Hop Bush Hex

There are so many complex interactions in Nature that we know so little about. Before emails, corporate-structured universities and funding cycles, ecologists spent a lot more time in nature, observing patterns that inspired questions to answer. Now that we spend more time indoors than out, how many ecological puzzles remain unsolved?

For the last few months I’ve been sampling insects in apple orchards for an ecosystem services project I’m working on. As a habitat comparison, I also collect insects in patches of native vegetation next to the orchards. At one of our sites, a biodynamic orchard in northern Victoria, the native vegetation is a stand of mixed Eucalyptus, Acacia and Dodonaea species that were planted on the farm some years ago.

Dodonaea (hop bush) is the largest genus in the soapberry family (Sapindaceae). It is predominantly Australian and a bit of a black sheep in the family. Many hop bushes prefer dry, open woodland; most other Sapindaceae species are found in dense tropical rainforests. Hop bushes produce small winged seed capsules; tropical Sapindaceae usually produce large fleshy fruits, like the lychee, longan, tamarind and rambutan. Hop bushes are wind pollinated; other Sapindaceae use extravagant, perfumed flowers to attract bird and insect pollinators. Continue reading

Pollinator winter

Have you ever wondered where pollinators go in winter? Most of us think of pollinators in spring and summer, when crops and wildflowers are in bloom and bees, wasps and butterflies are everywhere. Media coverage of pollinators peaks in spring months, and most studies of pollinator activity in crops and natural ecosystems are carried out during flowering in spring or summer, for obvious reasons. Continue reading

Genetic Monofication

Genetic modification (GM) has been on the radar for quite a few years – another really important issue that has been misrepresented and misinterpreted for too long to maintain any sort of clarity in the general public’s consciousness. The problems with GM (of crops or animals) are numerous and fall into three main categories, ethical, ecological and social…although it’s pretty hard to separate the three when discussing any given GM scenario.

Superweeds, superbugs (of both the insect and viral variety), reduced crop diversity, genetic pollution of non-GM organisms outside the GM field, increased suicides and legal intimidation in farming communities around the world, the infamous ‘revolving door’ between Big Biotech and US government agencies, claims that US embassies strategically planned to ‘penalise’ countries that opposed GM….take your pick and try and pinpoint one single dilemma therein, that is not somehow linked to another.

Yet all too often, the arguments for or against GM focus doggedly on one specific element, without considering how complex the whole subject really is. Continue reading