Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Benefits of Forest to People and Animals

Forest provides multiple benefits to the environment, people, and animals. The list of benefits is as follows

·Forest helps in to cool air temperature by release of water vapor into the air.
·At day time trees generate oxygen and store carbon dioxide, which helps to clean air.
·Forest attracts wildlife and offer food and protection to them.
·Forests offer privacy, reduce light reflection, offer a sound barrier and help guide wind direction and speed.
·Trees offer artistic functions such as creating a background, framing a view, complementing architecture, and so on.
·Well managed forests supply higher quality water with less impurity than water from other resources.
·Some forests raise the total water stream, but this is not true for all forests.
·Forests help in controlling the level of floods.
·Forest provides different kinds of wood which are used for different purposes like making furniture, paper, and pencils and so on.
·Forest helps in giving the direction of the wind and its speed.
·Forest helps in keeping the environment healthy and beautiful.
·Forests also minimize noise pollution.
·Forest helps the scientist to invent new medicine as the forest has a different kind of plants and herb.

All benefits quoted above are purely the outcome of forests and cannot be derived from agriculture. If the cost of these is calculated in terms of money, it will be far above the outcome/benefits of agriculture.

Thursday, 20 February 2020

What was Radiometric dating?

The discovery that natural radiant energy was a much more complex phenomenon than previously thought with various sources dates to the last decade of the nineteenth century. In 1895 Rontgen discovered a new kind of radiation, which he called X-rays, and apparently ‘aroused an amount of interest unprecedented in the history of physical science’ according to J. J. Thomson, Head of the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, reporting to professional colleagues the following year.
We now know that it was indeed a remarkable breakthrough and one that was to bring great benefits and dangers that were not initially appreciated, dangers that were also to arise with the other newly discovered forms of radiation. In 1896 the brilliant French physicist Henri Becquerel discovered that crystals of a uranium salt accidentally placed on top of a wrapped and unexposed glass photographic plate caused the plate to blacken as if it had been exposed to light. Becquerel realized that the crystals were spontaneously emitting some unknown type of energy similar but different to X-rays.
The radiation was solely due to the radium and, unlike light energy, could not be reflected. He also discovered that a lump of radium mineral that he carried around in his pocket burned his skin. But it was the young Polish scientist Marie Curie and her French husband Pierre who made a study of these strange ‘Becquerel rays’. Marie Curie made the all-important discovery that the radiant energy emitted by the uranium salt was an inherent property of the element uranium and together with her husband Pierre named the new phenomenon ‘radioactivity’. In addition, Marie Curie found that the element thorium also emitted similar radiation.
When the Curies examined two naturally occurring uranium ores, pitchblende, and chocolate, they discovered that the radiation emitted was more intense than the uranium or thorium content of their ores, indicating the presence of other radioactive elements. Following the laborious separation processes of fractional crystallization, they managed to distinguish the presence of polonium and the much more radioactive uranium. However, it was a brilliant New Zealander, Ernest Rutherford, working with British chemist Frederick Soddy, who made the breakthroughs that were to lead to the development of radiometric dating.
From experiments on thorium compounds in 1902, Rutherford and Soddy discovered that the activity of a substance is directly proportional to the number of atoms present. From this observation, they formulated a general theory that predicted the rates of radioactive decay and went on to suggest that the gaseous element helium might be a ‘decay’ product of a radioactive element.
At that time, it was not known how many elements were radioactive nor what their decay products might be since radioisotopes had yet to be discovered and there was no instrument available that could measure radioactivity. Nevertheless, Rutherford’s brilliant insights allowed him to suggest that radioactivity might be used as a ‘clock’ to date the formation of some naturally occurring minerals and therefore the rocks that contained them. Rutherford had enormous respect for Kelvin and when addressing a meeting that the great man was attending, referred to Kelvin’s 1862 claim that the Sun could not keep shining unless ‘the great storehouse of creation’ contained some unknown source of energy.
Rutherford and others had now discovered that hidden source – the energy emitted by radioactive elements as they decay within the rocks of the Earth, which is enough to counteract and significantly slow down the rate of cooling. He tried to placate Kelvin by portraying the old man’s prophetic and prescient disclaimer as the hallmark of a very great scientist – ‘that prophetic utterance refers to what we are now considering tonight, radium!’ But Kelvin never really accepted the role that radioactive elements played in the creation of the Solar System, a process that we now understand as stellar nucleosynthesis.
In 1905, Rutherford wrote that ‘if the rate of the production of helium by radium (or other radioactive substance) is known, the age of the mineral can at once be estimated from the observed volume of helium stored in the mineral and the amount of radium present’. On this basis, he determined the very first radiometric date for a fergusonite mineral, which gave a Uranium-Helium age of around 497 million years and one of 500 million years for a uraninite mineral from Glastonbury, Connecticut.
But Rutherford wisely cautioned that these were minimum ages because some of the helium gas would undoubtedly have escaped during the processing of the materials. He suggested that calculations based on lead might be superior: if the production of lead from radium is well established, the percentage of lead in radioactive minerals should be a far more accurate method of deducing the age of a mineral than the calculation based on the volume of helium for the lead formed in a compact mineral has no possibility of escape.
In the same year, an American radiochemist, Bertram Boltwood, went on to provide the first reasonably accurate means of dating the formation of certain minerals within the Earth. Boltwood studied at Yale then in Germany and, on returning to America, worked to improve the analytical techniques of radiochemistry pioneered by his friend Rutherford, who at this time was at McGill University in Montreal. Boltwood made a systematic analysis of radioactive uranium-bearing rocks and noticed that generally both helium and lead were present, with the lead being the stable product of the decay chain from uranium.
Boltwood went on to develop a technique that allowed him, with the aid of a Geiger counter, to measure decay rates and with some chemical apparatus to analyses the remaining lead and uranium concentrations and the ratio of the radioactive isotopes. Initially, he tried out his new method on 10 uranium minerals from rocks whose relative geological age was roughly known, publishing the results in 1907.
These samples ranged in age from 2200 million years for a thoriate (thorium and uranium oxide) from Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka) to 410 million years for uraninite (uranium oxide) from Glastonbury, Connecticut. The oldest date increased the age of the Earth by an order of magnitude. Although by modern standards these results were not very accurate, for instance, the age of the Glastonbury uraninite has been recalculated to 265 Ma, Boltwood’s technical developments were of enormous importance.
Now the physicists really had to take notice and admit that Kelvin was way off the mark. It began to seem that the geologists had been right all the time to argue that the Earth must be much, much older than 20 million years or so. By 1910, a British geologist, Arthur Holmes, was pursuing a similar approach and embarked on a lifetime’s quest ‘to graduate the geological column with an ever-increasingly accurate time scale’.
He calculated the age of a Norwegian rock, which contained several radioactive minerals, like 370 million years. As the rock was known to have originated within the Devonian geological system, he thus provided the first date for that geological system and period. In retrospect, this was the most accurate of the early radiometric dates and, if Holmes had had the resources to continue his work, radiometric dating would have progressed much faster than it did. Holmes also recalculated some of Boltwood’s published data and arranged them to produce the first geological timescale. He was to improve on this scale continuously for the rest of his professional life.

Sunday, 9 February 2020

The History of Chromatography

The term “chromatography” was coined by Mikhail Tsvet drawing on two Greek Roots:  Chroma (‘colour’) and graphein (‘writing’).  But the word might also be a play on the botanist’s own surname, which mean ‘color’ in Russian. According to this interpretation, ‘chromatography’ would literally mean ‘Tsvet’s writing’.

Analytical tool – A scientist uses compasses on a chromatogram to measure the distance travelled by each constituent element of the substance under investigation. This colorized digital image shows the clear separation between the constituents.

Chromatography 1903

Like light rays in the spectrum, the different components of a pigment mixture, obeying a law, are resolved on the calcium carbonate column and can then be qualitatively and quantitatively determined. This is how Russian botanist Mikhail Tsvet attempted to explain chromatography, the method of color analysis that he had invented.

He first presented his finding to scientific peers as early as 1901. However, in 1903, he published an account of them for wider consumption in proceedings of the Warsaw Society of Naturalists.

Although Tsvet was very interested in plant pigments! The problem was having obtained a plant extract, how could it be separated into its constituent elements to facilitate further study? He found the answer quite by chance. Having prepared an extract of spinach with petroleum ether, he filtered the solution by passing it through a column of chalk (Calcium Carbonate) in a vertical glass tube.

As he did so, distinct areas of yellow and green pigment appeared in different parts of the column. Tsvet realized that each pigment had traveled a specific distance before being deposited in the chalk. To obtain pure components of the pigment, all he had to do was to take samples from each color zone. This was the basic principle behind the science of chromatography.

Neglect and Revival

Tsvet’s work excited about some interest. But it was soon forgotten in all the upheaval of the First World War and the Russian Revolution. Tsvet died in 1919, aged just 47. Then, in 1931, two biochemists at the University of Heidelberg, Edgar Lederer and Richard Johann Kuhn, were conducting their own research into plant pigments and resurrected his technique.

Several new methods of chromatography were devised thereafter along essentially the same lines. That is by filtering a liquid or a gaseous compound through a medium – paper for example, or a porous material a gas, an immobilized liquid. That retains each of the separate components at a particular level.

Chromatography has since become an indispensable tool in organic and biochemical research. It is used for example; to detect drugs in athletes' blood samples to isolate a particular ingredient for drug manufacture and more generally to separate analyze and identify different elements within compounds.  
Mikhail Tsvet (Photo Credit - Wikipedia)
Mikhail Tsvet (Photo Credit - Wikipedia)

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Friday, 7 February 2020

Lycaon pictus: African Wild Dog

African wild dogs are the most highly social of the canids. They are also known as Cape hunting dogs, but this is a misnomer since their distribution includes most of Africa. Although they occur across a vast area, there are probably fewer than 7,000 individuals left. The species is classified as vulnerable by the IUCN although the IUCN / SSC canid specialist group recommends changing the listing to endangered.
African Wild dog populations have undergone a precipitous decline due to human activities. They have been adversely affected, along with most other African wildlife, by the encroachments of human habitation on wildlands. The decline of wild ungulate populations has affected them as well. Outright killing by humans is also a key factor. Wild dogs are not particularly wary of humans, and they are often shot by hunters, farmers, and Stockgrowers.

The original range of African wild dogs encompassed an area from the southern edge of the Sahara to South Africa. Sudan is the present northern limit of their distribution, which once extended into Egypt. From the eastern coastal countries of Ethiopia, Somalia, and Sudan, the range sweeps westward through Mali, Niger, and the Ivory Coast. From there it extends to the eastern border of Guinea and Burkina Faso.
African wild dogs also exist in Kenya, Tanzania, Zaire, the Congo, Zambia, Angola, Malawi, Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa. It should be remembered that although the range is huge, the population is composed of fewer than 7,000 individuals. African wild dogs have vanished from many areas where they were once common and now exist only in remote or protected areas. There, African wild dogs occur only in protected areas. When they move out of these areas they are harassed or shot.

In one area, pack sizes have declined by 99% in the period from 1980 to 1985. These reductions in pack size, an inevitable result of overall population decline, in turn, affect population levels. Smaller packs are less efficient in defending their kills from hyenas, and fewer adult helpers at dens mean lower rates of pup survival as well. In this downward spiral, decreasing population levels result in smaller pack sizes, which then result in decreased reproductive potential.
Wild dogs are found in a wide variety of habitats, including grasslands, savannas, and open woodlands. They are seldom seen in dense forests. They are found on montane savannas, and a pack was sighted on the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro at 5,895 m. Burrows, which are used only for three months each year during the breeding season, is the abandoned holes of ant bears, aardvarks, giant pangolins, or other diggers, which are appropriated and modified by the dogs.

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Wednesday, 15 January 2020

What is Myrtle Plant?

Myrtle Plant is the sacred plant of the Greek goddess Aphrodite and the Roman goddess Venus, and the messenger god Hermes fashioned his magical sandals of myrtle branches. Fragrant myrtle is associated with both love and death in the ancient world. The myrtle was originally a death-tree, on which Hippolytus in flight from Athens caught this chariot reins and was dragged to death by his horses.
A myrtle was reported to have grown near his hero's shrine. The Myrtle-nymphs were prophetesses who taught the god Aristaeus, son of Apollo and Gyrene, the useful arts of making cheese, building beehives, and cultivating olives. Venus, a very early Latin goddess of spring, seems to have been first called Murcia, a deity that later was interpreted as Myrtea, goddess of myrtles.
Sacred myrtle grew in the groves at Eleusis when the initiates to the religious mysteries trolled there, wearing the leaves as wreaths. Myrtle, along with mint and rosemary, was burned from very early times in funeral rites. Theophrastus, however, in his Characters, written in the later fourth century B.C., chides those superstitious Greeks who on the fourth and seventh days of each month buy myrtle boughs to garland their household gods.
In the first century, Pliny reports a belief that on an extended journey a foot traveler who carries a myrtle stick or rod will never feel weariness or tedium. In his Enquiry into Plants, Theophrastus tells us that of all cultivated plants myrtle and bay are least likely to thrive in cold regions. Especially myrtle, he adds, for on Mount Olympus bay is abundant, but there is no myrtle; yet in the Propontis, myrtle and bay are both found on the mountains.
In Concerning Odors he records a myrtle perfume made from the leaves and fruit of the tree. Athenians regarded the berries of the myrtle as a confection. A fragment from Anti phanes' (480-334 B.C.) comedy the Cretans begins: "But first of all/I want some myrtle berries on the table/which I may eat just as it pleases me And they must be Phibalean, very fine/Fit for a garland."
Pliny notes that even when chewed the day before, they make the mouth smell sweet and that the women eat them in Menander's comedy Synaristosae (Women at Lunch). His final word on the subject is a "prescription for offensive breath, a very embarrassing complaint.
Myrtle leaves with an equal weight of lentisci (a Syrian nut) and one-half quantity of old wine maybe chewed with benefit in the morning."In his De agriculture Cato gives instructions for making myrtle wine: dry black myrtle berries in the shade; when shriveled, store until vintage time; crush one-half peck of myrtle berries in three gallons of must; seal the vessel; when fermentation stops, remove the myrtle berries.
In the Aeneid, Virgil portrays Augustus encircling his temples with ancestress' myrtle to show his descent from the goddess Venus. He moves then to the "shores rejoicing in myrtle groves," "the myrtle in stout spear shafts," and again later to "the shore-loving myrtle."
Horace encircled his brow often, preferring simpler myrtle to the more fashionable garlands of Persian roses, as he stretched out to sip wine or to make love under the moon on his Sabine farm: "Cytherean Venus already leads her bands of dancers beneath the overhanging moon... Now is the fitting time to bind our glistening locks with green myrtle."Dioscorides calls the myrtle myrsine and distinguishes a black and a white variety.
He considers the black better medicinally and lists dozens of remedies made from it. The fruit is good for hemoptysis and ulcers, as is the juice of green myrtle which also helps the stomach. A decoction of the fruit dyes the hair black and mixed with wine it cures obstinate sores of the body extremities. Applied with flour, it relieves eye inflammations.
Pliny independently lists similar uses and adds a few others. Oil from the same myrtle is milder than the juice, and so also is myrtle wine which never intoxicates. A decoction of leaves in wine clears up freckles, hangnails, whitlows, sores of the eyelid, and venereal diseases in men.
For swelling of the groin, one need merely carries a sprig of myrtle that has touched neither iron nor the ground. Pliny also refers to a wild myrtle ("myrtus silvestris"), which can be distinguished from the cultivated by its red berries and small size, and young stalks cooked in ashes are eaten like asparagus. The plant that was eaten has been identified by modern botanists as Ruscus aculeatus, commonly known as Butcher's Broom or Jew's Myrtle.

Friday, 3 January 2020

Nutritional Profile of Rice (Wild rice)

The Nutrients in This Food

All rice is a high-carbohydrate food, rich in starch, with moderate amounts of dietary fiber. Brown rice, which has the bran (outer seed covering), is high in fiber. Rice’s proteins are plentiful but limited in the essential amino acids lysine and isoleucine.
All rice is low in fat, but brown rice, with its fatty germ (the center of the seed), has about twice as much fat as white rice. Brown rice is higher in vitamins and minerals than plain milled white rice. Enriched white rice is equivalent to plain brown rice. All rice is a source of B vitamins, including folates.
FDA ordered food manufacturers to add folates which protect against birth defects of the spinal cord and against heart disease to flour, rice, and other grain products. One year later, data from the Framingham Heart The study, which has followed heart health among residents of a Boston suburb for nearly half a century, showed a dramatic increase in blood levels of folic acid.
Before the fortification of foods, 22 percent of the study participants had a folic acid deficiency; after, the number fell to 2 percent. Rice is also a source of calcium and nonheme iron, the form of iron found in plant foods.

Most Nutritious Way to Serve This Food

With legumes (beans, peas). The proteins in rice are deficient in the essential amino acid’s lysine and isoleucine and rich in the essential amino acid’s tryptophan, methionine, and cystine. The proteins in legumes are exactly the opposite.
Combining the two foods in one dish “complements” or “completes” their proteins. With meat or a food rich in vitamin C (tomatoes, peppers). Both will increase the availability of iron in the rice.
Meat increases the secretion of stomach acids (iron is absorbed better in an acid environment); vitamin C changes the iron in the rice from ferric iron (which is hard to absorb) to ferrous iron (which is easier to absorb).

Diets That May Restrict or Exclude This Food

Low-calcium diet (brown rice, wild rice)
Low-fiber diet

How to Buy

Look for: Tightly sealed packages that protect the rice from air and moisture, which can oxidize the fats in the rice and turn them rancid. Choose the rice that meets your needs.
Long-grain rice, which has less starch than short-grain (“Oriental”) rice will be fluffier and less sticky when cooked. Brown rice has a distinctive nutty taste that can overwhelm delicate foods or “fight” with other strong flavors.
Avoid: Stained boxes of rice, even if they are still sealed. Whatever spilled on the box may have seeped through the cardboard onto the rice inside.

How to Store

Store rice in air- and moisture-proof containers in a cool, dark cabinet to keep it dry and protect its fats from oxygen. White rice may stay fresh for as long as a year.
Brown rice, which retains its bran and germ and thus has more fat than white rice, may stay fresh for only a few months before its fats (inevitably) oxidize. All rice spoils more quickly in hot, humid weather. Aging or rancid rice usually has a distinctive stale and musty odor.

How to Cook

Should you wash rice before you cook it? Yes, if you are preparing imported rice or rice purchased in bulk. No, if you are preparing prepacked white or brown rice.
You wash all varieties of bulk rice to flush away debris and/or insects. Also, wash imported rice to rinse off the cereal or corn-syrup coating.
You should pick over brown and white rice to catch the occasional pebble or stone, but washing is either worthless or detrimental. Washing brown rice has no effect one way or the other. Since the grains are protected by their bran, the water will not flush away either starches or nutrients.
Washing long-grain white rice, however, will rinse away some of the starch on the surface, which can be a plus if you want the rice to be as fluffy as possible. The downside is that washing the rice will also rinse away any nutrients remaining on plain. And milled rice and dissolve the starch/nutrient coating on enriched rice. Washing the starches off short-grain, Oriental rice will make the rice uncharacteristically dry rather than sticky.

What Happens When You Cook This Food?

Starch consists of molecules of the complex carbohydrates amylose and amylopectin packed into a starch granule. When you cook rice, the starch granules absorb water molecules. When the temperature of the water reaches approximately 140°F, the amylose and amylopectin molecules inside the starch granules relax and unfold.
Breaking some of their internal bonds (bonds between atoms on the same molecule) and forming new bonds between atoms on different molecules. The result is a starch network of starch molecules that traps and holds water molecules, making the starch granules even bulkier. In fact, rice holds so much water that it will double or even triple in bulk when cooked.
If you continue to cook the rice, the starch granules will eventually, break open, the liquid inside will leak out, the walls of the granules will collapse, and the rice will turn soft and mushy. At the same time, amylose and amylopectin molecules escaping from the granules will make the outside of the rice sticky—the reason why overcooked rice clumps together.
There are several ways to keep rice from clumping when you cook it. First, you can cook the rice in so much water that the grains have room to boil without bumping into each other, but you will lose B vitamins when you drain the excess water from the rice. Second, you can sauté the rice before you boil it or add a little fat to the boiling liquid.
Theoretically, this should make the outside of the grains slick enough to slide off each other. But this method raises the fat content of the rice with no guarantee that it will really keep the rice from clumping.
The best method is to cook the rice in just as much water as it can absorb without rupturing its starch granules. Also remove the rice from the heat as soon as the water is almost all absorbed. Fluff the cooked rice with a fork as it is cooling, to separate the grains.

How Other Kinds of Processing Affect This Food

“Converted” rice. “Converted” rice is rice that is parboiled under pressure before it is milled. This process drives the vitamins and minerals into the grain and loosens the bran so that it slips off easily when the rice is milled. Converted rice retains more vitamins and minerals than conventionally milled white rice.
“Quick-cooking” rice. This is rice that has been cooked and dehydrated. It’s hard, starchy outer covering and its starch granules have already been broken so it will reabsorb water almost instantly when you cook it.

Medical Uses and/or Benefits

To soothe irritated skin. Like corn starch or potato starch, powdered rice used as a dusting powder or stirred into the bathwater may soothe and dry a “wet” skin rash. It is so drying, however, that it should never be used on a dry skin rash or on any rash without a doctor’s advice.
As a substitute for wheat flour in a gluten-free diet. People with celiac disease have an inherited metabolic disorder which makes it impossible for them to digest gluten and gliadin, proteins found in wheat and some other grains. Rice and rice flour, which are free of gluten and gliadin, may be a useful substitute in some recipes.

Adverse Effects Associated with This Food

Beri-beri is the thiamin (vitamin B1)-deficiency disease. Beri-beri, which is rare today, occurs among people for whom milled white rice, stripped of its B vitamins, is a dietary mainstay. Enriching the rice prevents beri-beri.
Mold toxins. Rice, like other grains, may support the growth of toxic molds, including Aspergillus flavus. Which produces carcinogenic aflatoxins. Other toxins found on moldy rice include citrinin, a Penicillium mold too toxic to be used as an antibiotic; rubratoxins, mold products are known to cause hemorrhages in animals who eat the moldy rice; and nivalenol, a mold toxin that suppresses DNA and protein synthesis in cells. Because mold may turn the rice yellow, moldy rice is also known as yellow rice.

Nutritional Profile

Energy value (calories per serving): Moderate
Protein: Moderate
Fat: Low
Saturated fat: Low
Cholesterol: None
Carbohydrates: High
Fiber: Low to high
Sodium: Low
Major vitamin contribution: B vitamins
Major mineral contribution: Iron, calcium

Monday, 30 December 2019

Fennel – The History Old as the Mediterranean Basin

Fennel has a history as old as the Mediterranean basin where it originated. The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans all ate its aromatic fruits and tender shoots. In the midsummer festival Adonia, of ancient times, fennel was among those seeds planted in the rites. A lover of the Aphrodite, Adonis was the beautiful youth whose death and resurrection the festival observed.
Around his image fast-germinating plants such as fennel, lettuce, and barley were sown in clay pots. The seeds sprouted speedily and then the sprouts withered from sun and drought. When the plants died, the pots were thrown in the river with images of Adonis. These rites intended to invoke abundant rainfall in the coming season. Or may have encouraged pot-culture as a convenient way of growing plants indoors.
Early Greek athletes, in training for the games, ate fennel seeds as a healthful food. That also helps in to control their body weight. Theophrastus distinguished two types of ferula, calling fennel a ferula-like plant. He commented that the two were alike except in size, naming the very tall plant narthex and the smaller one narthekia.
Narthex appears in one of the earliest Greek myths. Prometheus, in a contest with Zeus, stole the glowing charcoalthat was fire, carrying it as a gift to mankind in the hollow stalk of the giant fennel plant (Ferula communis).
Moreover, dioscorides are distinguished several types, just calling one of them narthex (Ferula communis), however the other is marathon (Foeniculum vulgare). Herodotus and Ovid both comment that the site of the famous battle of Marathon in eastern Attica was a plain overgrown with fennel. Both narthex and marathon had medicinal properties, but the juice of marathon stalks and leaves was believed to be effective for improving eyesight.
Also, the possibly a connection was made with a story Pliny reports: after serpents shed their skins, they rub against the fennel plant to sharpen their eyesight. He attributes twenty-two medicinal remedies to fennel and distinguishes several different types. Certainly, the Romans delighted in the flavor of fennel.
Cato the Elder gives a recipe for curing green olives and then seasoning them with oil, vinegar, salt, fennel, and mastic. His recipe for an olive relish is prepared as follows: remove stones from green, ripe, and mottled olives; chop flesh and add oil, vinegar, fennel, cumin, coriander, mint, and rue; serve in an earthen dish.
Young fennel shoots were cooked as vegetables, raw stalks made into salads, and seeds placed under loaves of bread as it was baked to add flavor. Columella gives another recipe, for preserving fennel stems in brine and vinegar. Also, the Roman soldiers mixed fennel seed with their mealtimes to assure fighting forte and courage.
The Apician cookbook contains a recipe for Tisana taricha, an herbal barley soup that includes both fresh fennel and fennel seed. Soak dried chick peas, lentils, and split peas. Crush barley and boil with the dried vegetables. When cooked add olive oil to taste and chopped leeks, coriander, fresh fennel, dill, beet, mallow, and tender cabbage leaves.
Pound a generous quantity of fennel seed, orégano, asafoetida, and lovage; moisten with liquamen and add to soup. Serve with finely chopped cabbage leaves on top. A graceful hardy perennial with shining, cylindrical, blue-green stems. Leaves are bright green and finely feathered. Flowers are bright yellow in large flat umbels.
Florence fennel (F. vulgare var. dulce), also called finocchio, has an enlarged leaf base and is used as a vegetable. Young stems of Sicilian fennel (F. vulgare var. piperitum) can be blanched and eaten like celery. Full sun and ordinary soil. Volatile oil of fennel has properties like that of dill. The best varieties of fennel yield from4% to 5% of volatile oil, its principal constituents anethol and fenchone.

Saturday, 28 December 2019

Do every Species have its Niche?

Every species has its niche, its place in the grand scheme of things. Consider a wolf-spider as it hunts through the litter of leaves on the woodland floor. It must be a splendid hunter; that goes without saying for otherwise, its line would long since have died out. But it must be proficient at other things too. Even as it hunts, it must keep some of its eight eyes on the look-out for the things that hunt it; and when it sees an enemy it must do the right thing to save itself. It must know what to do when it rains. It must have a lifestyle that enables it to survive the winter.
It must rest safely when the time is not apt for hunting. And there comes a season of the year when the spiders, as it were, feel the sap rising in their eight legs. The male must respond by going to look for a female spider, and when he finds her, he must convince her that he is not merely something to eat—yet. And she, in the fullness of time, must carry an egg-sack as she goes about her hunting, and later must let the babies ride on her back. They, in turn, must learn the various forms of fending for themselves as they go through the different molt of the spider’s life until they, too, are swift- running, pouncing hunters of the woodland floor. Wolf-spidering is a complex job, not something to be undertaken by an amateur. We might say that there is a profession of wolf-spidering.
It is necessary to be good at all its manifold tasks to survive at it. What is more, the profession is possible only in very restricted circumstances. A woodland floor is necessary, for instance, and the right climate with a winter roughly like that your ancestors were used to; and enough of the right sorts of things to hunt; and the right shelter when you need it; and the numbers of natural enemies must be kept within reasonable bounds. For success, individual spiders must be superlatively good at their jobs and the right circumstances must prevail. Unless both the skills of spidering and the opportunity are present, there will not be any wolf-spiders. The “niche” of wolf-spidering will not be filled. “Niche” is a word ecologists have borrowed from church architecture. In a church, of course, “niche” means a recess in the wall in which a figurine may be placed; it is an address, a location, a physical place. But the ecologist’s “niche” is more than just a physical place: it is a place in the grand scheme of things. The niche is an animal's (or a plant's) profession.
The niche of the wolf-spider is everything it does to get its food and raise its babies. To be able to do these things it must relate properly to the place where it lives and to the other inhabitants of that place. Everything the species does to survive and stay “fit” in the Darwinian sense is its niche. The physical living place in an ecologist's jargon is called the habitat. The habitat is the “address” or “location” in which individuals of a species live. The woodland floor hunted by the wolf-spiders is the habitat, but wolf-spidering is their niche. It is the niche of wolf-spidering that has been fashioned by natural selection. The idea of niche gets at the numbers problem without any general questions that ecologists want to answer—the question of the constancy of numbers. The common stay common, and the rare stay rare, because the opportunities for each niche, or profession, are set by circumstance. Wolf-spidering needs the right sort of neighbors living in the right sort of wood, and the number of times that this combination comes up in any country is limited.
So, the number of wolf-spiders is limited also; the number was fixed when the niche was adopted. This number is likely to stay constant until something drastic happens to change the face of the country. Likening an animal’s niche to a human profession makes this idea of limits to number very clear. Let us take the profession of professing. There can only be as many professors in any city as there are teaching and scholarship jobs for professors to do. If the local university turns out more research scholars than there are professing jobs, then some of these hopeful young people will not be able to accept the scholar's tenure, however, cum laude their degrees. They will have to emigrate or take to honest work to make a living. Likewise, there cannot be more wolf-spiders than there are wolf-spider jobs, antelopes than there are antelope jobs, crabgrass than there are crabgrass jobs. Every species has its niche. And once its niche is fixed by natural selection, so also are its numbers fixed.
This idea of niche gets at the numbers problem without any discussion of breeding effort. Indeed, it shows that the way an animal breeds has very little to do with how many of it there are. This is a very strange idea to someone new to it, and it needs to be thought about carefully. The reproductive effort makes no differ ence to the eventual size of the population. Numerous eggs may increase numbers in the short term, following some disaster, but only for a while.
The numbers that may live are set by the number of niche-spaces (jobs) in the environment, and these are quite independent of how fast a species makes babies. But all the same, everyone must try to breed as fast as it can. It is in a race with its neighbors of the same kind, a race that will decide whose babies will fill the niche-space jobs of the next generation. The actual number of those who will be able to live in that next generation has been fixed by the environment; we may say that the population will be a function of the carrying capacity of the land for animals of this kind in that time and place. But the issue of whose babies will take up those limited places is open. It is here that natural selection operates. A “fit” individual is, by definition, one that successfully takes up one of the niche-spaces from the limited pool, and the fitness of a parent is measured by how many futures niche-spaces her or his offspring take up. “Survival of the fittest** means survival of those who leave the most living descendants.
A massive breeding effort makes no difference to the future population, but it is vital for the hereditary future of one’s own line. Therefore, everything that lives has the capacity for large families. Yet these are degrees of largeness in wild families, and these degrees of largeness make sense when looked at with an ecologist’s eye. The intuitively obvious consequence of a law that says, “Have the largest possible family or face hereditary oblivion,’* is the family based on thousands of tiny eggs or seeds. This seems to be the commonest breeding strategy. Houseflies, mosquitoes, salmon, and dandelions all do it. I call it “the small-egg gambit.’’
It has obvious advantages, but there are also costs, which the clever ones with big babies avoid. For users of the small-egg gambit, natural selection starts doing the obvious sums. If an egg is made just a little bit smaller, the parent might be able to make an extra egg for the same amount of food eaten, and this will give it a slight edge in the evolutionary race. It is enough. Natural selection will, therefore, choose families that make more and more smaller and smaller eggs until a point of optimum smallness is reached. If the eggs are any smaller than this, the young may all die; if they are any larger, one’s neighbor will swamp one’s posterity with her mass-production. The largest number of the smallest possible eggs makes simple Darwinian sense. But the costs of the small-egg gambit are grim. An inevitable consequence is that babies are thrown out into the world naked and tiny. Most of them as a result die, and early death is a common lot of baby salmon, dandelions, and the rest.
In the days before Darwin, people used to say that the vast families of salmon, dandelions, and insects were compensations for the slaughter of the young. So terrible was the life of a baby fish that Providence provided a salmon with thousands of eggs to give it a chance that one or two might get through. It seems a natural assumption and one that still confuses even some biologists. But the argument is the wrong way around. A high death rate for the tiny, helpless young is a consequence of the thousands of tiny eggs, not a cause. A selfish race of neighbor against neighbor leads to those thousands of tiny eggs, and the early deaths of the babies are the cost of this selfishness.
There is this to be said for the small-egg gambit, though; once you have been forced into it, there are the gambler’s compensations. Many young scattered far and wide mean an intensive search for opportunity, and this may pay off when the opportunity is thinly scattered in space. Weed and plague species win this advantage, as when the parachute seed of a dandelion is wafted between the trunks of the trees of a forest to alight on the fresh-turned earth of a rabbit burrow. The small-egg gambits of weeds may be likened to the tactics of a gambler at a casino who covers every number with a low-value chip. If he has enough chips, he is bound to win, particularly if big payoffs are possible. He does have to have very many chips to waste, though.
Therefore economists do not approve of gamblers. To the person with an economic turn of mind, the small-egg gambit, for all its crazy logic, does not seem a proper way to manage affairs. The adherents of this gambit spend all their lives at their professions, winning as many resources as possible from their living places, and then they invest these resources in tiny babies, most of whom are going to die. What a ridiculously low return on capital. What economic folly. Any economist could tell these animals and plants that the real way to win in the hereditary stakes is to put all your capital into a lesser number of big strong babies, all of which are going to survive. Several animals in fact do this.
I call it “the large-young gambit.'* In the large-young gambit one either makes a few huge eggs out of the food available, or the babies grow inside their mother, where they are safe. Either way, each baby has a very good chance of living to grow up. It is big to start with and it is fed or defended by parents until it can look after itself. Most of the food the parents collect goes into babies who live. There is little waste. Natural selection approves of this as much as do economists. Big babies who have a very good chance of long life mean more surviving offspring for food-investment in the end. This prudent outlay of resources is arranged by birds, viviparous snakes, great white sharks, goats, tigers, and people. Having a few, largely young, and then nursing them until they are big and strong, is the surest existing method of populating the future. Yet the success of this gambit assumes one essential condition.
You must start with just the right number of young. If you lay too many monster hen’s eggs or drop too many bawling brats, you may not be able to supply them with enough food, and some or all will die. You have then committed the economic wastefulness of those of the tiny eggs. So, you must not be too ambitious in your breeding. But the abstemious will also lose out, because its neighbor may raise one more baby, may populate the future just that little bit better, and start your line on a one-way ride to hereditary oblivion. You must get it just right; not too many young, and not too few. Natural selection will preserve those family strains which are programmed to “choose” the best or optimum size of the family.
Many ecologists have studied birds with these ideas in mind, and they have found that there is often a very good correlation between the number of eggs in a clutch and the food supply. In a year when food is plentiful, a bird may lay, on the average, one or two eggs more than in a lean season. The trend may be slight but sometimes is obvious. Snowy owls, which are big white birds of the arctic tundra, build vast nests on the ground. They feed their chicks on lemmings, the small brown arctic mice. When lemmings are scarce, there may be only one or two eggs in each owl’s nest, but when the tundra is crawling with lemmings, the nests may well have ten eggs each.
The owls are evidently clever at assessing how many chicks they can afford each year. But people are cleverer than snowy owls and have brought the large-young gambit to its perfection. They can read the environment, guess the future, and plan their families according to what their intelligence tells them they can afford. Even the infanticide practiced by various peoples at various times serves the cause of Darwinian fitness, rather than acting as a curb on population. There is no point in keeping alive babies who could not be supported for long.
Killing babies who could not be safely reared gives a better chance of survival to those who are left, and infanticide in hard times can mean that more children grow up in the end. Thus, every species has its niche, its place in the grand scheme of things; and every species has a breeding strategy refined by natural selection to leave the largest possible number of surviving offspring. The requirement for a definite niche implies a limit to the size of the population because of the numbers of the animal or plant are set by the opportunities for carrying on life in that niche.
The kind of breeding strategy, on the other hand, has no effect on the size of the usual population, and the drive to breed is a struggle to decide which family strains have the privilege of taking up the limited number of opportunities for life. Every family tries to outbreed every other, though the total numbers of their kind remain the same. These are the principles on which an ecologist can base his efforts to answer the major questions of his discipline.