is visiting from Argentina, and colleagues from the University of Sussex (Maria Clara Castellanos and Chris Mackin), were out with us last week.  Then we bade them farewell on Sunday before moving on to do some field work.

Field work on the lava fields at Santiago del Teide:

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The landscape of Malpais de Guimar, which actually probably hasn’t changed much in the last 10,000 years:

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How many people can you fit around Pino Gordo, the largest Pinus canariensis on the island:

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The endemic Tenerife Blue Chaffinch:

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The cold, damp laurel forest:

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Team Nicotiana!  Helping Chris with locating Tree Tobacco populations for his PhD work:

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Pablito takes a break:

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Filed under Biodiversity, Biodiversity and culture, Rewilding, Tenerife, University of Northampton

Local and regional specialization in plant–pollinator networks: a new study just published

Euphorbia canariensis pollinators 2016-04-29 17 58 00

A fundamental feature of the natural world is that no species exists in isolation: all organisms interact with other organisms during their lives. These interactions take many forms and the outcome varies with the type of interactions. For example predator-prey interactions are clearly negative for the prey species, but positive for the predator. Other interactions result in positive outcomes for both species, including relationships between pollinators such as bees, birds and flies, and the flowers that they pollinate. An important feature of such interactions is how specialized or generalized it is; that is, how many different pollinators are actually involved in pollinating a particular type of flower, or how many types of flower does a specific pollinator visits.

In a newly published study, I have collaborated with colleagues from Denmark and Brazil to assess how local specialization (within a community) relates to regional specialization (across communities) using two separate data sets from the Brazilian rupestrian grasslands and Canary Island/North African succulent scrub vegetation.

Here’s the citation with a link to the paper (drop me a line if you can’t access it and need a PDF):

Carstensen, D.W., Trøjelsgaard, K., Ollerton, J. and Morellato, L.P.C. (2017) Local and regional specialization in plant–pollinator networks. Oikos (in press) doi:10.1111/oik.04436

The abstract is as follows:

“Specialization of species is often studied in ecology but its quantification and meaning is disputed. More recently, ecological network analysis has been widely used as a tool to quantify specialization, but here its true meaning is also debated. However, irrespective of the tool used, the geographic scale at which specialization is measured remains central. Consequently, we use data sets of plant–pollinator networks from Brazil and the Canary Islands to explore specialization at local and regional scales. We ask how local specialization of a species is related to its regional specialization, and whether or not species tend to interact with a non-random set of partners in local communities. Local and regional specialization were strongly correlated around the 1:1 line, indicating that species conserve their specialization levels across spatial scales. Furthermore, most plants and pollinators also showed link conservatism repeatedly across local communities, and thus seem to be constrained in their fundamental niche. However, some species are more constrained than others, indicating true specialists. We argue that several geographically separated populations should be evaluated in order to provide a robust evaluation of species specialization.”

This is what those two different habitats look like:

If you would like more information on plant-pollinator networks, including details of an edible game for Christmas (!), follow this link to the standingoutinmyfield blog.

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Filed under Bees, Biodiversity, Biogeography, Brazil, Macroecology, Mutualism, Pollination, Tenerife

Spiral Sunday #33 – an Aeonium from Tenerife (for Karin’s birthday)

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Over the past couple of weeks we’ve been extremely busy doing field work and not had great internet connections, hence no postings on the blog.  But this weekend we are staying in a lovely little hotel in a restored 18th century Canarian house in Icod de los Vinos.  So things have slowed down, though the internet is not much better.

I have managed to capture a few images of spirals along the way that I will use for upcoming Spiral Sunday posts.  As it’s Karin’s birthday today, here’s one of an Aeonium species, the group of plants that’s been the main focus of our recent field work.

Happy Birthday Karin!

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Spiral Sunday #32 – from the Guimar Badlands of Darwin’s Unrequited Isle

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Our annual undergraduate Tenerife Field Course ends today and later I will say goodbye to the students and my University of Northampton colleagues Janet Jackson and Paul Cox: I’m staying on for another 10 days with Karin to do some additional field work.  The apartment complex where we were located had very poor wifi so I’ve not been able to post much, but we’ve moved now and I’ll try to do more in the coming week.

For Spiral Sunday this week here’s a shot of the logo for one of the protected areas that we always visit, and one of my favourite places on Tenerife: the stunning Malpais de Guimar (Guimar Badlands).

As you can see from the image below, the Guimar Badlands is a fascinating area of xerophytic scrub containing plants that are adapted to very low water levels.  It’s always the first site that we visit with the students, providing a great contrast to any habitats that they might have encountered in Britain.  A perfect introduction to Darwin’s Unrequited Isle.

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Spiral Sunday #31 – hola Tenerife!

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In a few hours I’m heading of to Tenerife with students and colleagues for our annual undergraduate field course, following which I’m staying on to be joined by Karin for a further 10 days of field work.  I’ll try to post as and when I can, though it’ll be a packed few weeks.

In the meantime this week’s Spiral Sunday is a piece of Canarian independence graffiti that I photographed a few years ago on the road above Guimar.  As I’ve mentioned before, the spiral is an ancient and important symbol in the Canary Islands.  Adios!

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Some upcoming public lectures

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Giving public lectures to special interest groups in and around Northamptonshire is always a pleasure as the audiences are usually very receptive.  Just been through my diary and realised that I’m giving five such lectures over the next few months, on pollinators, conservation,  ecosystem services, and so on:

8th March – “Bees for dinner?  The importance of pollinators in a changing world” – Long Buckby Women’s Institute – open to all and not just women!

22nd March – “A city without trees is like a bird without feathers” – Litchborough Gardening Club [title is slightly wrong on that link…]

5th April 2 – “Darwin’s Unrequited Isle: a personal natural history of Tenerife” – Friends of Linford Lakes (Milton Keynes)

27th June – “Pollinator diversity” – Chalfonts Beekeepers (Buckinghamshire)

12th July – “Plants & pollinators – more than just honey bees” – Cancer Research UK ladies lunch club fundraiser at Wellingborough Golf Club

Some of these will certainly be open to guests if you’re not a member and want to come along and hear what I have to say.

Happy to discuss giving a talk to other groups, please do get in touch, though I’m probably not available until after the summer as I’m also giving a keynote lecture at the PopBio conference in Germany in May and a couple of short talks at the International Botanical Congress in China in July.

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Spiral Sunday #19 – a fragment of shell

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Whenever I take a walk on a beach or in the countryside I’m liable to pick up interesting bits of shell, stone, sea glass or wood to take home as a memento of the visit.  Doesn’t always work, though, as I forget where I found this fragment of shell!  I have a feeling that it was on Tenerife.  I love the way the sea has rounded the sharp edges and a piece of stone has forced its way into the opening, a perfect sculpture in miniature as today’s Spiral Sunday contribution.

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Spiral Sunday #10 – a shrine in Tenerife

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To celebrate number ten in my series I thought I would fulfil a promise that I made in Spiral Sunday #1 to tell the story behind the main image of a blue spiral that adorns this blog.

In 2008 I was leading a group of students on a walk in the Anaga region of Tenerife during our annual undergraduate field course to the island.  We were hiking through laurel forest along the trails from the restaurant at Cruz del Carmen,  looking at the forest and cliff vegetation community structure.  During our lunch break I set off alone down a side trail and came across a shallow recess, a sort of low natural grotto, in the vertical bank that defined one side of the track.

The walls of the grotto were green with lichen which made a vivid backdrop to what appeared to be a small shrine consisting of branches, including one set upright that looked like a human figure with arms raised, or could it represent a crucifix?  Around this were scattered coloured pencils (to the right on the main image) and pieces of paper with writing on them, possibly prayers (on the left).

Most striking of all was a drawing of a blue spiral, its colours smudged and faded with the humidity, but still a conspicuous contrast to the lichen.  I took a few photographs, being careful not to disturb the display, then headed back to catch up with the students.

There is a strong local sense of traditional, pre-Spanish identity in this part of Tenerife and it is well known for its local stories such as the “Witches of Anaga“, and it’s possible that this shrine relates to local ritualistic practices.  The spiral is a traditional design used by the original Guanche inhabitants of the Canary Islands and still regularly found on logos, pottery, etc.  Alternatively what I discovered could have been just kids playing in the forest, though that seems unlikely as it’s off the beaten track and not close to any villages.

I’ve occasionally found other ritualistic items on the island (e.g. a child’s doll wrapped in cloth, with folded paper in the bindings) but the Anaga spiral shrine was a particualrly striking discovery.  When we returned with the field course the following year the spiral had disintegrated but the rest of the shrine had been tidied up and more neatly arranged (see lower photograph).  I wonder if it’s still there?

 

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Six bees, one stone: recent pollinator-related talks and workshops

BBKA lecture April 2016As I write this I’m painfully conscious that (a) it’s a couple of weeks since I last posted on the blog; and (b) I have a long list of things to complete before I head off to Tenerife for ten days of field work on Friday.  The absence of posting has been due to my current work load, including the number of conferences, talks and workshops I’ve been involved with in the past month, which seems to have taken up a disproportionate amount of my time.  It’s all been interesting and useful, however, and reflects the rising activity stemming from the National Pollinator Strategy, and increasing interest in pollinators more broadly.  I’ve certainly learned a lot and hopefully my own expertise contributed to the success of these events.

In this post I thought I’d briefly summarise what I’ve been up to recently, in the process expanding the numerical and phylogenetic parameters of “killing two birds with one stone“:

16th March – took part in a workshop to map the latest phase of Buglife’s B-Lines across Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire.  This was a really interesting exercise and I felt that we’d actually achieved rather a lot by the end of the day.  Once the final maps are completed I’ll post a link so you can see where the routes go through these counties and how they meet up.

23rd March – spoke at a one-day conference on “delivering biodiversity” organised by the Environmental Association of Universities and Colleges at the University of Worcester.  Although I was talking about our bird surveys on the University of Northampton’s new Waterside Campus, pollinators did receive some attention during a workshop on creating wildflower meadows.  I’ll post an update on the Waterside work once we’ve completed the next set of spring surveys.

30th March – spoke at the Bumblebee Working Group at the University of Sussex – have already posted an account of that.

6th April – took part in a”Pollinator Experts Elicitation” workshop at the University of Warwick, along with a group of nine other academics, and members of stakeholder groups such as FERA and the NFU.  Run as part of Warwick’s Food and Behavioural Science Global Research priority groups, the organisers, from the university’s Department of Statistics, used the Delphi Method to assess the likelihood of sustaining pollinator populations under different scenarios of disease, climate change, and habitat degradation.  It was a fascinating process and interesting to see how often experts’ views converged on the same opinion.  Also rather humbling to see the degree of our uncertainty in our forecasts.  The workshop garnered quite a bit of media attention including pieces on the BBC’s Midlands Today and the Farming Today programmes.

8th-9th April – delivered two lectures at the British Beekeepers Association’s Spring Convention at Harper Adams University.  Rather disconcerting to be the least-informed person in the room, given my limited knowledge of bee keeping, but they were a friendly and curious lot with good-sized audiences for my talks on the diversity of bees to be found in urban settings, and the global diversity and functional importance of pollinators.

13th April – spoke to a very receptive audience at the Friends of Linford Lakes Nature Reserve near Milton Keynes, on the topic of “Bees for dinner?  The importance of pollinators in a changing world“.  Great evening and lots of interesting questions afterwards, though my talk was a bit too long (must cut it for next time).

That’s it for now, hope to do some posts from Tenerife while we are there.

 

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Filed under Bees, Biodiversity, Birds, Honey bees, Pollination, Tenerife, University of Northampton

SCAPE conference 2015 – day 2 – probably the best pollination ecology meeting in the world

We’re in Denmark, so I had to use the old Carlsberg meme.  And anyway I stole it from Jane Stout who used it on Twitter this morning.  So there.

Day 2 of the SCAPE conference has been, like day 1, enjoyable and stimulating and full of things that made me think “wow, I did not know that”.  Here’s a few examples:

The day kicked off with two talks on pollen limitation in plants by Amey Iler and James Rodger.  Both challenged some preconceived ideas about the nature of pollen limitation: Amy that it was independent of flowering phenology and James that biodiversity hot spots were more likely to be pollen limited.  Amy found that pollen limitation is more likely to occur early in the flowering time of some plant populations, but not all.  James showed that the South African flora was significantly less pollen limited than expected.

Marcos Mendez also challenged us to re-think whether or not reproduction by plants has a cost on other aspects of plant growth and survival: his meta-analysis suggests not and I hope he writes up the work soon.  But, as Marcos mentioned, he has a lot of on-going reviews to complete….

Beate Strandberg discussed the subtle effects that herbicides can have on non-target plants in non-target habitats, via drift from agricultural fields.  Specifically they can reduce the number of flowers and delay flowering time in plants that are important pollen and nectar sources for pollinators.  Expect to hear lots more about this in the future: it’s not just the neonicotinoid pesticides that are worrying researchers.

Finally Soren Nedergaard has spent a winter on Tenerife in the high altitude lava deserts of Las Canadas, one of my favourite places to do field work, and discovered that some of the plants and bees are active for 12 months of the year!  I’m still trying to digest that finding, I don’t know of any other ecological communities that have the same plants and pollinators interacting all year, every year.  Is it unprecedented?  Does anyone know of other examples?  Even in the tropics plants tend to have a rest period when they don’t flower.

That’s it, just a quick flavour of day 2 as it’s almost 6pm and time for a beer, though not a Carlsberg: they only serve more exclusive beers here….

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