Fitbit For Wolves


(Originally posted 1/16/17 on Read With The Gringa)

Nature and technology, they are not mutually exclusive passions. In fact, our planet may now be facing challenges that will require a marriage of the two in order for nature to be protected, restored and preserved. Whether it be strengthening endangered species populations or protecting habitat, nature lovers who may see the advances of civilization as a threat, might now experience an ideological dilemma. Because it is technology that must be used to save that which naturalists love.

The U.S. National Park Service (NPS) is using SMART collar technology to track and study wolves. The gray wolves of Denali National Park and Preserve are sporting canine-customized “Fitbit” type collars so scientists can study how they patrol their territories, raise their pups, and hunt. Is such expense worth the investment? Can the world live without gray wolves? I mean, sure, it would be a sad thing if they ceased to exist but are they important enough to invest great time and expense to preserve their existence?

In 1978 the gray wolf was listed as a threatened and endangered species in 48 U.S. states. This has occurred due to man shooting, trapping or poisoning them virtually into oblivion. This, despite the fact that there are no known accounts of gray wolves attacking humans in modern history and occurrences of attacking livestock have been extremely rare. And, in such cases, by law the government has to reimburse farmers and ranchers for any livestock loss. Why, then, has man targeted the gray wolf with such hatred and violence? Who knows. But the gringa thinks we owe the gray wolf an apology. But do we owe the species the effort and expense of re-populating the country with gray wolves?

We do. A world without wolves is an eco-system out of balance and possibly doomed to failure. Let’s face it, although most naturalists are lovers of the peacefully co-existing grazers like white-tail deer, the reality is that predators are just as important if we want to keep herds of white-tail deer healthy.  And wolves do so much more than that.

In Yellowstone National Park a cascade of devastating effects followed the eradication of wolves in the mid-1920s. Elk populations became over-abundant which caused habitat damage due to overgrazing. This affected streams through erosion as groves of native trees and shrubbery were over-browsed. As the waters became more shallow, they warmed. The result was that many native fish species disappeared or became extremely scarce. As the trees and shrubbery declined, so did the native bird and beaver populations.

One species that did thrive with the disappearance of wolves were the coyotes. Too many coyotes meant fewer gophers and rodents. And, as coyotes glutted on small animals, other mid-level predators, like foxes and raptors, began to decline. With wolves missing from the eco-system, the animals who dine on the leftovers of their kills had to migrate elsewhere. Yellowstone also saw declines in the number of eagles, ravens, and even bears.

So what is life like without wolves? Decimated grasslands and tree copses, shallow rivers and streams, lots of coyotes and deer and little else. And, eventually, even the deer and coyotes will decline due to health problems related to over-population.

The good news is that mankind can right such wrongs with the right use of the right technology. In 1995 a program re-introduced wolves to areas of the American West. The results are dreams come true for every naturalist. The ecological balance was restored. Rivers and streams were re-shaped. Songbird populations blossomed. Trout and other fish flourished. The entire landscape of Yellowstone was re-structured into a healthier version, resembling its former self.

SMART collars deliver knowledge to researchers about wolf behavior, physiology, movements and interaction with ecology. This information can be used to develop better conservation measures. Developed at the University of California, Santa Cruz, these collars provide GPS information, 3D movement data, and distinct signatures for each wolf like acceleration, sleeping and eating habits. The metabolic rate of each animal can be calculated so that researchers know how many calories an individual wolf needs to consume for the expenditures made in activity. Scientists are even able to measure their oxygen levels. The information collected is answering questions such as what was the cause for an incident of pack starvation in Denali.

Saving wolf populations is just one piece of the save-the-planet puzzle. If you are a naturalist, the key to success in your mission may very well lie in technology that you might have typically been hesitant to embrace. The gringa sees the superheroes of tomorrow as being able to live in a tent as well as able to design and use sophisticated electronic equipment. Tomorrow’s planetary saviours need to study STEM disciplines as much as they need to study agriculture and wildlife.

Sources:

Pegasus Foundation

National Park Service

US Department of Agriculture

Living With Wolves

Sustainable Human

Image Credit:  National Park Service

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Were Ancient Martians Vegetable Farmers?


If a petrified cauliflower garden was discovered on Mars would that indicate that ancient Martians were vegetable farmers? Again, images transmitted by Mars rover Spirit have ancient alien conspiracy theorists reveling in the possibility. Unfortunately, unless ancient Martians enjoyed a crisp, tasty salad of silica, no, they were not vegetable farmers.

Near what NASA has dubbed “Home Plate”, Spirit took some pictures of interesting mineral formations that looked like cauliflower. Now, just because something looks like something doesn’t mean that it is that something. Think of all the little fishies in the sea that believe they are about to snag a little morsel for dinner only to realize, much too late, it was actually a bio-lure attached to the head of a deep sea angler fish who is about to be enjoying some dinner of his own. See, although that glowing tidbit looked like food, it was actually a dangerous decoy and not at all what it seemed. So, no, the gringa does not believe that these cauliflower looking formations are actually petrified cauliflower. But, still, is there any exciting news attached to their existence?

According to researchers from Arizona State University, although the mineral formations are no indicator of ancient Martian farmers, they could still very well have been created by alien life. Just not the kind of alien life that walks about, flies in spaceships and probes your brain. We are talking about microscopic alien life in the form of microbes. Which, I guess, technically speaking, under the right conditions could get inside a human brain for a “brain probe”, technically speaking, of course.

Now these silica protrusions were first reported to Earthlings by Spirit in 2008. Why has it taken eight years for the media to find something interesting? Well, science takes its own sweet time in research and drawing the right conclusions. Part of this research involves studying similar mineral formations here on Earth to get some local answers. One place to do that is in the high altitude Andean Atacama Desert of Chile which has some shapes that look like a mirror image of what was found on Mars. Could the microbes that created the Martian formations have traveled to Earth and duplicated their work here? Is that a sign of a cosmic connection between our two planets or is it common for microbes to create silica based cauliflower everywhere? Are conditions simply present in lots of places remote from one another for this to happen?

Scientists Steven Ruff and Jack Farmer, who penned an article published by Smithsonian Magazine, believe that the Martian petrified cauliflower may be proof that at one time, way back when, Mars was teeming with the kind of life commonly found in the vicinity of geysers, even living within the geysers themselves. After their investigation of Chile’s cauliflower, the work of artistic microbes who have a penchant for sculptures resembling vegetables, they linked the microbes responsible to some ancient microbes found in New Zealand that were definitely from out of this world. More silica cauliflower cousins have also been found in Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park.

So maybe, just maybe, some space traveling microbes made their way here from Mars aeons ago. And the message they have left behind to get our attention are rock formations that look like cauliflower. Does that sound crazy or what? How would ancient microscopic Martians have ever known humans would ever develop the habit of even eating cauliflower and decide that would be their key way of making first contact or leaving behind a letter of introduction? The gringa appreciates the zeal of scientists but methinks this is all just an accident. Mars probably got slammed by an enormous asteroid, comet or meteor which sent chunks of Mars shooting out into space and one of these chunks happened to make its way to Earth and, bing, bang, boom, a kazillion years later we have cauliflower rocks just like Mars.

If that’s the case, there’s no telling what other bits of Mars may have made their way here and be right under our very noses. It makes rock collecting take on a whole new meaning. That little bit of quartz or gypsum you collect and stuff in a cubby hole or box today may prove to be of galactic origins tomorrow.

More interesting to the gringa than the thought of beings similar to us living on Mars long ago is the implication of space scraps making their way hither and yon from the vast reaches of space to finally land upon Earth. Who knows?! Maybe NOTHING organic on Earth actually originated here. Maybe our planet is a virtual junkyard of the Universe, with little bits from here and there surviving and growing up into what we have today. Hey, stranger things have happened!

Sources:  www.nasa.gov

www.yahoo.news

www.smithsonianmag.com

Image source:  www.americaspace.com