Prospect Tree Mortgage Plant 100 Trees With Ecologi
By December 2020, Ecologi funded their 6 millionth tree. They noted that towards the end of the year that their tree count was accelerating and by this point they were funding one million trees per month.
Now in 2022 the Ecologi community have collectively funded 34,245,963 trees (accurate as of 25/02/2022) and reduced 1,400,492 tonnes of CO2. A huge success so far, yet with 80,000 acres of trees being cut down daily, more still needs to be done.
So far this month Prospect Tree Mortgages have funded 100 trees through their partner Ecologi.
The Green Planet – The latest from Ecologi
Credit – Ecologi – Katie Pownall – 14th February 2022
Over the past 5 weeks, millions of us have been captivated by Sir David Attenborough’s latest series. We’ve been treated to an insight into the fascinating world of plants and fungi by the Green Planet team, who have put the spotlight on organisms that are often consigned to the background of nature documentaries.
There have been so many incredible stories squeezed into just five 1 hour-long episodes. In this blog, we’ll focus on some of the most captivating organisms Attenborough and his team introduced us to, and look more closely at the biological mechanisms behind their fascinating survival strategies.
Heroes disguised as villains
The brutal world of plants and fungi is often overlooked in the search for dramatic nature stories. However, there are hundreds of case studies of deception, stealing, and murder to be found in our “green planet”.
Deep in the South American rainforests, one fungus is responsible for destroying 50,000 healthy leaves every day. But this fungus is sneaky, and enlists another species to do its dirty work – leafcutter ants. These ants slice up leaves and bring them back to their “fungus gardens”, where the fungus breaks down the leaves into a substance that the ants can digest more easily. The benefit for the ants of this symbiotic relationship is clear – without the fungus they would find it much more difficult to obtain the nutrients they need to survive.
But what about the plants whose leaves are destroyed by the ants to feed the fungus? It would seem that, as far as the plants are concerned, the fungus is simply an evil, damage-inducing agent in the rainforest. However, this isn’t the case. The truth is that the plants damaged by the fungus’ leafcutter friends may not survive without the fungus.
If you analyse the air within the rainforest you’ll see microscopic particles: fungal spores. These spores play a vital role in the ecosystem – they form the nucleus of most raindrops in the rainforest. Without these spores, the climate of the forest would be much drier, putting many plants’ survival at risk. Consequently, the fungus is a lynch-pin holding together the whole ecosystem, so it’s leaf-destroying activity seems a small price to pay!
Masters of deception
While many plants share some basic characteristics, like the ability to photosynthesise and the presence of a cell wall that surrounds each of their cells, the variety of plant life in our world is huge. Over millions of years, plant species have evolved to survive in their specific environments, leading to plants looking very different from one another. The changing outward appearance of a species over time is known as phenotypic adaptation.
The evolution of the appearance of a species is a very long process, taking place over many generations. Each generation, the individuals with genes that make their appearance best suited to their environment are more likely to survive and reproduce, passing their beneficial genes (and the physical traits they produce) onto their offspring. After many iterations of this process, which can be thought of as genetic fine-tuning, a species consists almost exclusively of individuals that are better suited to their environment than their ancestors.
These slow changes have resulted in some fantastic adaptations, such as Lithops’ “living stone” appearance that prevents animals from eating them when in search of nutritious, edible plants in the deserts of southern Africa.
Another deceptive plant is Ceratocaryum argenteum. Living in the desert, it needs to ensure its seeds get buried in the cool sand before they get too hot. This grass has evolved an ingenious way of doing this, enlisting their friendly neighbourhood dung beetles! Dung beetles bury antelope droppings in the sand, away from the hot sunlight, to lay their eggs on. Distinguishing between C. argenteum seeds and antelope droppings is very difficult for the dung beetles given the seeds’ incredible adaptations.
Just as genes influence the visual appearance of an organism, in this case they also dictate the scent of the seeds, causing them to emit chemicals that make the seeds smell like antelope droppings too! It’s mind-blowing to think that just small iterative changes, driven by random mutations in the plant’s DNA over many generations, have resulted in the seeds becoming convincing replicas of antelope dung, precisely imitating the sensory cues well enough to fool the dung beetles into going to the trouble of burying the seeds.
Plants on the move
Lots of us will be familiar with the concept of parts of plants moving. In The Green Planet, Attenborogh shows us the Ivy-Leaved Toadflax, often found clinging onto walls in the UK, whose flowers move towards the light, while the seed heads move away from light. This movement towards or away from light is known as phototropism. Famously, Sunflower heads exhibit a specific type of positive phototropism – heliotropism, turning throughout the day to follow the Sun as it moves across the sky.
Attenborough also introduced us to another common British plant, with two very rare traits in the plant world – most of its cells do not contain chlorophyll and therefore most of the plant isn’t green, and it doesn’t have roots through which to obtain nutrients. Instead, Dodder plants, of which there are around 150 species in the genus Cuscuta, get their nutrients by parastising other plants.
Once the Dodder plant seeds germinate, the seedlings grow quickly, trying to find a suitable host plant from which to steal nutrients. Until recently, very little was known about how the seedlings find suitable hosts. It had been hypothesised that perhaps the light reflection off potential host plants’ leaves could influence the direction of growth of the seedlings, but no one had been able to prove this.
Researchers from Pennsylvania State University carried out some fascinating experiments to try to determine what exactly was influencing the direction of growth of dodder plant seedlings, and discovered something fascinating! They found that it was likely that the plants were detecting volatiles (chemical signals) given off by other plants and using them to decide which direction to move in. In one of their experiments, the researchers placed a number of fake plants sprayed with volatiles from various species of plants equidistant from a dodder plant. They found that the plant appeared to be choosing one set of volatiles (replicating one type of potential host plant) more often than others.
The concept of plants making choices is new, so this discovery revolutionised the way we think about plants. It showed that, even without a brain, some plants must have a mechanism for making choices – a trait very rarely associated with non-animal organisms.
Another type of plant movement, which caused a headache for farmers long ago, is walking seeds. Yes, seeds that can walk! Before oat was selectively bred to remove this trait, its seeds had two long, bristle-like appendages called awns that twisted as they dried in the Sun, then untwisted when they got wet. This twisting and untwisting mechanism made the seed move along the ground, which wasn’t ideal for the farmers trying to collect them! Once the seed was in a suitable crevice, these awns also helped to drive the seed down into the crack so that it ended up in a suitable position for germination. Selective breeding, whereby only plants with smaller awns that were not able to make the seeds move were selected to produce the next generation of crops, has allowed modern farmers to grow oat crops whose seeds don’t run away!
Fixing our mistakes
Of course, humans have done great damage to our “Green Planet” throughout history. However, encouragingly, in this series Attenborough highlights several case studies that show it is rarely too late to correct these mistakes.
One of the most harrowing sights we see that demonstrates the destructive power of humanity is the land-use change associated with deforestation of rainforest to create pastures for raising cattle. Satellite imagery showing acres of lush green landscapes turning brown and dry over just a few years can make it hard to believe that the life that once lived there could ever return.
But, as Attenborough shows us, it can indeed return! Attenborough tells us about the restoration of life to a former cattle ranch in the Atlantic rainforest in Brazil demonstrates the resilience of nature, and how, given a chance, it can return to even the most desolate environment.
The owners of this former cattle ranch began the process of rewilding the site by clearing the grasses that had been introduced for the cattle to graze on. They then planted seeds collected from trees in the nearby remnants of the rainforest to ensure that the species they planted were appropriate for the area to maximise their ability to support local biodiversity.
The results surpassed the landowners expectations. Streams that had been dry for decades burst back into life thanks to the trees holding water in the land. Animals began to colonise the site too. First came the pollinators drawn in by the new plants that had taken root. Other animals followed close behind, including a Maned Wolf (which are only found in South America and are Near Threatened according to the IUCN), and a Puma and her cubs were spotted by a camera trap on site as well!
Making the world a little greener
Through the course of the series, countless stories of survival – seemingly against all odds – have captured our attention. It’s clear that we have a duty to preserve the amazing diversity of plants and fungi with whom we share our planet because our world would be a less magical place without them.
Beyond their intrinsic value, the direct benefit of healthy plant and fungi populations on human health and wellbeing means that we must protect and conserve them if we are to sustain humanity for generations to come.
Something that is made obvious throughout this series is that humanity, over the course of human history, has tried to manipulate the green aspects of our planet to suit our interests. This has often backfired, and we have learnt time and again that failing to value nature often leads to unforeseen and negative outcomes for humans. Therefore, we must apply our knowledge and experience about the value of our plants and fungi, and support their health in order to preserve our own. As Attenborough says, “We must now work with plants to make the world a little greener, a little wilder”.
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