Author Archives: tanjakp

Biodiverse Gardens: Where Doing Less is More

Kiftsgate Court Garden: The Wild Garden 1. An example of a “wild garden” in the UK, where the plants have been left to grow (Image Credit: Michael Garlick, CC BY-SA 2.0, Image Cropped)

How do you make your garden more biodiversity-friendly? During my time at the  Futurum exhibition at The Big Challenge Science Festival, I spent a lot of time talking to people who expressed a desire to be manage their gardens for more plants and animals, but were unsure where to start. So I’ve compiled a brief guide on what to do, and it’s your lucky day – it involves not doing anything.

I had the pleasure of joining my colleagues from the NTNU University Museum at The Big Challenge Science Festival in Trondheim recently (you can read more about that here). When presenting people with the loss of native species, and the potential influx of alien ones, many people seemed genuinely worried. The changes this part of the world have already experienced were also apparent. It hit very close to home for me hearing some of the children visiting our stand ask what a barn swallow is. I have fond childhood memories of those birds flying around every summer, and I’m definitely not old enough yet to start talking about the ‘good old days’.

There are plenty of reasons why the decrease in biodiversity is happening, arguably the two largest being habitat loss and habitat fragmentation. All over the world, cities are growing and inevitably, this happens at the cost of other habitat types – although some species have made the cities their homes (I’m looking at you, rats and pigeons).

Fragmentation occurs when a large patch of habitat (be it a forest, grassland, riverbed, you name it) is cut up into smaller pieces. Your garden can be viewed as such a fragment, potentially resembling a miniature grassland. Even though the total area of miniature grasslands spread out in your neighborhood might be equal to the grassland area that was there before, the inability of many species to move directly from one small patch to the next means the two aren’t equal. One large patch is better than several small ones. But as cities keep growing, even more fragmentation is happening. Therefore, it is so important that we let those tiny fragments be of high quality.

Several visitors to the exhibition seemed thrilled by the idea of managing their gardens for biodiversity, and the prospect of having more wildlife on their doorstep. One woman happily showed us a video of a badger, which had moved in after they started managing their garden with biodiversity in mind.

badger-2030975_1920

Seeing a badger sniff around their wild garden was a treat for two visitors to our exhibition at the FUTURUM display.

People asked us what they themselves could do. They wanted in, but just did not know what to do or where to start. Therefore, we are here to give you a (by no means complete) checklist on how to manage your own backyard to benefit local biodiversity. If you are lazy, like myself, I have great news! The main thing to do is: do less!

Put your feet up, chill out

If you are a garden owner, this might sound counterintuitive, but I am dead serious. Stop doing so much! Stop mowing the grass and trimming the hedges constantly. The constant stress and disturbance is working against most species. For example, the Danish Ornithological Society advises people not to trim their hedges at all until after August 1st, as several bird species can have their nests in there (you wouldn’t like it either, if someone tore down the wall of your bedroom during breeding season!).

This point also includes cutting back on fertilizers and pesticides.

Leave patches untouched

To continue the point above: leave some parts of you garden alone completely, or at least mow them infrequently and strategically. Guidelines can be found online, e.g. here. The grass will be tall, the dandelions will bloom, but so will other gorgeous plant species, and these will attract insects, which will attract insect-eating birds and mammals, which in turn might attract birds of prey and other predators (I think you get the point by now).

Maybe even leave some dead branches or rotting leaf matter to allow decomposers as well, and make a little pond for drinking and amphibians – you can get the full cycle!

Pull the plug on the robot lawn mower

If you can’t do that, at least adjust the height of the clipping to a bit taller than before – this way some smaller herbs might survive. And for the love of God, do NOT leave it on during the night! I repeat DO NOT leave it unsupervised – an increasing number of hedgehogs are mutilated and/or killed by those things.

Do not plant alien species – use natives!

We have covered this point before, so I will not go into details – instead, check out Malene’s great post on the subject here! In short: do not plant species which are imported and/or are not natives!

Build homes for native animals

Now you have the plants covered, but the animals are a little slow to find their way to your little sanctuary – so write the invitation in bold letters! Put up an insect hotel to encourage more critters to settle, put up some bird boxes, or maybe even bat boxes!

For a guide (in Norwegian) for how to build an environmentally friendly garden, you can check out these points by SABIMA as well.

So in summary: let it grow, and let it be messy. Now go and be a good garden manager: sit down, out your feet up!

 

 

 

 

 

Locating Shark’s Teeth in the Phone Book

Supervisors: they’re our mentors, bosses, idols. Sometimes, they can seem almost super-human – they know everything, and find every single flaw in your work.

So it can be easy to forget that your supervisors and various other higher-ups are not necessarily a species of perfect, paper mass-producing, hyper-creative geniuses, but in reality just experienced people, who still make mistakes and have “brain-farts”. The following is a personal encounter I had which serves as proof.

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Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson: Rise of the Planet of the Insects

Anne-Sverdrup-Thygeson has made it her life's mission to fascinate the world - with insects

Anne-Sverdrup-Thygeson has made it her life’s mission to fascinate the world – with insects (Image Credit: Håkon Sparre, CC BY 2.0)

The Internet has been set abuzz (pun intended) lately by rumours of the Insect Apocalypse. And whilst the concept itself is depressing, it’s worth smiling at the fact that the public has finally started to take an interest in the ecological plight of a group of animals until recently ignored whenever possible. After all, insects include, wasps, cockroaches, bees and myriad other ‘nasties’.

Professor Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson is one academic/author who has made it her life’s mission to turn people around on insects, which includes her recent Brage Prize nominated book “Terra Insecta”. Sam Perrin and I sat down at the recent Norwegian Ecological Society Conference to ask Anne about why people have an aversion to creepy crawlies, how scientific communication helps in her mission, and whether or not the planet could survive the eradication of the mosquito.

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Bigger is Not Better

Not all GPS coordinate data are created equal, and some of it may actually be meaningless. (Image Credit: Daniel Johansson, CC BY-NC 2.0)

The smartphone fallacy – when spatial data are reported at spatial scales finer than the organisms themselves (2018) Meiri, S., Frontiers of Biogeography, DOI: https://escholarship.org/uc/item/2n3349jg

The Crux

One of the greatest annoyances when using museum specimens, old datasets, or large occurrence databases (such as GBIF) is when the locality of an occurrence is only vaguely described, and the coordinate uncertainty is high; “Norway” or “Indochina” doesn’t really tell you much about where that specific animal or plant was seen. Luckily, the days where such vague descriptions were the best you could get are long gone, as most of us now walk around with a GPS in our pockets, and even community science data can be reported very accurately, and more or less in real-time.

However, we have now encountered the opposite problem: the reported coordinates of organisms are often too precise to be realistic, and in the worst-case scenario, they might be borderline meaningless. The author of this study wanted to highlight how this advance in technology coupled with our eagerness to get more accurate data and results have made us too bold in our positional claims.

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The Sitka Spruce

The Sitka Spruce was introduced by the timber industry, and now covers almost 5 million hectares in Norway

The Sitka Spruce was introduced by the timber industry, and now covers almost 5 million hectares in Norway (Image Credit: Paul Harald Pedersen, Fylkesmannen in Nord-Trøndelag, CC BY 4.0 )Tanja Petersen

Once again, let us talk about trees. Do not be fooled by their innocent appearance – that is exactly what they want! In reality, they can be just as problematic as any animal species. This week I takes a closer look at the Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis).

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Alien Trees & Filling the Knowledge Gap

recent report jointly published by WWF, Sabima, Friends of the Earth Norway and the Norwegian Botanical Society showed that alien tree species are one of the largest threats to native tree species, even inside protected areas. The news even reached Norwegian news outlet NRK. But why are alien trees a problem? Isn’t a tree, well, just a tree? As guest blogger Tanja Petersen explains, not quite.

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