Stromatolites

Stromatolites in Hamlin Pool
Shark Bay, Austalia
Courtesy Wayne A. Wurtsbaugh

Exposed stromatolites in the
Great Salt Lake
Courtesy
Utah Division of Wildlife Resources
Great Salt Lake Ecosystem Program

Stromatolites in Shark Bay
(Hamlin Pool) during low tide.
Courtesy Linda L’Ai

Hi I’m Holly Strand.

Shark Bay in Northwest Australia is on my “places to see before I die” list. In a section of the bay called Hamelin Pond, colonies of microbes form hard, dome-shaped, deposits. Called stromatolites, these structures embody one of the oldest forms of life on earth. The fossil record of microbes in older stromatolites date back 3.5 billion years. Their antiquity, abundance, and persistence to modern times make stromatolites a fascinating subject for scientific inquiry.

Basically, stromatolites are layered structures formed primarily by cyanobacteria. This photosynthesizing bacteria changes the pH of the water causing calcium carbonate to precipitate over a mat of bacterial filaments. The minerals, along with grains of sediment in the water, are trapped in a layer of goo that surrounds the bacterial colonies. Then the lower layer bacteria grows upward and penetrates the most recent mineral and sediment layer. When this process is repeated over and over, a stromatolite is formed.

For over 2 billion years stromatolites dominated the shallow seas and formed extensive reef tracts rivaling those of modern coral reefs. However, today, stromatolites are relatively rare. You will usually find them growing in extreme environments, such as hypersaline water or thermal springs.

While Shark Bay boasts a stunning example of a modern stromatolite colony, you don’t have to go all the way to Australia. When lake levels are low, you can easily see them in the Great Salt Lake. They span hundreds of square kilometers in shallow shoreline waters. Some say that the Great Salt Lake contains some of the most extensive areal coverage of living stromatolites in the world.

One of the best places to view them is from the shore near Buffalo Point on Antelope Island. When conditions are clear, you can see them underwater at the mouth of the Great Salt Lake Marina.

More than just memorials to ancient life, the stromatolites also play a vital role in Great Salt Lake ecology. They are the principal habitat for the brine fly larvae and pupae. In turn, brine flies are a critical diet for goldeneye ducks, American avocets and many other water birds.

Thanks to Wayne Wurtsbaugh, from Utah State University’s College of Natural Resources for his support in developing this Wild About Utah episode.

For Wild About Utah, I’m Holly Strand.

Credits:

Photos: Courtesy Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Wayne A. Wurtsbaugh and Linda L’Ai
Text: Holly Strand

Sources & Additional Reading:

National Park Service. Stomatolite Fossils. http://www.nps.gov/care/naturescience/stromatolite.htm [Accessed August 16, 2011]

Schopf, J.William. Anatoliy B Kudryavtsev; Andrew D Czaja; Abhishek B Tripathi. 2007. Evidence of Archean life: Stromatolites and microfossils. Precambian Research, 158. No. 3-4 pp. 141-155.

UNESCO Shark Bay Western Australia http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/578 [Accessed August 16, 2011]

University of California Museum of Paleontology. Cyanobacteria: Fossil Record http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/bacteria/cyanofr.html [Accessed August 16, 2011]

Walter, M R. 1983. Archean stromatolites – Evidence of the earth’s earliest benthos
Earth’s earliest biosphere: Its origin and evolution. Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press.

Wurtsbaugh, W.A. 2009. Biostromes, brine flies, birds and the bioaccumulation of selenium in Great Salt Lake, Utah. Pp. 1-15 In: A. Oren, D. Naftz, P. Palacios & W.A. Wurtsbaugh (eds). Saline Lakes Around the World:Unique Systems with Unique Values. Natural Resources and Environmental Issues, volume XV. S.J. and Jessie Quinney Natural Resources Research Library, Logan , Utah. URL: http://www.cnr.usu.edu/quinney/files/uploads/NREI2009online.pdf

USA National Phenology Network

Courtesy USA National Phenology Network

The study of recurring plant and animal life cycle events is phenology. It is the calendar of nature. This includes when plants flower, when birds migrate and when crops mature. Phenology is relevant to interactions between organisms, seasonal timing and large-scale cycles of water and carbon. Phenology is important to us for many reasons. Farmers need to know when to plant and harvest crops and when to expect pests to emerge. Resource managers use it to monitor and predict drought and assess fire risk. Vacationers want to know when the best fall colors will be or when the wildflower blooms will peak. Timing varies but we can discern patterns.

The USA National Phenology Network monitors the influence of climate on the phenology of plants, animals and landscapes. They encourage people to observe phenological events such as flowering, migrations and egg laying. The Phenology Network provides a place to enter, store and share these observations, which are then compiled and analyzed nationwide. Participants range from individual observers in their own backyards to professional scientists monitoring long-term plots. My husband and I monitor leafing and flowering of lilacs, a key species in the program.

These observations support a wide range of decisions made routinely by citizens, managers, scientists and others. This includes decisions related to allergies, wildfires, pest control, and water management.

I urge you to participate. The National Phenology Network has many public, private and citizen partners. It is a great way to become involved in a nation-wide effort to better understand our environment. All this information and much more is available at the National Phenology website, to which there is a link from our Wild About Utah website.

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.

Credits:

Text: Linda Kervin, Bridgerland Audubon Society
Additional Reading:

USA National Phenology Network, http://www.usanpn.org/

North American Bird Phenology Program, USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, https://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/bpp/BecomeAParticipant.cfm

Species Names

Common Mullein
Courtesy &
Copyright 2010 Holly Strand

Hi, I’m Holly Strand from Stokes Nature Center in beautiful Logan Canyon.

Common Mullein , Our Lady’s Flannel. Velvet Plant. Clown’s Lungwort. Jupiter’s Staff. Shepherd’s Clubs. Beggar’s Blanket. Hare’s Beard, Bear’s ear, and Nature’s Toilet Paper. These are just a few of the names that apply to a single species that is a widely distributed across Europe and Central Asia and naturalized in North America.

Common names are descriptive and often charming, but they are local names and won’t be understood beyond their particular region or in another language. And sometimes common names are downright misleading. For example a koala bear isn’t a bear. And a red panda isn’t a panda.

To avoid confusion, scientists use a unique two word designation—usually taken from Latin or Greek – to identify a species unambiguously. The first word is the name of the genus to which the organism belongs. The genus comprises a group of closely related animals or plants. The second term is chosen by the person that describes and publishes the species account.

Vampyroteuthis infernalis
“vampire squid from Hell”
Illustration by Carl Chun 1911
Public Domain/expired copyright

It is a huge breach of etiquette to name a species after yourself. But the taxonomist can name the organism after the person who actually found it in the field. An example is Mentzelia shultziorum, a blazingstar named after Utah botanist Leila Schultz who first found the plant in Professor Valley in Grand County. Taxonomists can also name the species after a friendly colleague and then hope that the friendly colleague will name one after them.

Often the name will describe some physical characteristics of the species. Earlier this year, a paleontologist unearthed a new dinosaur here in Utah and named it Jeyawati rugoculus. That’s a combination of Zuni and Latin for “grinding mouth, wrinkle eye.”

Other names are based on location: Penstemon utahensis is a penstemon found in our state. Amblyoproctus boondocksius is a scarab, and was apparently found in the middle of nowhere.

Often the name will represent a subjective reaction toward the organism. Vampyroteuthis infernalis translates into “vampire squid from Hell”, Indeed it is rather scary looking cross between a squid and an octopus.

Some scientists get sentimental at naming time. They’ll name species after their loved ones. Or their favorite artists. Thus we have 2 trilobites in the Avalanchurus genus named lennoni and starri. McCartney and Harrison are honored in a neighboring genus.

I’m proud to say that a Utah biologist named a parasitic louse, Strigiphilus garylarsoni. The Far Side cartoonist should not take offense. In a letter to Larson, Dr. Dale Clayton praised him for “the enormous contribution that my colleagues and I feel you have made to biology through your cartoons.”

For sources and archives of past programs see www. Wild About Utah.org

For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Holly Strand.

Credits:
Photo: Mullein-Courtesy & Copyright 2010 Holly Strand
Squid Illustration Carl Chun 1911 (Public Domain Courtesy Wikimedia.org)
Text: Stokes Nature Center: Holly Strand

Sources & Additional Reading

Gotch, A.F. 1996. Latin Names Explained: A Guide to the Scientific Classification of Reptiles, Birds & Mammals. NY: Facts on File, Inc.

Isaak, Mark. Curiosities of Biological Nomenclature website. http://www.curioustaxonomy.net/rules.html [Accessed September 15, 2010]

O’Donoghue, Amy Joi. 2010. ‘Grinding mouth, wrinkle eye’ is name of newly discovered species dinosaur. Deseret News, May 27, 2010.

Prigge, Barry A. 1986. New Species of mentzelia (Loasaceae) from Grand County, UT. Great Basin Naturalist Vol. 46, No. 2 pp. 361-365

Censuses and Surveys

Wolf with Radio Collar watches biologists FWS Digital Library, Photo by William Campbell
Wolf with Radio Collar
Photographer: William Campbell
US FWS

Hi, I’m Holly Strand from Stokes Nature Center in beautiful Logan Canyon.

This year’s Census is the 23rd national headcount in United States history.

Census results affect the allocation of all kinds of government financial and program resources. The Census also determines the distribution of seats in
the state and federal House of Representatives.

It is also important to know the number and whereabouts of different wildlife species. This information is used for a number of management purposes– for instance, monitoring the status of endangered species or determining hunting or fishing quotas.

Mountain Lion with Radio Collar
Photographer: Claire Dobert
Courtesy US FWS

Counting wildlife isn’t as easy as counting people. You can’t mail
animals a survey with a self-addressed stamped envelope and you don’t necessarily know where to find them at any given point in time.

True censuses of animals are rare for in most cases a complete count is either too expensive or too difficult to undertake. Only animals conveniently and visibly grouped in a particular location can be censused– such as fish in a fish hatchery, or large animals along a certain migration route.

Setting a waterfowl capture net
Courtesy US FWS

Instead, biologists define an area of interest, then sample at random locations within that area. Samples usually consist of a number of transects or randomly selected quadrants. Counts from these samples are then extrapolated to an entire habitat or study area.

Along with selecting a sampling method, you have to figure out how you are going to effectively count an individual occurrence. This can be extremely tricky. Especially if your animal is reclusive or nocturnal. According to Dr. Eric Gese, a specialist in predator ecology at Utah State University, biologists use tracks, scats, scratches, burrows, hair samples –even roadkill counts as proxies for individual animals.

FWS Biologist Tracking a Black Bear
Photo by John & Karen Hollingsworth,
Courtesy US FWS

Capturing, marking and recapturing animals is one of the most reliable–albeit expensive– ways to do a direct count of animals. Captured animals are marked with ear tags, radio collars, dyes or even radioactive isotopes. In a future program I’ll describe an example of how one scientist tracks and counts large and elusive predators in the wild.

Thanks to Utah State University’s College of Natural Resources for supporting the development of this Wild About Utah topic.

For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Holly Strand.
Credits:
Images: Courtesy US FWS Digital Library
Text:     Holly Strand, Stokes Nature Center

Sources & Additional Reading:

Gese, E. M. 2001. Monitoring of terrestrial carnivore populations. Pages 372–396 in J. L. Gittleman, S. M. Funk, D. Macdonald, and R. K. Wayne, editors., Carnivore conservation. Cambridge University, Cambridge, United Kingdom.

Video: Biologists track hibernating bears for research, KSL Broadcasting Salt Lake City UT, 27 March 2010, http://www.ksl.com/index.php?nid=647&sid=10166167

American Black Bear, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, wildlife.utah.gov/publications/pdf/bearnew.pdf

(tracking) Black-footed Ferrets, Wildlife Review Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, wildlife.utah.gov/wr/0804ferrets/0804ferrets.pdf