Two wildlife questions

The first just something rolling around the mind. So, those weird worms ‘n’ all that live around the smokers. The mid Atlantic vents and all that.

Are they the same species around all such smokers around the world? Meaning that the oceans are in fact a sea of spawn just looking for the right environment to grow up in?

Then the auk. Roughly, but reasonably accurately, the auk was the N. Hemisphere penguin, the penguin is the S. Hemisphere auk. The auk was eated to death a couple of centuries ago. Sure, the tropics, the doldrums, are a hell of a barrier. But how long would we say – in a free world left alone – would it take for a breeding population of penguins to make it North and occupy that ecological niche?

34 thoughts on “Two wildlife questions”

  1. Auks – true, the Great Auk is extinct, but there are other birds here that do a similar thing, catching fish by flying under water. Puffins for example (are they related?) So the ecological niche is not really empty.

    Presumably the larger penguins could elbow puffins out, but it’s going to be tough to begin with, especially after coming all that way.

    (I just looked it up; yes, puffins are a type of auk; so are guillemots and razorbills)

  2. I’ll pose a third Wildlife Question. Are forests really net absorbers of carbon? Consider this. My observation suggests that, in any given locality, mature trees of a species such as oak are all about the same size. They grow until they reach their innate limit; then they continue to thrive, each season’s new growth being balanced by bits that fall off. New growth captures carbon and bits that fall off decay releasing carbon. Now consider a large collection of trees – call it ‘a forest’ if you will. It too must be roughly carbon neutral. As old trees die and decay, new ones grow to maturity, absorbing carbon in the process. The best way to make a forest be a net absorber of carbon is to log mature trees (while their wood is still of a quality to be used to make wooden things) and facilitate the growth of replacement trees.

  3. Whereas Humans follow the money, animals follow the food or the weather.

    It seems Penguins originated – long, long ago – along the coasts of Australia and New Zealand and then when the ice melted, some swam to Antarctica following fish-rich waters. There still are Penguins in Australia and New Zealand.

    As for Penguins in the Northern hemisphere, being flightless they would have to swim North in stages perhaps, first by swimming or somehow getting to Africa or Latin America in sufficient numbers to provide a breeding stock, then move up the African and/or American coasts towards Europe an North Polar regions. This might take hundreds, thousands, millions of years.

    However why would they do this? The usual incentives are better food supply, overpopulation leading to food shortage, destruction of current habitat or food source. It is hard to imagine a spontaneous migration without some trigger.

    The other possibility is ‘ecologists’ in their wisdom transporting and introducing breeding colonies into northern climes, just as they introduce raptors and wolves into new habitats, because when the ‘experts’ unbalance the local ecosystem that’s OK, but if the peasants do it, this causes the Universe to implode.

  4. Trees that fall over in forests don’t make a noise, because all of that carbon dioxide muffles it.

    Remember that penguins don’t just live in Antarctica or the Falklands but are spread all over the Southern Continents. Camels and llamas are of the same family too, I believe, but ne’er the twain etc. Continents shift, ice ages happen and animals migrate in search of new feeding grounds and thus evolve/adapt to their new conditions.

  5. Decnine – what you describe is called Ecological Climax. Clearly growing forests are net absorbers of carbon. Mature ones lay carbon down slowly in forest litter. A carbon rich layer grows over time. But also over geological time those layers get subducted under plates, melt into magma and provide the co2 of volcanic activity. So one the scale of hundreds of thousands to millions of years mature forests absorb slowly but over tens of millions the carbon cycle is complete.

  6. @decnine
    Go dig in a forest. Soil’s usually only 2 or 3 inches deep & you’re into whatever underlays it. Clay whatever. The only carbon trees sequester is what’s in the wood. Tree dies it gets eaten by things that eat wood. Mostly they expire CO2 & a bit of methane. Methane oxidises to CO2. Trees eat the CO2. It’s a loop.
    Grass creates soil. Soil can be 50% carbon & that’s locked away for centuries. Plant a lawn, come back in 50 years, the lawn’s several inches higher. Look in any park. The paths were originally laid above the surface level, not below.
    Best producer of soil is ploughed agricultural land. There’s a church I know in Essex. Originally built on what would have been the bed of a large river, end of the ice age. The forest was cleared & the land ploughed for about 800 years. Doorstep of the church is now 10 ft below the surrounding fields.

  7. decnine:

    All plants use carbon dioxide as part of their life cycle and capture some carbon to build tissue. The broadly accepted notion that only trees do this is just part of the nitwittery and ignorance of those with Climate Derangement Syndrome.

    In fact planting trees as a plenary indulgence to cover the hypocrisy of private jet travel doesn’t absorb more CO2, it just means other plants each get less.

    However, satellite imaging has shown significant greening of Planet Earth particularly at the margins of arid land over the last 2 to 3 decades as a result of increased atmospheric CO2 and slight increase in night time temperatures where the effects of global warming are evident – not day time.

    A land area the size of the continent of North America has been reclaimed from desert to provide habitat for plant and animal, fix top-soil and water.

    How about that! Without spending billions/trillion Mother Earth has built her own carbon capture and doesn’t need royal and celebrity useful idiots to plant trees, she plants her own.

    So if Mankind is contributing significantly (evidence suggests not) to atmospheric CO2 and global warming above natural activity, we should burn more fossil fuels not less and get rid of those deserts and put the ‘Green’ back in Greenland.

  8. Patrick
    Try actually looking at a forest rather than reading about them. The forest litter’s a few inches thick. The product of maybe 10 years of leaf fall. Under that it’s virgin substrate.

  9. Worms: No, and yes. The worms are speciated, although they are very closely related, into rougly an Atlantic and a Pacific group. The deep ocean currents between those do not mix, or take the looooong way around so the populations can’t mix as well.
    And yes, the ocean is a spawn soup. Important part of plankton.. And yes, quite a lot of the spawn in there is “hibernating” until Conditions Are Met. Almost all the invertebrates use the “spray and pray” approach in that respect.

    Penguins.. They never made the journey North past the equator, or they would have done so well before humans were more than a nuisance.
    Instead, the great auk evolved to fill pretty much the same niche. Unfortunately for the auk, it forgot the bit about becoming not-tasty and/or useless to us.
    Not sure pinguins would survive in the northern hemisphere though.. They’re pretty defenseless, and the north has plenty of predators on land and in the water.

    @Decnine A mature forest is more or less carbon-balanced. Close to net zero overall, including the wildlife in them. This is why the statement that “the Amazon is the Lungs of the Planet” is delirious bullshit.

  10. @JohnB
    “In fact planting trees as a plenary indulgence to cover the hypocrisy of private jet travel doesn’t absorb more CO2, it just means other plants each get less. ”
    Exactly. Any land will support them, will be covered with plants. All using chlorophyll to turn CO2 into plant. The amount of plant depends on the amount of light the chlorophyll captures. So it’s going to be the same area of CO2 absorbing chlorophyll, whatever the plant.

  11. Wonder if Jim’s reading this. Something he might know. What’s the weight per acre annually of a hay crop?

  12. The auk was eated to death a couple of centuries ago.

    Pendantry, but it wasn’t eaten to death, it was plucked to death. They didn’t even bother killing them; just pulled the feathers / down out and let the bald and bleeding birds wonder off to die. The pluckers cooked a few, using the birds as fuel for the fire, but still didn’t kill them first. The last few were killed for museums – because they were rare.

    The British did pass protection law in the late 1700s, but by that time the British Isles were already pretty much clear of Great Auk.

    I suppose once we’ve banned plastics we can stuff our pillows with bird bits again.

  13. @PJF
    Have you ever actually plucked a bird? It’s hard enough when they’re deceased. Bearing in mind the size of the beak on a Great Auk & that they’d probably object to being plucked as much as any other bird would, I’d somehow doubt the authenticity of some of the details of that history.

  14. Bloke in North Korea (Germany province)

    Which, Sam, reminds me of an ancient joke that today’s kiddies would never understand.

    Did you hear about the fight in the biscuit barrel?

    The bandit hit the penguin over the head with a club and made a breakaway in a taxi.

  15. ‘What’s the weight per acre annually of a hay crop?’

    Well yes BiS. I suppose we could dump all the hay or straw into a subduction zone each year. No doubt it’d gradually go down into the mantle and the volcanoes’d pump it up again. But the human race’d probably be extinct by then.

  16. I’d somehow doubt the authenticity of some of the details of that history.

    ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ It’s a non-handwringing account by someone who was there.

  17. @PJF
    But obviously not to close to the Auks being plucked. He still has all his fingers to write with.

    The reason for the question is; I doubt there’s much difference between 25 years of hay crop tonnage & what one gets logging a 25 y/o stand of timber. The amount of cellulose creation is similar.
    If you pass the hay through cows you get some tasty meat but most of it ends on being shit on the soil. With the timber, there’s a limit to the amount of flat-pack furniture we can stuff in our over-insulated houses.

  18. Ottokring said:
    “Remember that penguins don’t just live in Antarctica or the Falklands but are spread all over the Southern Continents. Camels and llamas are of the same family too, I believe”

    I would be very surprised if penguins and camels are really in the same family.

  19. Pendantry, but a small number of penguins have made it to the northern hemisphere: Galapagos penguins on the northern tip of one of the (equator-straddling) islands.
    I guess the reason they haven’t made it further north is because immediately to the north is the coast of central America, which isn’t known for having a cold climate, and they’d need to migrate up the coast to get to more temperate regions.
    I’ve read that vagrant Fairy penguins from Aus/NZ have been found on the coast of South America though, so maybe Galapagos penguins occasionally do make the swim directly to, say, the Pacific northwest, but then get out-competed by other birds, or eaten by sea-lions.

  20. I once read that “penguin” is originally the Welsh word for an auk. It’s far too good a story to check.

    It means “white head”

  21. I would be very surprised if penguins and camels are really in the same family.

    According to my goldfish: All you lobefins look alike to me!

  22. Yes, there are penguins in Africa and other bits of the northern end of the southern hemisphere.
    Note that all those places are on the top end of the antarctic polar currents and have a distinct lack of large predators.

  23. @RichardT Umm yes they are related. All part of the Amniote clade.
    Mind.. Their latest in-law was some 312 million years ago, when the proto-reptilian and proto-mammalian lines split in the late carboniferous era in the run-up to the formation of Pangea, but still..

  24. There’s no grass in volcanos – what do the worms eat?

    “in a free world left alone – would it take for a breeding population of penguins to make it North and occupy that ecological niche?

    Unless Polar bears go extinct, forever

    +1 Only reason we have fossil fuel is that for millions of years there were no bacteria or fungi that could eat dead plants etc and convert them back to CO2. Fossil fuels are CO2 stolen from atmosphere, we should free them


    You racist, you excluded poor Skippy who needs help to escape from the Kim Dan-Un hermit kingdom

  25. @ Gunker:

    ” Kyle T
    Penguins live in the Cape, hardly a cold climate.”

    Yes, but they have access to a cold, nutrient rich, fertile, sea.

  26. Bloke in North Korea (Germany province)

    “for millions of years there were no bacteria or fungi that could eat dead plants etc and convert them back to CO2”

    This is, given evolution, so vanishingly unlikely I am going to dismiss it out of hand.

  27. @BiNK
    Dismiss if you wish, but it shows your closed mind. Evolution eventually led to bacteria & fungi that could digest wood. Ask yourself how fossil fuels formed if there were things that could digest their source.

    I could provide references, but no doubt you’d dismiss as conspiracy theories

  28. Actually you two are both right and wrong…
    Cellulase as an enzyme has a looong history and sort-of developed along with the increased use of the stuff in plant cell walls through the eras. After all… good source of carbon.. And you need to be able to rearrange your plumbing..

    However.. The pathway that was (and mostly still is) used was exclusively aerobic. There weren’t (and still aren’t…) that many anaerobics that could handle the stuff, and on top of that all anaerobics had a really hard time “invading the land” due to oxygen shock.
    The stuff is lethal to them, and between really high atmospheric oxygen levels and no real terrestrial substrate to live in until well into the Carboniferous you’d have trouble even finding them in any terrestrial environment.

    With that comes that cellulose itself wasn’t the main structural constituent of plants to begin with at the time, but pectins. Cellulose was used more like bar reinforcement in concrete supporting a pectin bulk. So there wasn’t that much cellulose around to begin with, and what there was, was thoroughly soaked in resin and stuff that was much easier to digest.
    Cellulose only started to be used as a main structural component in conifers, but they didn’t develop until the very late Carboniferous/early Permian era. Proper woody plants and grasses even later, roughly somewhere between the Jurassic and Cretacious era.
    And with it, of course, the advance of the anaerobic saprofyte/symbiont gut bacteria that deal with cellulose in the gut, and fungi that could tackle the stuff directly to begin with but heavily now specialised on it.

    But up until that time cellulose was basically the worst of plastics. Not exactly because it couldn’t be used as a fuel source, but because for a long, long time it simply wasn’t even in the list of Foods to Look Out For. There were far easier ways to get your energy than to tackle that stuff.
    And given you start on the Easy Food, and the fact that circumstances in the Carboniferous era meant that your food would pretty rapidly end up in the anaerobic zone…
    Lots of stuff that rapidly got out of reach and built up… And the anaerobics there had much better choices than cellulose to live on..

    So yeah… The ability to break down cellulose has pretty much existed as long as the stuff has been around. At the same time the circumstances where it would become a viable ( and even up until this day, still not preferred.. ) food source wouldn’t happen until some 100-120ish million years ago.
    Which gives us about 200-250 million where cellulose could and would stack up because it simply wasn’t being used as food in any major group of lifeforms.

  29. @Grikath
    Good, cellulose is one I overlooked. We (and our dogs) can’t digest it, cows do it for us. However, not key reason

    Fossil fuels, in particular coal mostly from lignin plants which nothing then could digest. Lignin is not trees only, but leaves and even algae. Hence lignite name for brown coal

    Even today, 300 million years on, lignin takes a long time to be eaten by bacteria, enzymes and fungi. Think of a tree stump

    Anything to add Mr BiNK

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