Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Tenderloin National Forest

From their website:

The Tenderloin National Forest was created to address the lack of green space in this neighborhood.
The Forest is intended to be an inspiration and model for others to attempt gardening in the inner city. People are welcome to come by the Forest to look, and if the gate is open (when the gardeners are there), to see the plants and exchange ideas about forests and flora in the city.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Brainless but not clueless

photo of Eisenia foetida from our worm bin

Ah! The all hail the lowly earthworm! You may already know that they're master composters, but did you know that they also have some remarkable abilities in the sack (so to speak)? Red worms, like many other worms, are simultaneous hermaphrodites, which means that they have functional male and female reproductive organs at the same time. The sperm recipient also has the ability to store sperm. Sperm storing is remarkably common in the animal kingdom, and has led to some amazing innovations in sperm sorting (on the ladies' end) and sperm removal (on the male's end).

The May 7, 2008 issue of the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B has a paper by Alberto Velando et al. addressing this very issue in Eisenia andrei, a close relative of the red wiggler in your compost bin. Check it out:

Brainless but not clueless: earthworms boost their ejaculates when they detect fecund non-virgin partners.

From their abstract:
we performed a double-mating experiment to determine whether earthworms (Eisenia andrei) detect the mating status of their partners and whether they respond by adjusting their ejaculate. We found that earthworms triplicated the donated sperm when mating with a non-virgin mate. Moreover, such increases were greater when the worms were mated with larger (more fecund) partners, indicating that earthworms perform a fine tune control of ejaculate volume.

Way to go guys! Brainless but not clueless indeed.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Wish You Were Here

"Monarch", the last known California Grizzly Bear, now in the collections at the California Academy of Sciences

I live in a place that used to have large wild animals, all of us do. Much of the way that we live is profoundly and unnecessarily destructive of the rest of the life around us. In that vein, I've been thinking a lot about re-wilding. The idea of wilding, of wildness, makes me all shivery. I want to say bring it back, bring it all back, whatever we can restore, it's our responsibility to restore it, to try to make all of the wrong we've done if not right, then at least a little less wrong. But for re-wilding to be real, for it to work, we, and I mean we as all of us, need to be willing to have some hard conversations about humanity and land and nature and where we want to be.

Lately there's been a flurry of stories about the removal of the Northern Rockies grey wolf from the endangered species list. A recent article from the BBC discussed plans to reintroduce beavers, wildcats and wolves to Britain. It's a really well-written (though short) article that summarizes a lot of the unease that people have about rewilding urban or suburban areas. Beavers have moved in to both downtown Martinez and the Bronx river in recent years. So, they can live in cities. But what happens when they do? Beavers are, by their nature, ecosystem engineers. Unfortunately, so are we and our plans may be at odds with theirs.

What does it mean to bring animals back? Especially when they haven't just wandered back on their own, but came back specifically because we brought them or explicitly laid out the welcome mat? What is our responsibility to them once they have returned? If we bring back beavers do we need to move our homes to accommodate the wetlands that their dams create? If we bring back salamanders do we need to commit to stopping the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides? Can we welcome raptors back to our cities while simultaneously poisoning their food? What if the nature that we welcome back doesn't play by our rules? What if it nests on the beaches where we like to walk our dogs or spawns near the pumps where we get our drinking water?

There's an artist named Fritz Haeg who's doing what sounds like a fascinating project called Animal Estates addressing this very issue. He just set up his first public estate in New York as part of the Whitney Biennial and will be setting up some creature homes in San Francisco this summer. I'll be interested to see what kinds of conversations his installations provoke.