Wisdom of Generations: Learning from the Hills and Valleys of the Northeast India

A tea garden in Dibrugarh, Assam
A tea garden in Dibrugarh, Assam. Image credit: Nborkakoty at English Wikipedia.

Northeast (NE) India is more than just a region on the map; it is a treasure trove of beautiful
natural landscapes and ecological wealth that plays an essential role in our planet’s health. As
we celebrate World Environment Day 2024 with the theme of restoration, let us highlight the
ecological richness of Assam and the other Northeastern states of India. From the slopes of
Arunachal Pradesh to the lowlands of Assam, the NE region is a biodiversity hotspot, home to
unique species found nowhere else on Earth. The more we explore this ecological richness,
the more we discover the wonders and mysteries it holds, sparking our curiosity and interest.

The scenic landscapes of the NE region exemplify a dynamic and harmonious relationship
between humans and nature. Indigenous communities here have cultivated a profound
repository of traditional ecological knowledge passed down through generations. The Bodos,
Mishings, Karbis, Nyishis, Angamis, Khasis, and many others have developed a deep-rooted
understanding of their natural surroundings through intimate interactions with forests, rivers,
and mountains.

One of the most remarkable aspects of this traditional wisdom is the extensive knowledge of
local plants and their uses. These communities have identified and utilized numerous plant
species for food, medicine, shelter, and rituals, demonstrating a profound understanding of
the ecological roles of each species. For instance, the Bodos have long made use of medicinal
plants like Bhut Jolokia (ghost chili) for their therapeutic properties, contributing to the
preservation of traditional healing practices. This knowledge not only highlights the ecological
and cultural diversity of the region but also supports sustainable development and
conservation efforts.

Beyond plant knowledge, these communities have developed sophisticated ecosystem
management practices. Indigenous forest management practices in NE India have
significantly contributed to maintaining biodiversity hotspots and preserving wildlife habitats.
Traditional agroforestry systems, such as jhum cultivation practiced by the Karbi and Khasi
tribes, have shown resilience to climate variability while supporting local livelihoods. According
to a recent United Nations report, indigenous peoples’ territories encompass about 80% of the
world’s remaining biodiversity, underscoring the importance of their stewardship in
conservation efforts.

The wisdom of the hills and valleys also embodies resilience—a capacity to adapt and thrive
amidst changing circumstances. Indigenous communities have overcome challenges like
floods, droughts, and shifting climates by drawing on their deep ecological knowledge.

Panimur Waterfalls, Dima Hasao

According to the Indian State Forest Report 2021, Assam’s forest cover is around 35% of its
geographical area, highlighting its critical role in biodiversity conservation and carbon
sequestration. However, this forest cover is declining, and the region faces environmental and
climate challenges, including deforestation, riverbank erosion, and climate change impacts.

Preserving and promoting traditional ecological knowledge is crucial in the face of the global
climate crisis. According to UNESCO, indigenous communities’ traditional knowledge
significantly contributes to the sustainable management of natural resources, benefiting both
local communities and global biodiversity. Recognizing, valuing, and supporting these
practices are essential for environmental conservation, cultural identity, and community
resilience.

Celebrating the wisdom of Assam and Northeast India’s hills and valleys on World
Environment Day reminds us of the transformative power of indigenous knowledge.
Integrating their insights into broader restoration efforts can contribute to building a sustainable
future for all. By embracing the wisdom passed down through generations and augmenting it
with contemporary research and statistics, we, the #GenerationRestoration, can pave the way
toward ecological harmony and resilience in the years to come.

Let us change gears to the tea communities of the NE region. Assam also plays a vital role in
India’s tea production, boasting over 312 210 hectares of tea cultivation. These tea plantations
not only fuel the state’s economy but also hold significant cultural and ecological value. Assam
is among the world’s largest tea-producing regions, with an annual production of 500-700
million kilograms (Mkgs) of tea leaves. The tea industry employs a vast workforce and
supports livelihoods throughout the region, contributing significantly to India’s overall tea
production. The tea plantations in Assam are not only unique but also serve as a prime
example of the harmonious blend of agriculture and biodiversity conservation. The lush green
tea bushes are seamlessly intertwined with shade trees, providing a habitat for various birds
and insects. Assam’s tea is globally renowned for its robust flavor and represents a heritage
deeply rooted in the land and its ecosystems. However, climate and environmental changes
threaten these lush industries, impacting the ecological and socio-economic balance in the
region.

View to Guwahati city
View to Guwahati city

The government has launched several key initiatives to promote development, ecological
conservation, and socio-economic growth across the state. Notable initiatives include the
Assam Budget for Sustainable Development, Assam Tea Tribes Welfare Board, Jal Jeevan
Mission (Har Ghar Jal), Assam Arunodoi Scheme, Assam Green Mission, Assam Skill
Development Mission, and Assam Startup. Effective implementation of these programs aims
to address climate change, promote environmental conservation, and improve the overall
quality of life for the people of Assam. However, the success of these programs depends on
thorough execution at the grassroots level.

What unfolds in the remote corners of Assam reverberates across continents. The lessons
gleaned from this region—on biodiversity conservation, traditional knowledge integration, and
community-led resilience—are universal. They inform global discussions on sustainable
development, emphasizing the need for inclusive approaches that prioritize both people and
the planet.

This World Environment Day, let us heed the call of Northeast India—a call to action for
environmental engagement and climate action involving youth, communities, government
agencies, and non-profit organizations. The region’s youth must understand the challenges
facing their environment and take action to safeguard their communities and natural
surroundings amidst infrastructural growth and development for their own and future
generations. Climate mitigation and adaptation strategies tailored to the region’s unique
context are critical, including afforestation, sustainable agriculture, and flood management
solutions. Youth can lead the way in developing context-specific climate adaptation and
environment restoration strategies that respect local cultures and ecosystems. By immersing
themselves in environmental education, research, and activism, young students can amplify
their voices and influence decision-makers at all levels.

Assam and its neighboring states in India stand out as a distinctive and valuable addition to
the mosaic of Earth’s landscapes. They serve as a beacon of hope and possibility in our
collective journey toward planetary stewardship. The region’s unique natural heritage,
combined with its rich cultural and ethnic diversity, makes it an important site for scientific
research and cultural exchange. As we strive to better understand and protect our planet,
regions like Northeast India offer invaluable insights and opportunities for collaboration.

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This blog is written by Dr Jagannath Biswakarma, School of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol, UK. jagannath.biswakarma@bristol.ac.uk.

Jagannath Biswakarma
Jagannath Biswakarma

‘Foul and loathsome’ or jewels of the natural world? The complicated history of human-frog relations

Shutterstock

When was the last time you saw a frog? Perhaps you came across one in your garden and wondered at its little hands, glossy skin and what looked very much like a contented smile.

Maybe you regularly see them on Instagram or TikTok, where “frog accounts” have proliferated in recent years. People share adorable cartoon frogs, coo over crocheted frogs or go gaga for frogs dressed in cute hats.

In fact, our fascination with frogs isn’t new. As our research has found, the history of human-frog relations is long and complicated – and not all of it is nice.

Why we love frogs

There is a rich history of people really loving frogs.

This is interesting, because many people much prefer mammals and birds over reptiles and amphibians.

But the frog is an exception – for a lot of reasons. People tend to be attracted to baby-like faces. Many species of frog have the large eyes characteristic of young animals, humans included.

Having no teeth and no sharp claws, they also do not seem to be immediately threatening, while many of them have beautiful skin colouring and some are improbably tiny.

Frogs are truly among the jewels of the natural world, unlike toads which – with their more mundane colours and “warty skins” – do not usually inspire the same sense of enchantment.

Their beauty connects us to the wider riches of a vibrant nature hidden from most people’s sight in the dense rainforests of the tropical regions.

And they also connect us to nature in our own backyards. At certain times of the year, they spontaneously appear in our gardens and ponds. They can feel like special visitors from the natural world.

Dissecting human feelings for frogs

Yet relationships between people and frogs haven’t always been so positive. In fact, frogs occupy complicated places across cultures all over the world.

In the Western tradition, the legacy of biblical and classical sources was both negative and longstanding.

References to frogs in the Bible rendered them the instrument of divine anger as a swarming plague.

An etching from the late 1700s shows a plague of frogs.
An etching from the late 1700s shows a plague of frogs.
Wellcome Collection

Frogs challenged early modern zoological taxonomies, moving between classification as serpent, insect or reptile.

Perhaps their resistance to easy placement by humans explains the strong emotional language about them used by Swedish naturalist (and “father of modern taxonomy”) Carl Linnaeus.

When he considered the Amphibia in his 1758 Systema Naturae, he noted:

These foul and loathsome animals are abhorrent because of their cold body, pale colour, cartilaginous skeleton, filthy skin, fierce aspect, calculating eye, offensive smell, harsh voice, squalid habitation, and terrible venom.

In modern science, they sit in a branch of zoology, herpetology, that brings frogs together as “creeping animals” with snakes and lizards.

Frogs have also (or perhaps consequently) suffered in the service of science since at least the eighteenth century because it seemed to be possible to easily replicate experiments across multiple frog specimens.

Frogs were particularly crucial to the study of muscles and nerves. This led to ever more violent encounters between experimenters and frog bodies. Italian scientist Luigi Galvani, for example, did experiments in the late 18th century on legs of frogs to investigate what he thought of as “animal electricity”.

Legs of dissected frogs, and various metallic apparatus used to measure what was thought to be electricity flowing in animals
Scientist Luigi Galvani’s 18th-century diagrams of dissected frog legs and various metallic apparatus he used to measure what was thought to be electricity flowing in animals.
Library of Congress

In this sense, frogs were valued as significant scientific objects, their value lying in their flesh, their nervous systems, rather than in their status as living, feeling beings in the world.

In time, experiments with frogs moved beyond the laboratory into the classroom. In the 1930s, schoolchildren were expected to find frogs and bring them to school for dissection in biology classes.

This practice was, however, somewhat controversial, with opponents expressing sentimental attachment to frogs and concerns that such animal cruelty would lead to barbarism.

Recognising the fragility of frogs

So, our relationship with frogs is complicated. From the frogs of Aesop’s Fables to the meme Pepe the Frog, we have projected our own feelings and frustrations onto frogs, and exploited them for science and education.

Frogs have also borne the brunt of our failures as environmental stewards.

By 1990, the world was seeing a global pattern of decline in frog populations due to destruction and degradation of habitat for agriculture and logging, as well as a global amphibian pandemic caused by the chytrid fungus.

Climate change is also making life hard for many species. In 2022, over 40% of amphibian species (of which frogs and toads are by far the largest group) were threatened with extinction. Their vulnerability has seen the frog – especially the red-eyed tree frog – become a symbol for the environment more generally.

So we should delight in frogs and marvel at how beautiful and special they are while we still can, and consider how we might help save them.

Something to reflect on next time you are lucky enough to spot a frog.The Conversation

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This blog is written by Susan Broomhall, Director, Gender and Women’s History Research Centre, Australian Catholic University; Andrea Gaynor, Professor of History, The University of Western Australia, and Cabot Institute for the Environment member, Dr Andy Flack, Senior Lecturer in Modern and Environmental History, University of Bristol. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Bats are avoiding solar farms and scientists aren’t sure why

The common pipistrelle. Rudmer Zwerver/Shutterstock

As our planet continues to warm, the need for renewable energy is becoming increasingly urgent. Almost half of the UK’s electricity now comes from renewable sources. And solar accounts for one-fifth of the energy capacity installed since 2019.

Solar farms are now a striking feature of the British landscape. But despite their growth, we’re still largely in the dark about how solar farms impact biodiversity.

This was the focus of a recent study that I co-authored alongside colleagues from the University of Bristol. We found that bat activity is reduced at solar farms compared to neighbouring sites without solar panels.

This discovery is concerning. Bats are top predators of nighttime insects and are sensitive to changes in their habitats, so they are important indicators of ecosystem health. Bats also provide valuable services such as suppressing populations of insect pests.

Nonetheless, our results should not hinder the transition to renewable energy. Instead, they should help to craft strategies that not only encourage bat activity but also support the necessary expansion of clean energy sources.

An aerial shot of a solar farm in south Wales.
Solar farms are now a striking feature of the British landscape. steved_np3/Shutterstock

Reduced activity

We measured bat activity by recording their ultrasonic echolocation calls on bat detectors. Many bat species have distinctive echolocation calls, so we could identify call sequences for each species in many cases. Some species show similar calls, so we lumped them together in species groups.

We placed bat detectors in a solar farm field and a similar neighbouring field without solar panels (called the control site). The fields were matched in size, land use and boundary features (such as having similar hedges) as far as possible. The only major difference was whether they contained solar panels.

We monitored 19 pairs of these sites, each for a week, observing bat activity within the fields’ centre and along their boundaries. Field boundaries are used by bats for navigation and feeding.

Six of the eight bat species or groups studied were less active in the fields with solar panels compared to the fields without them. Common pipistrelles, which made up almost half of all bat activity, showed a decrease of 40% at the edges of solar panel fields and 86% in their centre. Other bat species or groups like soprano pipistrelles, noctules, serotines, myotis bats and long-eared bats also saw their activity drop.

Total bat activity was almost halved at the boundaries of solar panel fields compared to that of control sites. And at the centre of solar panel fields, bat activity dropped by two-thirds.

Why are bats avoiding solar farms?

Conflict between clean energy production and biodiversity isn’t just limited to solar farms; it’s an issue at wind farms too. Large numbers of bats are killed by colliding with the blades of wind turbines. In 2012, for example, one academic estimated that around 888,000 bats may have been killed at wind energy facilities in the United States.

The way solar farms affect bats is probably more indirect than this. Solar panels could, in theory, inadvertently reduce the abundance of insects by lowering the availability of the plants they feed on. We’re currently investigating whether there’s a difference in insect numbers at the solar farm sites compared to the control sites.

Solar panels may also reflect a bats’ echolocation calls, making insect detection more difficult. Reduced feeding success around the panels may result in fewer bats using the surrounding hedgerows for commuting, potentially explaining our findings.

However, bats are also known to collide with smooth vertical flat surfaces because they reflect echolocation calls away from bats and hence appear as empty space. Research has also found that bats sometimes attempt to drink from horizontal smooth surfaces because they interpret the perpendicular echoes as coming from still water. But, given the sloped orientation of solar panels, these potential direct effects may not be of primary concern.

Improving habitats

An important lesson from the development of wind energy is that win-win solutions exist. Ultrasonic acoustic deterrents can keep bats away from wind turbines, while slightly reducing the wind speed that turbines become operational at (known as “cut-in speeds”) has reduced bat fatality rates with minimal losses to energy production. Research suggests that increasing turbine cut-in speeds by 1.5 metres per second can reduce bat fatalities by at least 50%, with an annual loss to power output below 1%.

A slightly different approach could be applied to solar farms. Improving habitats by planting native trees along the boundaries of solar farm fields could potentially increase the availability of insects for bats to feed on.

Research that I have co-authored in recent years supports this theory. We found that the presence of landscape features such as tall hedgerows and even isolated trees on farmland has a positive effect on bat activity.

Carefully selecting solar sites is also important. Prior to construction, conducting environmental impact assessments could indicate the value of proposed sites to bat populations.

More radically, rethinking the siting of these sites so that most are placed on buildings or in areas that are rarely visited by bats, could limit their impact on bat populations.

Solar power is the fastest-growing source of renewable energy worldwide. Its capacity is projected to overtake natural gas by 2026 and coal by 2027. Ensuring that its ecological footprint remains minimal is now particularly important.

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This blog is written by Gareth Jones, Professor of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The night is full of animal life, but scientists know very little about it

 

Naturalists and life scientists have long debated how insect-eating bats navigate their dark world.
Sarun T/Shutterstock

Human disturbance is rapidly changing the nature of the nocturnal world. Intensive farming, suburban spread, artificially lit cities, and continuously busy road systems mean daytime species are becoming increasingly active throughout the night. Ecologists suggest that the majority of land animals are either nocturnal or active across both the day and night.

Recent research has also shown that the night is warming considerably faster than the day. The stifling night-time heat experienced across Europe this summer is indicative of this, placing nocturnal animals under even greater stress.

The transforming night adds new sensory pressures concerning finding food, a mate, and navigating a world permeated by artificial illumination. Environmental change is severely threatening the ability of nocturnal animals to coexist with humans. The conservation of nocturnal species has therefore become urgent.

Despite the abundance of night-time life, the understanding of nocturnal species has evaded science throughout history. Physical restraints on human navigation in the dark are partially responsible for this. This scientific blind spot is referred to as the “nocturnal problem”.

The legacy of this inaccessibility remains a barrier to our understanding of nocturnal life today. However, given the environmental threat now facing the nocturnal world, this will have profound consequences should it remain unaddressed. A better understanding of nocturnal life is critical to ensure its effective protection.

The origins of the ‘nocturnal problem’

So how did the nocturnal problem arise and why does it still impede science?

Constrained by their own reliance on vision, early scientists struggled to imagine the different ways in which animals might navigate in the dark. The myths that built up around familiar nocturnal creatures, such as hedgehogs, are evidence of historical attempts to fill the scientific gap.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle suggested that hedgehogs poached apples and carried them off on their spines. Such mythology was commonly included within Victorian natural history texts as an introduction to more factual descriptions of hedgehog anatomy, such as their capacity for smell and other bodily adaptations.

A hedgehog passing a road with a car light illuminating the background.
Even the experiences of hedgehogs remain to some degree unknown.
Lukasz Walas/Shutterstock

But even artificial illumination afforded very limited access. Illumination fundamentally changes the nature of the nocturnal world, with impacts on animal behaviour. A good example is the attraction of moths to street lights.

The historical debate surrounding how insect-eating bats navigate their dark world illustrates the problem. Numerous attempts have been made to understand bat senses. However, it was not until the late 1930s, more than 150 years after experimentation on bats had begun, that the scientists Donald R. Griffin and Robert Galambos identified echolocation – the ability to navigate via the emission and detection of sound signals.

Griffin would later describe the secrets of bat senses as a “magic well”, acknowledging the fundamental challenge of comprehending senses so different from our own.

But efforts to understand nocturnal senses could only take scientists so far. In 1940, American naturalist Orlando Park declared that the biological sciences suffered from a “nocturnal problem”, in reference to the continued inability to understand the nocturnal world. This was reflected in the more recent philosophical text of Thomas Nagel, which posed the question what it like is to like to be a bat?

Persistence of the nocturnal problem

Despite technological developments, including the introduction of infrared photography, aspects of nocturnal life continue to elude modern science.

While technology has afforded scientists a much better understanding of echolocation in bats, our way of thinking about bat senses remains limited by our own dependence on vision. When describing echolocation, scientists still suggest that bats “see” using echoes.

The elusive Australian Night Parrot was presumed extinct for much of the 20th century. Although they have been recently rediscovered, scientists remain unable to estimate their population size accurately while questions over the threats facing the species persist.

Despite an improvement in scientific research, nocturnal life remains understudied. In 2019, life scientist Kevin J. Gaston called for an expansion of research into nocturnal life. History shows us that when there are scientific gaps in knowledge about the night, cultures create their own truths to fill those gaps. The consequences of doing so may be significant.

The night is ecologically rich and efforts to fill these gaps in scientific understanding should be prioritised. The nocturnal world is threatened by environmental change, and its future depends on our commitment to getting to know the darkness.The Conversation

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This blog is written by Cabot Institute for the Environment members, Dr Andy Flack, Senior Lecturer in Modern and Environmental History, University of Bristol and Dr Alice Would, Lecturer in Imperial and Environmental History, University of BristolThis article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Migration, mobilities and the ecological context

In this special blog series, Migration Mobilities Bristol (MMB) and the Cabot Institute for the Environment bring together researchers from across the University of Bristol to explore connections between movement and the environment from a multi-disciplinary perspective. Their diverse approaches highlight the importance of developing frames that incorporate both migration and environment, and in so doing benefit our understandings of both. 

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Migration can make you happy. When I see the first swifts arrive in the spring, I stop in my tracks and smile broadly at all and everyone. I have to restrain myself from telling people walking down the street that ‘they’ are back. Swifts are one of the wonders of the world – they make Concorde look clunky, they hurtle down streets in towns screaming wildly at dusk seemingly just for the fun of it, and scientists have calculated that the distance they fly over their lifetime is equivalent to flying to the moon and back seven times!

Dahlia (Bishop of Llandaff). Image credit: Jane Memmott

Migratory species like swifts have two homes and they are generally well regarded in both places. It’s a bit more touch and go whether alien species are welcome or not, and highly context dependent. For example, we deliberately introduce species from all around the world into our gardens without qualm – looking out the window onto my front garden, I’ve got honey bush and pineapple lilies from South Africa, Dahlias from Mexico, a Hebe from New Zealand, devil’s tobacco from Chile and foxgloves from seed collected down the road! In contrast, my local nature reserves are doing their best to remove Rhododendron, Cotoneaster and Himalayan balsam.

Context really is key here. Thus, gardens are grown for colour, relaxation, fruit, vegetables, and art (and I consider gardening as much of an art as a science) and they are highly managed and artificial habitats. In fact, they are increasingly considered as outdoor rooms in the media, and no one worries what countries their botanical furniture is from. In contrast, nature reserves are usually more natural settings where we want to capture natural patterns and processes, so there is an expectation that the species present should be native. And there is good evidence that while most alien species are harmless, some species (approximately 1%) can be very damaging to the environment and the economy.

Honey bush leaves (Melianthus major). Image credit: Jane Memmott

Migration is about mobility, and mobility is a key part of the scientific process. Thus, universities are ecosystems which provide intellectual homes to academics from all over the world. My own department is home to scientists from Africa, Germany, Brazil, Switzerland, Brazil, Italy and China and those are just the people I’ve bumped into over the last few days. COVID has put a bit of a spanner in the works on the mobility front, but mobility is so key to business that academics have quickly found other ways to be mobile. For example, in my own research group, we have been running a large project in a remote part of Nepal entirely by Zoom for the last two years. But, by dint of the internet and some incredible UK staff and amazing project partners in Nepal, we have trained field staff in ten remote villages in the Himalayas to collect diet data for both bees and villagers, using protocols that would have been very new to them. The data is then uploaded by the field staff to the internet and arrives on the computers the other side of the world as if by magic.

Mobility is such a large part of a scientist’s life that when it goes wrong it can feel shocking. I’ve had two encounters with mobility of scientists being blocked, one involving myself, another a visiting scientist. Mine was, I suspect, a straightforward random immigration check, but it did leave me rather shaken. I was travelling to Canada for the first time and got taken out of the queue and then grilled for 30 minutes on the nature of my visit. I was giving a plenary talk at a conference and had fortunately remembered to print out my letter of invitation. Unfortunately, I hadn’t actually read it for six months and so I probably did sound a bit suspicious. They did eventually let me in and it was an excellent trip thereafter. The second time was when a restoration ecologist from Latin America, who was visiting my research group for six months, went to Spain with his family for a weekend and upon return his whole family was issued with deportation papers. There is something deeply shocking about seeing the hostile environment process in action, especially when mobility is simply part of normal academic interchange. After some high-level work by an international lawyer this too was fixed. Restoration ecology is much more of a long-term process, but the restoration of mobility was much faster in this instance, if a lot more stressful.

Swift (Apus apus). Image credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Migration and mobility are everyday events in the environment. They can be natural such as the return of swifts each year, or they can be assisted such as the reintroduction programmes for species that have become extinct in the UK. One of the biggest reintroduction success stories is the red kite, a bird that you are almost guaranteed to see now if you drive down the M4 motorway or look out of the train window from Didcot to London. These are big and very beautiful predatory birds – imagine a paprika coloured swallow with a 6ft wingspan! My last few Saturdays have been spent driving from Bristol to a hospital in Hampshire to visit a sick relative and one of the things that has made this less stressful is counting the red kites along the motorway. Last Saturday was a 12-kite day, my highest count yet.

To end, migration, mobility and the environment are inextricably linked. There is both natural and human assisted movement of species in the environment. Species can be both welcome and unwelcome depending on the context. It’s complicated, but it’s the everyday bread and butter of ecologists around the world. With alien plants bringing colour and bizazz to our gardens and swifts bringing happiness as they return to their second homes in the UK, there is a lot to like about migration and mobility in the environment.

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This blog is written by Cabot Institute for the Environment member, Jane Memmott, Professor of Community Ecology in the School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol. Her research interests include pollination ecology, invasion ecology, biological control and restoration ecology. In each case she considers how ecological networks can be used as a tool to answer environmental questions.

Professor Jane Memmott

Urban gardens are crucial food sources for pollinators – here’s what to plant for every season

A bumblebee visits a blooming honeysuckle plant.
Sidorova Mariya | Shutterstock

Pollinators are struggling to survive in the countryside, where flower-rich meadows, hedges and fields have been replaced by green monocultures, the result of modern industrialised farming. Yet an unlikely refuge could come in the form of city gardens.

Research has shown how the havens that urban gardeners create provide plentiful nectar, the energy-rich sugar solution that pollinators harvest from flowers to keep themselves flying.

In a city, flying insects like bees, butterflies and hoverflies, can flit from one garden to the next and by doing so ensure they find food whenever they need it.
These urban gardens produce some 85% of the nectar found in a city. Countryside nectar supplies, by contrast, have declined by one-third in Britain since the 1930s.

Our new research has found that this urban food supply for pollinators is also more diverse and continuous throughout the year than in farmland. Everyone with a garden, allotment or even a window box can create their own haven for pollinators. Here are tips on what to plant for each season.

Three people in wellington boots work on raised beds in a garden.
Community gardens, allotments, even window boxes can sustain pollinators throughout the year.
KOTOIMAGES | Shutterstock

What to plant in spring

The first queen bumblebees emerge from winter hibernation in February and March. They need food straight away.

At this time of year nectar-rich plants are vital energy sources for warming up cold flight muscles, with pollen providing the necessary protein for egg laying and larval growth. In early spring much of the countryside is still bleak and inhospitable.

Gardeners can help by planting borders of hellebore, Pulmonaria and grape hyacinth. Trees and shrubs such as willow, cherry and flowering currant are also fantastic for packing a lot of food into a small space.

A bee on a willow flower
Willow in bloom.
Ira Kalinicheva | Shutterstock

What to plant in summer

In late spring and early summer, pollinators have more food available – but there is also more competition for it. So it is crucial to ensure you have a diverse array of different flowering plants. This will guarantee there is attractive and accessible food to suit a wide range of insects and provide them with nutritionally balanced diets.

A great assortment of plants, including honeysuckle, Campanula and lavender, can provide floral resources in summer. Mowing the lawn a little less often will help too, giving the chance for important so-called weeds, such as clover and dandelion, to bloom.

Ivy in bloom with a red admiral.
Ivy in bloom with a red admiral.
Seepix | Shutterstock

What to plant in autumn

By late summer and autumn there are fewer species still flowering in gardens. A handful dominate the nectar supplies, particularly Fuchsia, Salvia and Crocosmia.

For many pollinators, however, these flowers are entirely useless. Their nectar is hidden away down a tube, only accessible to insects with long tongues, such as the garden bumblebee.

This means solitary bees and hoverflies may need to find other sources of food. The gardener can help by prioritising open and accessible flowers. Opt for species such as ivy, Sedum, Echinacea and oregano.

What to plant in winter

Few pollinators are still active in winter. Most species die off leaving the next generation behind as eggs, larvae or pupae.

But bumblebees and honeybees remain in flight, taking advantage of the warmer climate and winter flowers that cities can provide. By vibrating their wings, bumblebees can warm up to forage in temperatures barely exceeding freezing point, but they need a lot of energy-rich nectar to do so. If you want to attract bees into your garden during the winter some of the best options are Mahonia, sweet box, winter honeysuckle and the strawberry tree.

Yellow Mahonia on a frosty morning.
Mahonia on a frosty morning.
Sally Wallis | Shutterstock

Urban gardens are small and numerous, with hundreds or even thousands packed into a single square kilometre of a residential neighbourhood. Each gardener is different, with individual preferences of what to plant, how regularly to mow the lawn and even how to decide what constitutes a weed.

This results in an enormous variation from garden to garden in the quantity of nectar, the timing of its production and the types of flowers producing it. But there is always room for improvement. Some gardens provide pollinators with hundreds of times less nectar than others.

So keep yours well stocked with nectar and free from toxic pesticides. You’ll be amazed by the impact you can have.


This blog is written by Caboteers Nicholas Tew, PhD Candidate in Community Ecology, University of Bristol; Jane Memmott, Professor of Ecology, University of Bristol, and Katherine Baldock, Senior Lecturer in Ecology, Northumbria University, Newcastle

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Drone Ecologies: Exploring the opportunities and risks of aerial monitoring for biodiversity conservation

Drones, also known as unmanned [sic] aerial vehicles (UAVs), are becoming an increasingly common technology within conservation, with uses ranging from mapping vegetation cover, to detecting poachers, to delineating community land claims. Drones are favoured as they’re cheaper and simpler than rival remote sensing technologies such as satellites, yet despite their benefits, they pose a number of issues regarding personal privacy rights and can be difficult to navigate in environments like dense forests. Moreover, as social scientists have previously highlighted, monitoring technologies such as drones have the potential to be used for covert surveillance in conservation areas as part of what they call ‘green securitisation’ (Kelly and Ybarra, 2016; Massé, 2018). To date, however, there has been limited discussion between drone practitioners and scientists across disciplines regarding what a drone can do, and how it is done.

This was the inspiration behind Drone Ecologies, an online workshop hosted by the University of Bristol on the 5th and 6th of July 2021. With over 60 participants representing various disciplines across the social and natural sciences, as well as experts from the arts, industry, and NGOs, the workshop aimed to create an open space for important interdisciplinary dialogues concerning the use of drones for conservation purposes. Through a series of panels, presentations, and breakout activities, we discussed the technical, operational, and analytical dimensions of drones, as well as the ethical, political, and sociocultural impacts of introducing drones and other monitoring technologies into conservation spaces. This essay offers an overview of the conversations that took place during the workshop, and we invite others to take part in these ongoing discussions.

Image 1: Calibrating drone sensors. Credit: Isla Myers-Smith

Our opening panel explored some of the operational benefits of drone technologies for environmental researchers. Drones can provide optical coverage over large areas with high spatial and temporal resolution, and have been successfully deployed to monitor various wildlife populations; assess changes in land cover; and map human-landscape interactions. However, with an increase in the technical capabilities of both drones and the sensors they carry, drones are becoming more than just airborne cameras. They can now be used to monitor other environmental components—e.g. noise, air pollution, and pollen levels—opening the door for new and diverse forms of data generation and analysis. Another emerging feature with huge potential for data collection is the integration of drones with other devices as part of the Internet of Things (IoT). Networks of coordinated drones that are able to share information and react in real-time could become instrumental in new anti-poaching efforts and for long-term, large-scale environmental monitoring.

Alongside a discussion of the advantages that drones provide for researchers and state agencies, much attention was given to the ways in which drones may be used to benefit local communities by, for example, monitoring forest fires within their concessions, or by demonstrating sustainable forest stewardship. Speakers such as Jaime Paneque-Gálvez and Nicolás Vargas-Ramírez from the National Autonomous University of Mexico showed how several community-based projects in South and Central America successfully utilised low-cost drones for participatory mapping processes. The researchers presented their experiences in teaching peasant and Indigenous communities in Mexico, Bolivia and Peru how to pilot and maintain drones, and how to incorporate drone-based imagery and orthomosaics into GIS products. These high-resolution, geo-referenced maps could then be used as evidence for territorial claims, or to expose environmental damage to forests and rivers. The use of drones granted the communities access to greater levels of spatial and temporal resolution with lower financial barriers, as well as greater degrees of inclusivity and autonomy over data collection when compared to satellite products.

Image 2: Composite imagery of illegal gold mining and participants of a community drone workshop in Peru. Credit: Paneque-Gálvez et al. (2017)

Despite the logistical advantages of drones, there are still drawbacks regarding their use in environmental monitoring. Although they may reduce some environmental disturbances associated with monitoring—e.g. the cutting of tracks for transects—they also introduce new concerns, such as acoustic disturbance to wildlife under observation (and otherwise). However, some of the biggest concerns discussed during the second panel of the workshop were the negative impacts that drones may have on the communities living in and around the conservation areas being monitored. Trishant Simlai, a PhD candidate at the University of Cambridge, gave a plenary presentation showing how drones in India, along with other technologies used for conservation monitoring, form part of a deliberate system of surveillance and harassment of forest communities by the forestry department, exacerbating local inequalities along lines of class, caste, and gender, and producing ‘atmospheres’ of control. The second panel’s presentations also highlighted how, regardless of the operator’s intent, communities and individuals alter their behaviour when monitoring technologies are deployed by, for instance, avoiding areas that may have previously provided refuge and privacy.

During a group dialogue on green securitisation, Boise State University’s Libby Lunstrum posited several key observations on drones which formed the basis of ongoing conversations. Firstly, the militaristic origin of drone technologies raises concerns about the complicity of drone use with broader shifts towards militarised conservation and human rights violations. Secondly, unlike the cases presented by Paneque-Gálvez and Vargas-Ramírez, underlying power relations may mean that drone technologies are not always truly accessible for all community members. There are also epistemic concerns regarding the relationship between the disembodied and ‘objective’ knowledge purportedly produced by drones and the embodied and situated forms of knowledges produced by other, on-the-ground methods. Finally, there are a range of critical questions concerning the political economy of drone production: who is investing in these technologies? How do militarised actors participate in conservation, at times greenwashing harmful practices against local communities? How are drones complicit with these dynamics, and how do we reconcile that with their positive uses?

Given the above considerations, and the increasing use of drones for data collection, much of the final discussion at the workshop focused on the ethical implications of using drones within conservation. Drawing inspiration from Sandbrook et al.’s (2021) recent paper on the socially responsible use of conservation monitoring technology, we amended the guidelines set out in their paper to be specifically applicable to drones. Some key concerns included issues of proportionality—whether drones are always necessary tools for conservation practices—and the importance of recognising and foreseeing the potential for social implications in the first place. These concerns, we believe, are often obscured by the techno-optimism that surrounds drones, alongside a generally prevalent faith in technological solutions to conservation problems.

Image 3: Various groups involved in a community drone workshop in Panama. Credit: Paneque-Gálvez et al. (2017)

By the end of the workshop, it was clear that the use of drones for conservation purposes is a complex matter, and their use is subject to many conflicting ideas. Drones configure power relations in which social, political, and economic asymmetries and vulnerabilities can be exacerbated. However, drones can also be used for environmental justice purposes and can aid in the reduction of inequalities when their use is democratised and appropriate for local communities. The workshop also revealed some of the networks, assemblages, and ecosystems that drones inhabit, and that constitute power relations in which drones could play a role. It is important that these networks of relationships and interests that mobilise drones and other complementary technologies—e.g. satellite images—are made explicit, so that we can understand new configurations of power that are developing and identify those who benefit from the introduction of drones.

Additionally, the workshop also highlighted the relevance of multi- and interdisciplinary dialogues in understanding and developing the use of drones and other types of monitoring technologies for conservation purposes. We believe that it is important for these interdisciplinary networks to be established, and to continue exploring the complex impacts that drones have on environments, humans, and conservation practices. The interdisciplinarity approach simultaneously engages different disciplinary approaches and ethics, mitigating any blind spots within research and fully illuminating any potential damage or disturbances arising from drone use. This workshop marked an opening of these dialogues which we hope will continue within this emerging space, building towards the development of cross-disciplinary guidelines and policies for the ethical and responsible use of drones in conservation.

Recorded sessions from the workshop can be viewed at http://www.bristol.ac.uk/cabot/events/2021/drone-ecologies.html

References

Kelly AB and Ybarra M (2016) Introduction to themed issue: ‘Green security in protected areas’. Geoforum 69: 171–175. DOI: 10.1016/j.geoforum.2015.09.013.

Massé F (2018) Topographies of security and the multiple spatialities of (conservation) power: Verticality, surveillance, and space-time compression in the bush. Political Geography 67: 56–64. DOI: 10.1016/j.polgeo.2018.10.001.

Paneque-Gálvez J, Vargas-Ramírez N, Napoletano B, et al. (2017) Grassroots innovation using drones for Indigenous mapping and monitoring. Land 6(4): 86. DOI: 10.3390/land6040086.

Sandbrook C, Clark D, Toivonen T, et al. (2021) Principles for the socially responsible use of conservation monitoring technology and data. Conservation Science and Practice 3(5). DOI: 10.1111/csp2.374.

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This blog was written by Cabot Institute for the Environment members Ben Newport and Georgios Tzoumas; and Mónica Amador and Juan Felipe Riaño. It has been reposted with kind permission. View the original blog.

Electric ecology: we’re discovering how animals and plants use electricity in ingenious ways

Sam England, Author provided

When you hear the word “electricity”, thoughts of power lines or household appliances are probably conjured up in your mind. But electricity is not just a modern human phenomenon – it was around long before us and, in fact, long before planet Earth.

“Electricity” simply refers to the interactions between any electrically charged objects, not just human-made ones, and these interactions are commonly found in the natural world among many animals and plants.

At the small scale, these electrical interactions involve negatively charged electrons and/or positively charged protons – opposite charges attract and like charges repel. But each of these tiny particle interactions can add up, and contribute to creating effects which we can see at the much larger ecological scale in the interactions between animals, plants and their environment.

In a lot of cases, what we are seeing in the natural world is static electricity, which is what you experience when you rub a balloon on your hair and it becomes statically charged. The exact same thing can happen to animals.

As animals run, crawl or fly, their body parts rub on objects in their environment – or even just the air – and this charges them up, just like the balloon rubbing on your head. The amount of charge animals can build up this way is surprisingly high, with many different species accumulating charges that when measured as voltages can be in the region of many hundreds or thousands of volts. That’s more than the voltage that comes out of your plug sockets at home.

We wanted to review whether this static electricity helps animals live their lives. The answer is a resounding “yes”.

Because statically charged objects can attract and repel each other, many different kinds of ecological interactions are affected by them.

The static charges on the feet of geckos help them stick to surfaces, so they can wall-run with ease.

Spiders also love a bit of static electricity; not only are their webs electrostatically attracted towards charged flying insects, but they also use electricity to fly. Several species of spider exhibit a behaviour called “ballooning”, where they let out strands of silk that lift them up into the air like a balloon, and carry them away to disperse and find new homes. It turns out that static electricity in the atmosphere, the type that causes thunderstorms in extreme cases, actually helps spiders in their aviation efforts by statically attracting the charged silk strands upwards into the atmosphere.

It is not just animals that take advantage of these invisible electric forces either. Pollen has actually been shown to jump from flower to insect or bird pollinator without any contact between the two. The static charges of insects and hummingbirds are strong enough to pull pollen through the air, even over several centimetres in some cases.

Hummingbird feeding from red flower
Hummingbirds attract pollen thanks to static electric charges.
Jeffrey Eisen / Pexels, CC BY

Many animals can detect electricity too

Because naturally occurring electricity permeates the environment and lives of so many organisms – and has clear ecological value – it seemed likely that some animals may have evolved sensory systems to detect it.

Recent research has discovered that many animal species can indeed detect electricity when it is relevant to their natural ecology. We call this “aerial electroreception”.

Bumblebees and hoverflies can sense the electricity that exists around flowers, and use this information to learn which flowers might have the best nectar stocks. Similarly, part of the “waggle dance”, a series of movements performed by honeybees to communicate to each other where to forage, is also transmitted electrically by the detection of the statically charged bee body shaking around.

It has also now been shown that those flying spiders I mentioned earlier can detect how strong the local atmospheric electrical conditions are, and can then use this information to decide when to attempt take-off.

We are only just beginning to uncover the multiple strands of this newly discovered sense. There are likely hundreds, if not thousands, more species capable of aerial electroreception, and in many more ecological contexts; perhaps a prey animal can detect its approaching predators by the static charge on the predator, or vice versa. There is so much more to be discovered.

Possibly even more important though, is to assess to impact of human activity on this electric ecology.

The magnitude of many human-made electricity sources are comparable, if not greater, than the natural sources of electricity. We might be swamping the electrical senses of key pollinators or interfering with the natural world in other, as yet unknown, ways. While the discovery of this electrical sense is incredibly exciting, it also highlights how little we really know about the ways in which we could be hurting and disturbing the natural world.

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This blog is by Sam England, PhD researcher in Biological Sciences, University of Bristol

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Sam England

Thinking with salmon about ecological ruin, ontology, and decoloniality

Salmon anatomical plate drawing. Source: University of Glasgow Archives & Special Collections (Sp Coll RQ 271)

If you carried out a survey of what people think is the most important thing that we can do to stem the tide of ecological ruin sweeping the planet, challenging Euro-Modern ontologies of nature (beliefs and ideas about reality, or ‘nature’s nature’) probably wouldn’t emerge as a number one priority on the list. In a time of crisis, where time literally feels like it’s running out and the apocalypse is already here for some people, carrying out this kind of philosophical reflection might feel like ineffective political strategy. Yet a challenging of our assumptions about ontology is precisely what a growing chorus of theorists and activists are calling for. For my PhD project, I want to examine how heeding these calls might allow us to better understand the nature of the ecological crisis we are facing.

Specifically, my project is building upon decolonial scholarship and activism that emphasises the role that the politics of ontology has played in bringing about intertwined social and environmental injustices. Within the history of Western philosophy, the study of ontology has mostly consisted of making assessments of the reality of the world. Decolonial theorists such as Arturo Escobar, Marisol de la Cadena and Mario Blaser have challenged these dominant philosophies of ontology by destabilising the very idea that we live in a singular world or universe. Instead, these thinkers have argued we live in a world of many worlds they call the pluriverse, in which there exists multipleradically different ontologies. Decolonial theorists have documented the political currents of power that exist between pluriversal worlds, diagnosing Euro-Modern ontologies as predicated upon a dominance of culture over nature and therefore ecologically ruinous, as well as violent and colonising, supressing any ontology that does not align with its firmly held principles of rationality and individualism. In this sense, for proponents of the pluriverse, environmental justice begins with a dismantling of the systems of power through which Euro-Modern ontologies have violently dominated others.

Decolonial activism and scholarship has emerged primarily from Latin American and Indigenous geographies, and as such most of the literature examines thought coming from these worlds. However, I am intrigued by Escobar’s (2020) suggestion that it is possible to bring about decolonial and ‘nondominant’ Wests – that another Europe is possible. To think about how insurrectional decolonial ontologies of nature might arise from within Europe, I’m turning to a perhaps surprising companion: the salmon.

Salmon farming in Norway – image credit Gerd Meissner from Pixabay

Salmon are playing a complex role in the theatre of contemporary Anthropocene politics. An enchanting creature that travels thousands of miles using ancestral memory as its guide home, salmon ways of life are becoming increasingly threatened as rivers and oceans are warped by the toxic infrastructure of modernity. Activists, scientists, Indigenous communities, fishers and nature-lovers have all documented the alarming rate at which wild salmon and other water-dwelling creatures are being threatened with extinction. As salmon are simultaneously caught by trawlers, domesticated in industrial salmon farms, bred in hatchery pens to boost depleted wild stock and subject to increasingly stringent conservation laws, they sink deeper and deeper within the folds of Euro-Modern logics.

However, as well as being indicators of the logics of modernity, salmon are also sources of hope. Fisheries have been highlighted as some of the most hopeful sites for fostering nondominant ontologies of nature within Europe. Salmon have swum in European rivers and oceans for millennia, meaning there are deep historical cultures of angling and caring for salmon that we might turn to as examples in the struggle to bring about fair and just ecological relations. Elsewhere, efforts to articulate alternative communal economic arrangements and relocalize food have found fisheries to be potent and generative sites of experimentation (see, for example Elinor Ostrom’s influential work on the commons).

For my PhD project, I am proposing that we let salmon, the injustice they materialise and the hope they symbolise, act as a guide. Following salmon in the UK and across Europe, both as they emerge in present material entanglements and in historic flows, leads us to a dizzying array of political ecologies of extraction and conservation in which we find unfolding conflicts over use, meaning and access to salmon. It’s my suggestion that a detailed study of these political ecologies and the different queer and historic ontologies emerging within them could serve, in its own small way, as a crystallising political narrative for bringing about environmental and social justice. As Environmental Humanities scholars have shown, bringing about environmental justice will not just be about new technoscientific technologies or acts passed in parliament: it will be, in part, about what kinds of stories we tell. I say let us listen to the stories of the salmon: stories of ancestral struggle in the face of the ever-encroaching logics of modernity, stories of resistance in the face of power and domination, so that we might have a better understanding of the problem we must ourselves struggle against.

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This blog is written by Austin Read, a PhD candidate in human geography at the University of Bristol. You can follow Austin on Twitter @austin_jread. This blog was reposted with kind permission from the Centre for Environmental Humanities. View the original blog.

“Between the Insect Hordes and Ourselves”: Imaginaries of insect declines from the 1960s onwards

A still from Bee Movie (2007), directed by Simon J. Smith and Steven Hickner

‘According to all known laws of aviation, there is no way a bee should be able to fly. Its wings are too small to get its fat little body off the ground. The bee, of course, flies anyway because bees don’t care what humans think is impossible.’ You might recognise these words as the opening from the animated film Bee Movie (2007). The film is as known for its memes as its compulsive heteronormativity. If you are unaware: not only are there many happy nuclear bee families, the star of the film, Barry, is a male worker bee. On top of that, the human woman with whom Barry takes on the honey industry and fights for equal bee rights appears to develop some warm feelings for him. Needless to say, Bee Movie is fun but not a cinematographic masterpiece.

Jokes aside, the 2007 film is a good indicator of an influx of documentaries, memoirs, novels, and poetry collections starring the Western or European honeybee. Perhaps I’m being too critical here. This influx does excite me in a way, as it shows that insect life and decline has become part of a broader conversation. But, with this awareness of insect decline in our cultural imagination comes a sting in the tale. In this case, the sting is an almost obsessive focus on the European honeybee in an age of overall insect decline and what Elizabeth Kolbert (2014) popularised as the sixth extinction. There are thousands of known species of bees all over the world—not to mention other bugs—and yet a select group of people continue to talk, write, film, draw and campaign for the European honeybee. (Are you familiar with the concept of bee-washing?)

In response to these stories, I started thinking about the following: why is there so much creative work on the honeybee? Insects make up the most biodiverse and largest class of described (and estimated) species in the animal kingdom. And while many of these—not all—are indeed facing decline or even extinction, the European honeybee is not one of them.

What started out as a general interest, quickly evolved—metamorphosed!—into my doctoral project on insect decline. Inspired by Ursula Heise’s (2016) work on the cultural side of extinction, I started asking the following: what kind of narratives do people create when talking about insect decline, and how do they tie in with other and older insect stories, our broader cultural memory? Is there an explanation to be found for this honeybee hyperfocus when it comes to narratives of insect decline? Thinking about these questions, I kept returning to Donna Haraway, who wrote that ‘it matters what stories we tell to tell other stories with … It matters what stories make worlds, what worlds make stories.’ (12) Haraway’s keen (if not overcited) observation also applies to the case of insect decline. When looking at creative storytelling—of which there is a lot—we’re not just considering entertainment or aesthetics. Even with something as seemingly banal as Bee Movie, it does matter what stories we tell to tell the story of insect decline. So why do people contribute to this, for lack of a better word, honeybee extravaganza?

An assortment of contemporary honeybee stories
My project become more than a chance to get deep into the problem with honeybees and other charismatic microfauna. Thinking about tiny critters (instead of charismatic megafauna) created the opportunity to engage with and tease out some of the broader questions in the fields of critical animal and extinction studies. Between all the reading and writing and talking and plotting out of the work that needs to be done, theories and ideas and random shower thoughts keep falling into place, and I have a red thread or two running through the different chapters of my thesis. Watch this space.
For now, I do want to say that one of the more rewarding elements of my research so far has been the deep dive into care ethics. My understanding of the concept has both expanded and gained new focus, and my deep dive into care and conservation has opened my eyes to the possibility of care as a violent practice (Salazar Parreñas 2018). One of my current challenges is to see how care, understood as ‘a vital affective state, an ethical obligation and a practical labour’ (Puig de la Bellacasa), is reflected in the poetics of insect decline. What does a poetics of care look like when we let ourselves become subject to, as Haraway (2008) phrased it, the ‘unsettling obligation of curiosity, which requires knowing more at the end of the day than at the beginning’ (36). What happens when we allow ourselves to pay careful attention to the other-than-human life around us and start to care?
Assorted Coleoptera in the University of Texas Insect Collection

 

Another thread is that of the different (temporal and spatial) scales of extinction and the limits of our empathy for other-than-human animals. As Ursula Heise (2016) and Dolly Jørgensen (2019) so effectively argue in their monographs on the topic, extinctions come to matter once they reflect upon our own (human) pasts, presents, and futures and we can emotionally engage with them. And like these different pasts, presents, and futures, extinction isn’t singular. It is easy—and to a certain extent even useful—to put it all under the label of the sixth extinction. Still, I am increasingly convinced that such labels obscure the differences and intricacies people need to be aware of in the face of the sixth extinction—or rather, extinctions.
There are local extinctions, global extinctions, extinctions completely missed or forgotten (by human eyes), even desired extinctions. Communities respond to and engage with different species and local and global extinctions in different ways. Especially when something tricky like shifting baseline syndrome ensures that some communities aren’t aware of local extinctions or declines in the first place, while passionate campaigns for charismatic megafauna put certain species on the global agenda and in the public eye. I’m not saying this is always a bad thing (I’m just as passionate about the survival of the Malayan and Sumatran tiger as the next person).
I am, however, saying that it is worth researching how attention and care are directed and, ideally, can be redirected in times of need. And insects—in all their creeping and crawling diversity, with important ecosystem functions such as pollination, prey, and waste disposal—have turned out to be an excellent group to consider these questions.
Sources
  • Haraway, Donna J. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Duke UP, 2016.
  • —. When Species Meet. U of Minneapolis P, 2008.
  • Heise, Ursula K. Imagining Extinctions: The Cultural Meanings of Endangered Species. U of Chicago P, 2016.
  • Jørgensen, Dolly. Recovering Lost Species in the Modern Age: Histories of Longing and Belonging. MIT Press, 2019.
  • Kolbert, Elizabeth. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. Bloomsbury, 2014.
  • Puig de la Bellacasa, María. Matters of Care: Speculative Ethics in More Than Human Worlds. U of Minnesota P, 2017. Salazar Parreñas, Juno. Decolonizing Extinction: The Work of Care in Orangutan Rehabilitation. Duke UP, 2018

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This blog is written by Cabot Institute member Eline D. Tabak, PhD researcher in English (University of Bristol) and Environmental Humanities (BSU). This blog outlines her SWW DTP-funded project. You can follow Eline on twitter @elinetabak and see more of her writing and work at www.elinedtabak.com. This blog was reposted with kind permission from the Centre for Environmental Humanities. View the original blog.

Eline D. Tabak