Category Archives: Ecosystem Dynamics

This page includes educational materials on the dynamics of ecosystems in both the undergraduate and the graduate levels.

5 Pests in the House that Geckos Can Prey On

Do you own a pet gecko? You’re in luck because these amazing reptiles serve as natural pest terminators. What pests do these lizards eat? Here are five of them.

I heard a friend got injured with scratches and bites when he hurriedly wore his trousers with a gecko in it. An Indian visitor once panicked seeing a gecko in his room. This concern justifies why I usually trap or drive geckos away from home.

But learning the gecko’s feeding behavior changed my attitude. Geckos should be treated with respect because these commonly disdained reptiles that find the ceiling of our homes their ideal habitat serve as natural pest terminators.

For hobbyists who love to take care of exotic pets such as geckos, the feeding behavior of these amazing reptiles is an add-on. Their opportunistic predatory behavior helps balance the micro-ecosystem in the house.

Which household pests do geckos eat? Geckos love to eat a range of pests that live in places similar to theirs — the dark, dank and hidden corners and crevices of the house. Household pests live in places where geckos like to tread.

Specifically, the following household pests compose a gecko’s diet:

1. Mouse and rats

How can geckos get rid of mouse and rats? Obviously, geckos could not win a fight with the large rats but they do feed on rat litter or the young ones.

I learned about this when a Japanese friend approached me and asked if we have geckos in our house. He was looking for some to populate the place he rented.

He explains that geckos are efficient predators that can control the ubiquitous mouse and rats. Geckos frequent dark places where rats usually give birth to their young, thus geckos prey on the young called “pinkies” when the mother rat is not around to defend them.

Click the link below to get access to a Youtube video where a gecko snaps on an unwitting pinky.

2. Geckos feed on cockroaches

gecko's foot
Undoubtedly a gecko’s foot protruding from a curtain’s edges.

Geckos frequent places where the cockroaches like to hide. These are places that are cool, damp and dark. I saw a gecko feeding on a cockroach but I was not quick enough to take a picture of that rare event. I never had the opportunity to see such predation again.

3. Centipedes

Crawling things like centipedes attract the gecko’s attention. A few years ago, I saw a gecko snap on a centipede along the wooden beam of our house. That was a quick, well-placed attack that left the poor, wriggling creäture trying to escape, helplessly jerking its body in vain.

Below, a video taken in Thailand shows a gecko clamping its strong jaws at a large centipede.

4. Swarmers

At dusk during summer, termite colonies produce “swarmers” or winged adults of termites that fly towards light in homes to form their own colonies. Geckos are there to help you get rid of the nuisance.

5. Mosquitoes

Together with the smaller house lizards, mosquitoes are favorite meals of the geckos.  They just extend their tongue quickly and retract the mosquitoes stuck on it.

Lay that spray pesticide aside and enjoy the benefits of a natural pest exterminator.

Things to Watch Out For When Having a Gecko

1. Droppings

While geckos serve as natural pest terminators, you should watch out for those nasty droppings collected at the back of your cabinets or appliances that are seldom moved. While dining, watch out if there are geckos hanging in your ceiling, too.

2. Unlikely home for geckos

I’ve had a bad day when my printer malfunctioned and got damaged when a gecko found the main board of my dot printer its home. It got electrocuted when I switched on the machine. I have to buy another printer because of the mishap.

So if you have a pet gecko, be more cautious with your appliances. Check unlikely but potential places that serve as their hideout.

The next time you see a gecko, think about its role as a natural pest terminator. Dodge, but don’t kill this helpful animal. They serve as natural pest terminators while fulfilling their ecological role.

Avoid the use of persistent and bioaccumulative pesticides in controlling pests by welcoming geckos in your home.

Do you know of any other helpful creature in the house? I know another one. It’s the house spider. See what it does by reading the article below:

Do Spiders Eat Cockroaches?

©2014 May 20 Patrick Regoniel

Do Spiders Eat Cockroaches?

Cockroaches are unwanted organisms in the house. Do you know that spiders can help you get rid of them? Here’s evidence that spiders do eat cockroaches.

Seeing things like a house spider preying on a cockroach excites me. I never saw such marvelous predation in my life until just this morning.

decapitated head of cockroach
Decapitated head of the cockroach shows its long antennae.

As I prepare early in the morning, around 4:30 am, and bringing my shoulder bag with me in my favorite writing area, I noticed something unusual at the side of the bag. There it was, a large spider clamping under its body a cockroach or what remained of it after some parts had been removed. Its body measures approximately 1.5 cm long and its legs extend 9 cm across. I noticed that the head of the hapless cockroach was decapitated from its body, indicating that the spider knows where to strike.

My camera is inside the bag, a standard habit I’ve developed through the years as I shoot pictures readily whenever an opportunity like this arises. I have to make sure that I retrieve my camera carefully so as not to disturb the spider, but quickly, because at any moment, I expect the spider will notice my intrusion to its privacy.

spiderfeeding
A spider clutches the cockroach onto its abdomen.

I took a few shots with flash at close up. Indeed, after five pictures and a video, the spider speedily jumped out from the bag into the table. It then dropped off the edge of the table onto the floor at a height of three feet, hid under the table for a while then scampered towards safety in the dark corners of our refrigerator – the cockroach still stuck on its abdomen. I can no longer poke at it and take a shot. It’s an adaptive response to ensure its survival. But I have no intention of swatting it at al.

A Documented Fact

So what does this observation imply? For the layman, this moment is just one of those things that “normally” happen in everyday life. But if you consider yourself an inquisitive person as how a good researcher should behave, this phenomenon means much more. It’s not just an awesome experience that you can forget after a while. It is actually a documented fact — that spiders prey on cockroaches.

Of what use is this observation? This simple observation and documentation spares a researcher trying to establish the fact that spiders do feed on cockroaches. This article, therefore, can be cited as a source that this type of spider do prey on cockroaches. You can see the spider or the cockroach separately but seldom will you find a spider feeding on a cockroach unless you catch a spider, keep it in a glass cage, wait for long hours and see if it will feed on cockroaches that you put inside the same container. Under captivity, the spider might not feed at all.

Ecological Implications

Now that you know that spiders do prey on cockroaches, and you consider cockroaches as pests more than you might consider spiders as pests, too, then this means that if you kill all the spiders, the cockroaches that they prey upon will increase in number. That’s a lot of cockroaches, and possibly lots of diseases. Cockroaches are carriers of 33 kinds of bacteria including E. coli and Salmonella, six parasitic worms, among others (Parada 2012).

Application

This knowledge that spiders (at least the species featured in this article) eat cockroaches can be used to control the number of cockroaches in your home. Catch a spider like the one you see here (a huntsman spider) and breed it to maturity. Then release in your house if it is infested with cockroaches or sell to people who need them. The population of cockroaches will surely be under control. There will be no need of harmful pesticides.

So which one would you like to have in your house – spiders or cockroaches?

Reference

Parada, J. (2012). The truth about cockroaches and health. Retrieved on April 11, 2014 from http://www.pestworld.org/news-and-views/pest-health-hub/posts/the-truth-about-cockroaches-and-health/

How are Crocodilian Populations Studied?

Crocodiles are an important component of the aquatic ecosystem. To keep track of and manage their populations in the wild, spotlighting surveys are conducted. This article details how this is done.

Recalling those days I used to survey crocodilian population as part of my job, I thought of writing this article for those who are interested on how the population of these magnificent animals are being studied. There’s a rush of adrenaline every time I do the spotlighting survey with my team especially in areas where there are large crocodiles sighted. We do this at night along the river, from 6am to 12 midnight, amidst thick stands of mangroves for greater chance of seeing these nocturnal animals.

Materials for Crocodilian Survey

What materials are required to survey crocodilian population? Here is a list.

  1. A fiberglass boat with an outboard motor
  2. A bright spotlight with a 12-volt car battery
  3. Dark clothing
  4. A 3-meter pole with a diameter of about 1.5 inch diameter

Understanding the Risks of Dangerous Animal Surveys

Is it safe to survey these dangerous animals like the saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) in the wild? There are risks of course, but armed with an understanding of the behavior of crocodiles, there is no need to be too apprehensive. As long as you have presence of mind, you can ward off possible attacks.

Crocodiles are generally shy and wouldn’t attack a boat with bright spotlight at night as the only source of light. Unless it’s a very big male that tries to defend its territory from intruders. In fact, the use of the spotlight by crocodile hunters almost decimated wild crocodilian population in many parts of the world. Their tell-tale red eye reflection give a clue of their presence, either floating along in the river or basking along the riverbanks.

fiberglass boat
The author with croc survey buddies back in the early 90s.

Why is the spotlight approach an effective tool in surveying crocodilian population? It essentially causes “blindness” to crocodiles when light is focused directly towards their eyes. They cannot see who’s behind the spotlight and will be confused. This is the reason why the spotter needs to wear a dark clothing so that there will no visible object that the crocodile  can aim its nasty, hard clamping jaws that bites with a force equivalent of two tons.

What is the 3-meter pole for? This is just a precaution in case a crocodile attacks for some reason. You can use this to jab on the body of the crocodile and cause it to land somewhere else. They easily tire with sustained effort.

One of the reasons for attack is when someone approaches a nest or mound made up of leaves and mud that contains the crocodile’s eggs. Maternal instinct dictates that the female crocodile has to protect its young. Crocodile spotters should avoid these areas which are usually found in the freshwater portion upstream.

Spotlighting Survey

How does spotlighting survey work? Well, it’s simple. The spotter, holding the spotlight, stays in front of the boat and scans the horizon. He also gives direction to the boatman. Placing the eyes at spotlight level, it is easy to spot the crocodiles because their eyes reflect a gleaming red. The number of crocodiles could then be counted.  To get their population density, you just have to divide the number of sightings by the number of kilometers covered by the survey.

man-eating crocodile
A 17.5 foot man-eating crocodile culled out of its habitat.

If you want to compare the density of crocodile population between or among rivers, looking at the density will give you useful information for management purposes. Management means removing “problem crocodiles” like the one at left photo and maintaining the population at levels that do not threaten the human population. This management approach is applicable only to man-eating crocodiles. There are many other kinds of crocodiles in the world.

Why Should the Crocodile Population be Conserved?

Crocodiles are an essential part of the aquatic ecosystem. They are known to enrich the waters through their excretions and secretions. Their body wastes enhance algal growth that serve as abundant food for herbivorous fishes thereby powering up the river food web.

Scientists once discovered that overhunting of crocodiles led to the significant reduction of fish population in nutrient poor rivers of the Amazon. Also, a study in Africa showed that once crocodiles were hunted aggressively for their hide. As a result, the population of hippopotamus surged and upset the balance of the aquatic and nearby grassland ecosystem. Thus, these highly resilient reptiles reminiscent of the dinosaur age 200 million years ago should be conserved.

© 2013 October 29 P. A. Regoniel

Facts About Small Animals in the Intertidal Zone

Have you been to an intertidal zone? If you look closely in pools of water that remained as the tide ebbs, there are interesting organisms living there. What organisms do you expect to find? Here is a list of some interesting ones – the baby animals of the intertidal zone.

the intertidal zone
The intertidal zone bounded by mangroves and the open sea.

Which part of the coast is the intertidal zone? As the name connotes, it is that part bounded by the highest tide and the lowest tide. This area can vary between places as the coasts have different configuration and slope. Those with steep inclines tend to have smaller intertidal zone. It is here where people of the coastal communities derive sustenance when fishing in the deeper waters does not give them enough food for the day.

The intertidal zone is an interesting part of the coastal ecosystem. A rich diversity of life exists here, among which are the young stages of marine organisms.

Let me tour you through the intertidal zone by showing some of the common animals found in this important part of coastal ecosystem. A walk through the sandy and rocky shores can be an entertaining activity as you will find a lot of interesting animals if you are keen enough in spotting them.

Babies of the Intertidal Zone

Here are the animals I’ve found in my short walk along the beach at low tide in a coastal area with an extensive intertidal zone. In one of my articles, I call them babies of the intertidal zone as many of the marine organisms here are the early life stages of the mature ones.

A certain degree of caution must be exercised to avoid stepping on the following organisms which play important roles in the maintenance of a healthy coastal ecosystem.

brittle star
A baby brittle star.

1. Baby Brittle Star

Brittle stars feed on almost anything its mouth and tentacles can handle. It is basically omnivorous, meaning, feeding on both small plants and animals. Along with the starfishes, the brittle stars prevent the excessive growth of algae in the coral reefs. Too much algae can suffocate corals and kill them.

The feeding habit of brittle stars prevents the build up of organic materials in the benthic zone or the bottom part of the sea that includes everything solid such as sediments, rocks, coral fragments, mud, among others.

Brittle stars are also known to feed on other animals without necessarily killing them. This type of interaction is referred to as mutualism – both organisms benefit from each other. The brittle star scavenges materials from the host organism, and in turn, the host is cleaned up of excessive organic matter that can be harmful to its health.

The picture of the baby brittle star shown here shows its approximate actual size. When handled, they easily disintegrate because the tentacles are very fragile. Brittle stars, however, are able to regenerate their tentacles easily.

2. Baby Eel

baby eel
A baby eel.

The baby eel is almost indiscernible behind an outcrop of dead coral and sand as the sun reflects light on the surface of the water. Its spotted skin renders it almost unrecognizable as it lies motionless and ready to escape once disturbed.

Eels form part of the intertidal zone food chain. Being predators, they control the population of their prey thus achieve balance in the ecosystem. The specific food eaten by eels can be determined through a study of their stomach contents.

Eels are an important food source to man. These are also used traditionally as food, in fact, a very important part of the diet and social interaction in some coastal communities when shared as part of tradition.[1]

3. Baby Lobster

baby lobster
A baby lobster.

Just like the eel, this baby lobster referred to by locals as “pitik” finds refuge at the junction of a dead coral and sand. It does not really look like the mature one but it does grow into a lobster according to the local guide.

Lobsters are essentially scavengers, meaning, they feed on particles of organic matter. Thus, it serves as a nutrient recycler in the coastal ecosystem. Other marine organisms feed on it as well humans who find the lobster’s meat tasty.

Due to the high demand for lobster, its population has seen a decline in many tropical countries. Recently, lobsters served in restaurants are smaller. This indicates an overfished marine resource. Most of the mature ones have been harvested.

4. Baby Sea Urchin

baby sea urchin
A baby sea urchin.

This baby sea urchin appears rather cute. It looks like a white tennis ball that floats about.

sea urchin
Another baby sea urchin with spines.

Some species of sea urchins are edible and can be consumed directly right after they are gathered. Some species are spiked and can cause discomfort when accidentally stepped upon (see right photo).

Just like the other marine organisms, sea urchins help maintain balance in the coastal ecosystem as part of the food chain. When left unchecked by predators such as starfishes, too many sea urchins can wipe out seaweeds and erode reefs.[2] This will change the productivity of the coastal zone thereby reducing the capacity of the ecosystem to provide services such as provision of food and livelihood to resource dependent communities.

5. Baby Spider Conch

spider conch

Spider conch, locally called “ranga-ranga,” are a favorite among gleaners.  They are marine mollusks that graze on fine red algae [3] thus are also help achieve ecosystem balance.

Aside from consuming this mollusk as food, the shells are used in making shellcraft. As a result, their population continue to decline through the years. If this situation persists for a long time due to unregulated harvesting, cascading effects to the coastal ecosystem will be sustained. Nobody knows what that will be, and research will be able to provide the answers.

The above featured marine organisms are just selections from the diverse array of life in the intertidal zone. When unfortunate events like oil spill occurs, these animals are certainly affected. Based on the ecological roles and economic importance of these organisms, you will be able to appreciate how such events can prove to be disastrous to resource dependent communities in the coastal areas.

References

1. Kavanagh, S. (2011, May 30). “Eels were life to our people”: traditional ecological knowledge of eels as food, medicine, community and life among participants in the Mi’kmaq food and ceremonial fishery in Cape Breton, NS. Retrieved September 23, 2013, from http://www.integrativescience.ca/uploads/articles/2011May-Kavanagh-Integrative-Science-eels-Mikmaq-fisheries-aboriginal-ESAC.pdf

2. Dunlap, H. and T. Monaghan. (2008). Sea urchin. Retrieved September 23, 2013, from http://tolweb.org/treehouses/?treehouse_id=4881

3. Tan, R. (2008, September 12). Spider conch. Retrieved September 23, 2013, from http://www.wildsingapore.com/wildfacts/mollusca/gastropoda/strombidae/lambis.htm

© 2013 September 23 P. A. Regoniel

What is the Difference Between Preservation and Conservation?

Are you confused or unsatisfied with current definitions to differentiate preservation from conservation? Here is a step-by-step approach to deciphering the nature of these concepts.

While the terms preservation and conservation have been used almost alternately when talking about environmental issues or matters, there is a distinction between these two words. Preservation is different from conservation.

How are these two resource management approaches different from each other? This article aims to clarify these two concepts in the light of available definitions and practices.

Definition of Preservation

Merriam-Webster defines preservation as ‘to keep safe from injury, harm or destruction.’ The term preservation was derived from Latin prae– + servarePrae- is the archaic variant of the prefix pre– which means before, earlier or prior to. Servare is the present infinitive of servō, which means ‘watch over, maintain, protect, keep, guard, save, or store.’ Therefore, the two Latin words taken together and to encompass all the descriptions of preservation means:

  • to watch over,
  • to maintain,
  • to protect,
  • to keep,
  • to guard,
  • to save, and
  • to store.

Based on these definitions, in the environmental context, preservation calls for a ‘no touch’ policy, to keep whatever existing natural resources there are, to its present condition. The emphasis is on maintaining the integrity of the natural resource. Strict protection implied for a defined period anticipates the value it can give to present, as well as, future generations.

hunting effect
Consequence of overhunting.

As a matter of government policy, for example, it may set aside and declare a forest as a protected area. One of the features of a protected area is the core zone. The core zone is that specific area with defined boundaries where no use is allowed at all. This area then gets preserved and able to carry out its ecological functions. Thus, it can serve as a natural water reservoir, habitat for wildlife, erosion prevention, flood control, carbon storage, oxygen production, buffer against storms, maintenance of soil fertility, among others.

A game preserve is another example. People are prohibited from hunting game in that region to allow a species with a depleted population to recover. Hence, it is a ‘no take’ zone in view of making it available in the future.

To synthesize everything, preservation, therefore, can be defined as a natural resource management approach advocating non-utilization of a natural resource. This approach views a sustainable flow of benefits that can be enjoyed at present or protecting a resource for future use.

Definition of Conservation

Using Merriam-Webster’s definition, conservation means ‘to keep (something) from being damaged or destroyed.’ This word sounds similar to preservation. But another definition says, ‘to use (something) carefully to prevent loss or waste.’ The latter appears to be a better definition that distinguishes conservation from preservation.

In other words, conservation does not only aim to keep natural resources from being damaged or exploited but to use them optimally. There is the incorporation of the ‘wise use’ policy in this natural resource management approach. Benefits accrues while resources stay the same. Resources are used sparingly or wisely so that they are still available in the future. Conservation emphasizes the use of the natural resource.

The resources subject to conservation may be renewable or non-renewable. For example, you can say ‘conserve water’ or ‘conserve oil or fuel’ but you do not say ‘preserve water’ or ‘preserve oil or fuel.’ Water is a renewable resource whereas oil or fuel is non-renewable or exhausted with use. The use of the latter resource relates to pollution.

Another good definition of Merriam-Webster is that conservation is ‘planned management of a natural resource to prevent exploitation, destruction, or neglect.’ This definition adequately captures the role of man as a resource manager. This definition suggests that conservation is a broader concept compared to preservation. A planned management can incorporate preservation, protection, wise use, maintenance and reduction of the ill effects or negative externalities associated with its use.

Conservation, therefore, can be succinctly defined as a natural resource management approach that seeks to attain sustainable or prolonged use of natural resources with minimal environmental impact.

The two approaches described reflects philosophies in natural resource management. While there may be a difference in terms of the approach, the result is to achieve a sustained enjoyment of benefits.

© 2013 September 21 P. A. Regoniel

Cite this article as: Regoniel, Patrick A. (September 21, 2013). What is the Difference Between Preservation and Conservation?. In SimplyEducate.Me. Retrieved from http://simplyeducate.me/2013/09/21/what-is-the-difference-between-preservation-and-conservation/

Things You Don’t Know About the Black Wasp

Reading this article will help you understand why we should treat the black wasp with respect and appreciation. Black wasps play an important ecological role.

Chances are, when a black wasp enters your home and buzzes its way around, you will try to swat it with anything you can lay your hands on. They are known for their painful sting. In fact, a worker at home once unwittingly disturbed a black wasp’s nest attached to a mango leaf. She sustained three to five stings on her face and had to be hospitalized.

However, after reading this personal discovery about the black wasp’s nest, your behavior towards it will change. Black wasps have important ecological role.

The Mud Nest and Its Contents

Yesterday, when I glanced at the sill of the small screened bathroom window, I noticed a solitary black wasp circling around its nest of mud. I watched it while it makes its way inside the small opening on top of the nest. A few moments later, it flew away.

inside black wasp nest
Fig. 1. The mud nest of black wasp and its contents.

Anticipating that the mud nest will grow in time, I decided to remove it but not after finding out what’s inside that small mound. I carefully removed the nest, starting from the bottom and placed it on a folder to take a picture of its contents.

I was surprised to see that the small mound was full of living creatures. See Figure 1 at right.

There are at least three species of living organisms in the picture. From the left, are two black wasp larvae (the smaller one is yellow-green and the bigger one, light chocolate-brown), a pale red colored caterpillar of an unknown species, and three orange-spotted caterpillars of another species. There’s another one not included in this picture because its life juice was sucked out by the black wasp’s larva; but that one is visible in the video below.

Relationship Between Organisms in the Mud Nest

How do these organism’s interact inside that cramped space of mud? Initially, I thought all of them were developing larvae of the black wasp. But then a question came up in my mind, “how can the larva survive without food in that closed chamber of mud?” Then it dawned to me that the longer ones are actually caterpillars that serve as food for the two plump black wasp larvae.

Also, several months ago, I swatted a wasp and off fell a caterpillar from it. That gave me the idea that the black wasp brought these caterpillars into the mud chamber after laying its egg which then hatches into a larvae. The larva attaches itself to the paralyzed caterpillar and then sucks it dry. That’s a simple hypothesis, and I verified this by bringing the bigger larva close to the caterpillars and see if indeed it will attempt to feed on the caterpillar. The video below shows how it behaved.

[youtube=https://whttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNyKBF84FHQ&rel=0]

The video verified my observation that the wasp larva feeds on the caterpillar until it has enough food ingested for the pupa stage. The proportion seems to be that for each larva in a chamber, two caterpillars were allocated by the mother wasp.

The Black Wasp’s Egg

I peered inside the hole of the unbroken chamber. It is difficult to take a picture through the small hole, so I cut it in half to show a cross-section. Inside is a small egg attached by an almost invisible thread onto the roof of the chamber, hanging there and moving to and fro as I positioned it for a close up picture (see Figure 2). In other descriptions of wasp species, the eggs are laid after food is made available. This species lays the egg first, then finds food in time for the newly hatched larva.

black wasp egg
Fig. 2. The black wasp egg inside a chamber made of mud.

Notice that there is only one egg inside the 1.5 mm thick chamber and there are no other holes anywhere inside it. The top part has a 5 mm opening, enough to squeeze in a caterpillar of specific size, and of course, the black wasp. This means that the wasp chooses a prey with a circumferential size small enough to fit through the hole. This indicates species specificity, meaning, the black wasp is choosy of its prey.

Once the food is deposited, the wasp covers the hole and builds another one to repeat the process until the nest becomes large enough to form a colony. The developing larva inside is safe from ant attack.

Implications of the Findings

This personal encounter draws out many questions that researchers in the biology of the black wasp can explore further:

  1. Which butterfly species do the caterpillar that serve as prey of the black wasp belong? Are they considered pests to farms (since caterpillars are voracious leaf eaters)?
  2. How long will it take for the black wasp’s egg to hatch?
  3. How does the pupa of the black wasp look like?
  4. How long does each stage of the life cycle take?
  5. Why is the black wasp’s egg suspended in the chamber instead of on the floor?
  6. What specific material is the mud nest made up of and how are the materials glued together?

Many more questions can be asked from the observation. These questions arose as gaps in knowledge because the information provided is a one-shot deal. It is akin to a case study. These are exploratory questions based on a single case.

From these questions, the following hypotheses may be tested:

  • The black wasp’s feeding habit can help regulate pest population in farms.
  • The black wasp suspends its egg to give it just the right temperature to allow hatching inside the chamber.
  • The black wasp uses wet mud to build the nest.
  • The life cycle of the black wasp coincides with the life cycle of the prey.

A review of literature will now be more meaningful as you learn things and compare what you have found. In so doing, you can design and carry out a more systematic and rigorous research.

It’s fun discovering and learning things through actual encounter. Using a little wit to deduce relationships between things can help you appreciate how intricate and wonderful life is in this world.

Are all these arrangements a matter of accident or evolution? There must be an Intelligent Being who is responsible for all these wonders.

© 2013 September 17 P. A. Regoniel

Household and Government Adaptation Strategies to Climate Change

Flooding has been a perennial problem in many countries. This is made worse by climate change. How do households and governments adapt to these events?

I could not access the internet for the past two days due to service interruption probably caused by the strong typhoon code named ‘Maring” and southwest moonsoon referred to as ‘Habagat’ by the locals. The heavy fall of rain inundated many parts of northern, central, and southern Luzon in the Philippines affecting many residents living in those areas. The rising tide and release of impounded water in large hydroelectric dams worsened flooding in areas where the waters flow.

According to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), the calamity affected more than 1.7 million people where 17 died, 41 got injured and 5 persons were missing[1]. Many of these people stayed in evacuation centers after the raging waters submerged their houses and damaged their belongings.

Significant changes may have been made to mitigate the effects of flooding because the death toll this week is lesser compared to that of Typhoon Ondoy or Ketsana in 2009 that caused the death of more than 300 persons[2]. Apparently, the people as well as the government may have learned to adapt from experience and prepare for such disasters which seem to get worse.

Climate change is believed to be the primary cause of typhoon severity in the past few years. Despite the controversies associated with climate change, I adopt the side of those practicing the precautionary principle, i.e., it is better to adopt a policy that addresses an environmental problem than having to suffer the consequences of not taking action. Thus, I incorporate climate change in the following subtitles on people and government’s adaptation to large-scale flooding as a result of climate change.

Household Adaptation to Climate Change

While hundreds of people frantically moved to evacuation centers in response to early warnings from NDRRMC, still many others stuck it in their homes saying they are already used to these events and had, in fact, undertaken measures to adapt and survive. Residents even enjoyed the storms, frolicking, jumping in waist deep waters, and laughing it out while taking certain precautions by wearing hard hats and life vests (see video).

Of course, their behavior exposes them to yet another danger, i.e., leptospirosis (a disease caused by water contaminated by excrements of rats or other animals), the possibility of raging waters once the nearby dam releases excess waters in the reservoir, alienation from nearby sources of food if rains continue, exposure to toxic substances that may go with the waters, among others.

Other household adaptations to flooding include adding second floors to homes, modified transportation vehicles, makeshift rafts, thigh high boots, plastic bottles connected together, airbeds deployed as rafts, rubber boats, among others. Many of these household level flood adaptations are inexpensive, largely makeshift, or temporary solutions to flooding.rubber boat

I have not seen a household flooding adaptation on the long-term such as a house on log I saw many years ago in a periodically flooded marsh of Agusan. Of course, having a log house in the middle of the city is absurd but I believe households can come up with long-term solutions to their problems. Relocation to elevated areas, after all, appears to be the best thing households can do. This may mean they will have to forgo their life in the urban centers and live in the hills.

Government Adaptation to Climate Change: Critique and Suggested Solutions

If communities cannot effectively  adapt to flooding, then the government must take steps to aid its citizens. Disaster relief operations always follow calamities like this. This approach, however, is at best palliative. Prevention is always a better approach than cure.

While flooding is a natural event, the government can still do something about it. It can be avoided or minimized to some extent by good environmental planning and action. Good planning and policy can prevent costly impacts of flooding.

In an effort to prevent the costly impact of typhoons, administrators and planners are looking into the contribution of poor drainage, indiscriminate throwing of non-biodegradable wastes as well as buildings that block waterways, and even corruption as unsolved problems that impact on effective flood management.

Poor drainage

Planners in government believe that making infrastructures that promote drainage can help alleviate the problem on flooding. Without incorporating ecological principles, however, this may just be a hit-and-miss approach.

In reality, there is a limit to what a good drainage system can do because Metro Manila was historically a marshland. Flooding is a natural process in wetlands. Cities built on wetlands destroyed a very important ecological function, i.e., flood control[3]. Nature must take its course and repeat the same process (i.e. flooding) when loaded with lots of rainfall. This requires environmental planning that accommodates the role of marshlands: clearing the waterways, leaving existing wetlands as it is, or developing subdivisions away from the natural courses of water.

This entails much cost but the benefits may be weighed against the costs. The impact of climate change appears to worsen each year and investments along this line can prevent future tragedies.

Indiscriminate throwing of wastes that block waterways

Blocked waterways reduces the speed by which water flows to low level areas. Tons of plastic or non-biodegradable wastes still clog the drains. This is made worse by buildings blocking the waterways. This means that in general, many of the citizens still do not adopt good practices in disposing their solid wastes, and city zoning policies are not being followed.

While an appeal to the public to stop them from throwing wastes indiscriminately may work, economic incentives in the form of fines, seems to be a better option. This also requires a vigorous information and dissemination campaign (IEC) to educate the people about the impact of their action to the environment and themselves.

Corruption

Corruption was factored in the flooding prevention equation because a sizable part of the 10 billion pesos in Priority Development Assistance Fund or PDAF (widely know as pork barrel funds) was diverted to questionable projects of non-existent non-government organizations (NGOs). Only a handful of corrupt officials benefited from such allocations through kickbacks and commissions of up to 45%[4]. A large amount of these funds were earmarked to fund flood control projects.

The government is hot on the heels of the culprits although there are evidences that this corrupt practice have been going on for decades despite rules, regulations and policies that aimed to lower the incidence of this age-old practice. Corruption has been culturally ingrained and became a ‘normal’ part of people’s lives since time immemorial.

A friend and I once brainstormed to find out the underlying cause of corruption. We created a problem tree and arrived at the root cause — GREED.

Thus, the solution to this problem lies at the very foundation of one’s value system. Change must come from within the person.

Conclusion

Successful adaptation to climate change entails effective responses at household or community levels backed by a supportive government. The nature of this adaptation could be short-term or long-term. Well-informed government policies on climate change adaptation strategies appears most critical in providing long-term solutions to avert tragic consequences.

References

1.   Reyes-Palanca, Z. (2013, August 23). ‘Maring’ leaves 17 dead, 41 injured. Retrieved August 23, 2013, from http://www.journal.com.ph/index.php/news/top-stories/56739-maring-leaves-17-dead-41-injured

2. Agence France-Presse. (2009, October 9). Death toll from Ondoy rises to 337. Retrieved August 23, 2013, from http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/nation/10/09/09/death-toll-ondoy-rises-337

3. Novitzki, R., Smith, R., and J. D. Fretwell. Wetland functions, values, and assessment. Retrieved August 23, 2013, from http://water.usgs.gov/nwsum/WSP2425/functions.html

4. La Viña, T. (2013, August 6). Investigating the pork barrel scandal. Retrieved August 23, 2013 from http://manilastandardtoday.com/2013/08/06/investigating-the-pork-barrel-scandal/

© 2013 August 23 P. A. Regoniel

Newly Discovered Mammal Species Olinguito vs The Bearcat

Have you heard or read about a new mammal species discovered in Mount Andes in South America? It is called olinguito. The bearcat resembles it. See the difference.

As I browsed the internet for current information on science, I bumped on the Science Daily website featuring olinguito (Bassaricyon neblina), a mammal species of mistaken identity. What first struck my attention is that olinguito resembles the mammal I took a shot two weeks ago in a wildlife conservation facility. It is called the Palawan bearcat.

Olinguito vs Bearcat

Examining the picture of the newly discovered mammal species closely, I could not help but compare it with the bearcat (Arctictis binturong whitei) which is found in Palawan. Accordingly, the olinguito looks like a cross between a house cat and a teddy bear.

The Palawan bearcat is similarly described. It is also a cross between a bear and a cat but it neither belongs to the bear nor the cat family. The mammal belongs to the family Viverridae[1].

For copyright reasons, I could not post a picture of the olinguito for comparison here, but this is available in the ABC News website. Indeed, the olinguito looks very much similar to the mammal found in the western part of the Philippines, in the island of Palawan.

You may click the link to the ABC News website to see a picture of olinguito that bears close resemblance to the bearcat I show below.

Palawan bearcat
The Palawan bearcat (Arctictis binturong).

Feeding Habit of the Bearcat vs the Olinguito

The bearcat is sometimes treated as a distinct species although it looks very much like the ones found in Borneo. It has a prehensile tail, meaning, its tail can grasp an object. This is because the bearcat lives in tree canopies to feed on both plant material and other smaller animals like insects, rodents, birds and even fish[2]. Thus, it is omnivorous (animal and plant eater) as opposed to olinguito which is a carnivore (exclusively flesh-eater).

The information on olingo’s feeding habit, however, is a bit confusing because the headline in Science Daily says it is a carnivore. But scrolling down further in the website, it reports that during the three-week expedition of Helgen and Kays, they noted that it is a nocturnal animal and feeds mainly on fruits[3].

This requires further study as the discovery of this new species spurred interest on finding out more about its characteristics, habitat, distribution and conservation. More expeditions are being planned at the moment.

Behavior and Size Comparison

I find the bearcat much cuter than the olinguito. In fact, tourists love to have the tamed bearcat on their shoulders for a quick shot every time they visit the Palawan Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Center (PWRCC) where several of them are kept in captivity. Placing the bearcat on one’s shoulders, however, is a dangerous practice because the bearcat can rip flesh easily just like a bear.

More than a decade ago, I saw someone made the mistake of handling it when it was already big and got slashed by its razor-sharp claws in the process. It is docile when tamed but accidents do happen.

The bearcat grows up to 1.4 meters and weigh more than 20 kilograms as opposed to olinguito’s two pounds. This probably is the reason why olinguito was named so. It is a small olingo.

A Demonstration of Keenness

New findings like this arise from a keen sense of observation which good researchers must possess. For many years, the olinguito was regarded as a species of kinkajou, another mammal living within the same geographic range. But it took a team of scientists headed by Helgen, who noticed olinguito’s smaller teeth and skull in the museum collections, to uncover a feature that everyone overlooked. Keenness is the key.

Reference

1. Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M. Mammal Species of the World (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 548–559. Retrieved August 16, 2013, from http://www.departments.bucknell.edu/biology/resources/msw3/browse.asp?id=14000270

2. Widmann, P., De Leon, J. & Duckworth, J.W. 2008. Arctictis binturong. In: IUCN 2013. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.1. . Downloaded on 16 August 2013.

3. Smithsonian Institute (2013, August 15). New species of carnivore looks like a cross between a house cat and a teddy bear. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 16, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2013/08/130815143101.htm

© 2013 August 16 P. A. Regoniel

Successful Family-Based Mangrove Afforestation Project

Effective collaboration between communities, the government and non-government organizations can help restore the environment. Here is the story of a successful family-based afforestation project.

There are many stories of successful community-based reforestation projects but few describe successful afforestation projects. Intrigued by a colleague’s story of an afforestation program that thrived for many years in Aborlan, a municipality located 69 kilometers south of Puerto Princesa, I embarked on a trip together with colleagues to see how the community did it.

But before you read the story of a successful afforestation project I narrate below, I see it necessary to define the terms reforestation and afforestation. What is the difference between these two terms? Unless you understand the difference, you cannot fully appreciate the significance and uniqueness of this story.

What is the difference between reforestation and afforestation?

For those unfamiliar with terms that relate to environmental or natural resource matters, the term reforestation is more easily understood as opposed to afforestation. These two terms are operationally defined, that is, defined in relation to this story on afforestation.

Reforestation is planting trees once again to deforested sites or former forests that have been logged over, overharvested of lumber or burned due to a forest fire. Afforestation is converting once unproductive or bare lands into forested areas able to support biodiversity, increase carbon sequestration and capture, provide for the natural resource needs of man, among others.

The Case of Family-Based Mangrove Afforestation

Here is a condensed version of the successful afforestation project published in a local journal[1].

The coastal community  of Tagpait, Aborlan undertook a mangrove afforestation project and sustained it for many years. Their accomplishment is quite unique because they used a family-based approach in achieving the objectives of the project.

The community-based mangrove afforestation project commenced through Japan-based Organization for Industrial Spiritual and Cultural Advancement International (OISCA) International. With the help of dedicated Filipino community organizers who trained in Japan through OISCA, the community members led by their chairman, started planting mangroves in a section of the coast virtually without mangroves. The place was used mainly by the local folks for gleaning and fishing activities.

OISCA provided the funds for logistics such as hauling of seedlings and boat hires. On the other hand, the community members contributed to the project by voluntarily gathering the mangrove propagules necessary for their 25 x 400 meter (1 hectare) lots. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) awarded Contracts of stewardship agreement to families in 1991.

The stewardship agreement provided that the grantee may receive technical assistance and extension services in the management of the stewardship area. These services, to be provided by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), Department of Agriculture (DA) and other government or private entities, include the procurement of planting materials, harvesting and marketing.

Seventy-eight families started to reforest the muddy portion of the coast on a one hectare per family basis. They nurtured the mangroves to maturity. Simultaneously, they established a sanctuary for fish and other marine species. The community members managed the mangrove plantation, making sure that the area is free of disturbance.

The Outcome and Benefits of the Mangrove Afforestation Initiative

After twenty years of family-based mangrove management, the families reaped the benefits of their labor. Lush growth of mangroves, bisected by an allocated section of open space for fishers to gain access to the sea, characterizes the area. Species of Sonneratia spp., Rhizophora mucronata, Rhizophora apiculata, Lumnitzera racemosa, Xylocarpus granatum, among others species of mangroves grew at sizes of 5 to 10 cm in diameter (Figure 1).

afforestation
Fig. 1. Lush growth of mangroves bisected by a pathway for fishers in Tagpait, Aborlan.

Now, community members harvest timber from sturdy mangrove species of Xylocarpus sp. and poles of Rhizophora spp. Every time they harvest wood or timber, they immediately replace this by planting a corresponding number of mangrove propagules.

Aside from being able to satisfy the community members’ lumber needs, they have now a sustainable source of nutritious food from wildlife supported by the mangrove forest. Occasionally, people come around and trap or gather crabs, shrimps, fish, edible shells, tamilok (a shipworm of the genus Teredo which is considered a delicacy by the local folks), among others.

Beside the open area for boats and along the mangroves, the families constructed a pathway made of bamboo, sturdy mangroves and planks of wood. It is here where hook-and-line fishers and gleaners pass through. This also serves as a pathway for visitors, who come to visit the man-made forest and enjoy the food served by the community members. They charged corresponding fees for the use of cottages and services.

Future Outlook

The use of mangroves by the Tagpait fisherfolk adheres to the principle of the sustainable utilization. However, encroaching individuals from other communities sneak and cut some trees for their own use, threatening forest integrity. There is a felt need among the fisherfolk to address this problem.

Despite this threat, the mangrove afforestation in Tagpait, Aborlan demonstrates that long-term benefits can be derived from long-term initiatives to enhance the coastal ecosystem. Taking the family-based approach in creating an ecosystem that mimics a natural ecosystem is an effective tool in engaging communities towards the goal of natural resource conservation. The family has “property rights” over the resource thus prevent its abuse. The economic benefits that arise from a protected ecosystem further strengthen the need for people to use the natural resources in a sustainable manner.

Replication of the community’s experience in Tagpait, Aborlan in other places will undoubtedly revive portions of the coastal zone where marine biodiversity thrives. The mangrove trees provide shelter not only to dugongs, sea turtles, monitor lizards, molluscs, among others but also to local and migrating bird species. Mangroves are a powerful form of erosion control, buffer against storms or even tsunami, clean the air through carbon sequestration, filter sediment-laden runoff.

Source:

1. Regoniel, P. A., and E. B. Pacañot (2012). Family-based mangrove afforestation in Tagpait, Aborlan, Palawan:
Sustaining the drive towards sustainable development. Palawan State University Journal. 5, 8-13.

Curiosity and Patience Lead to Learning

Have you seen frogs mating? Maybe you did but not the same as the pair of frogs I have seen. Read on and see what these frogs are. Be curious and have patience and you will surely learn.

Endless Croaking Frogs

I always hear those irritating sounds of frogs croaking just at the back of our house. The sounds are unlike those of the frogs I am used to hearing. They sound not like frogs but like cows, mooing albeit in short bursts of rhyming and alternating low and high pitches.

I usually ignore these croaking sounds dismissing them as insignificant as I attend to my responsibility of writing a chapter for a project report. But the persistent frog calls finally got the best of me. I cannot explain the curiosity that pulls me off the chair, make me wear my rubber boots, and see what kind of frogs sound so loud that fills the whole house.

Will I see something interesting if I try to explore the source of these exchange of high and low tone calls?

Anyhow, I walked under the drizzles holding an umbrella with my left hand while my right hand tucks the camera snugly inside my jacket. It’s not a waterproof camera so I need to make sure it’s dry.

Patience is a Virtue

I listened intently, curious what these irritating frogs look like. I slowly approached the interlink fence right beside the corner of our house, getting ready to encounter anything moving in the pool of water just behind a concrete post. I noticed that the sound gets faint while I approach. These frogs are so sensitive to intruders in their lair that they could sense my approach.

Armed with previous knowledge of animal behavior, I stood still next to the post and patiently waited for the sound to resume. My patience, coupled with curiosity, paid off as I noticed a frog bob up the water and made a few bursts of low tones. I took ready to take a shot but it was gone, under the water, in a split second when it sensed I was approaching.

I mustered another ounce of patience expecting another opportunity to come. And it did.

I saw two frogs appear out of nowhere. The smaller one hopped with effort trying to whisk away (that’s what I thought) the bigger one on top of it. I presume that must be the female frog. There’s something on the riding frog’s mouth that attaches like a vacuum on the back of the one underneath and I could not actually make it out. It’s something sticky, the first I have ever seen. It’s as if the riding frog was swallowing the female which appears to be blind. A whitish membrane covered its eyes.

I took a video and some shots of the interesting mating behavior. I provide a video below showing the two frogs as they make their way across rocks and grass. About three-fourths of the way, the frog underneath suddenly jumped bringing along its heavy load.

[youtube=http://http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QbzEf6H78iI&rel=0]

If the frogs are not that clear in the video, I provide a picture below.

frog mating
Chubby frogs, probably Kaloula pulchra, on a mating ritual.

Eggs on Mouth?

The frog on top has something like eggs (?) on its mouth. Or maybe is it just an extension of its lips? But frogs have no lips, according to a science teacher. I tried to find out what these are using online references but I could not find one. It just says these frogs have very sticky secretions. This must be the main purpose, to cling on top of the female. But I am not quite sure if the one on top is really the male, not the female. A specialist should be able to tell.

This experience just demonstrates that if you have both curiosity and patience, you will discover something interesting. I should add patience as a characteristic of a good researcher. My feeling of excitement going after these frogs was immeasurable. I had an adrenalin rush, trying to get a good shot of a rare moment.

I should have done something further, that is, to catch the frogs and examine what is that thing projecting out of its mouth. I didn’t realize that until now.

Will I have the same opportunity again?

You might want to see a close-up shot of this frog which I already encountered last year hopping its way towards our door. This one is a juvenile.

© 2013 July 23 P. A. Regoniel