While out in Namibia - apparently not working on #OpenTox - but working on a new Caprivi Delta conservation project a couple of years ago, and while out gathering wood, I was told the story of the Mapone trees responding to the elephant migration through the region:
..."Interestingly this Mapone wood is also eaten by elephants. According to one of our guides, when the elephants start eating some trees, the trees send out signals to each other to make their leaves bitterer so that the elephants don’t want to eat them any more. Unfortunately that also makes them frustrated and they start knocking the trees over. But that also helps with collecting the wood!"...
This topic of chemical adaptation and communication between trees seemed really fascinating to me, but I have not yet had time to validate the story with for example finding and reading a scientific study on how Mapone trees talk to each other. On another trip another contact informed me it was because there was an interesting meal (e.g., insects) in the tree tops, and that was the reason.
In any case I still have a little voice in my head telling me this phenomena of tree language would be fascinating to understand more and even develop models for in our computational science work.
So I was intrigued last night to stumble on a documentary on Arte on plant behaviour and they described a fascinating similar case of Acacia Trees talking to each other in South Africa. Animals such as Kudu eat the leaves of these trees. In a reserve area they were puzzled by the increased incident of unexplained sudden deaths of healthy-looking Kudus. They called in Wouter Van Hoven, a professor at Pretoria, and his group to study the problem. They found, that because of fencing, the Kudu were in higher numbers than usual in this area.
The trees in response to increased eating of their leaves release an ethylene gas to communciate with other trees in the neighborhood. In response to this message, the trees collectively increase the concentration of tannin in their leaves by a factor of four. What had been food previously to the deer is now with the increased toxic dose a poison. So the trees basically respond to the threat and kill the kudu and thus reduce their over-population. (Aside: This gives us another inspiring Tree use case for #OpenTox (see OpenTox) - can we predict that such an increase in dose kills the animal?)
So trees really do talk to each other. Perhaps they will have some conversations together to apply their wisdom to the relentless threat of global warming coming our way.
PS: If you are doing research in this fascinating area of biology I would love to hear from you!
Neglected diseases such as parasitic infections reek havoc on many communities in different parts of the world. As part of our committment to responsible, sustainable development and a community culture, we will make neglected disease problems, where we evaluate we can make a significant difference, a goal of our collaborative virtual organisations in years to come. Please contact me to discuss your ideas and also consider joining the new Collaboration Pools summarised at bottom of this post. We can also work together on new funding opportunities.
However and also, my experiences in Africa, for example on our conservation trip to the remote Caprivi Delta region of Namibia: http://barryhardy.blogs.com/theferryman/2009/02/experiences-from-expedition-work-in-the-caprivi-delta.html (please keep in mind this post was based on a summary for my younger son for awareness!), was that "small contributions" can make a big difference. One story from that trip was the inability of a local clinic to deal with the torn foot of one of our party, and we ended up stitching him up with a veterinary kit back at base camp. Once that was done, how would he get around we asked, as there were no crutches to be had locally?! Discussing the incident around the camp fire afterwards, we came up with the simple solution of each throwing some money into a "needles and crutches" hat, and that was able to buy needles and crutches for the local clinic to keep them going for a couple of years, and it could be directly organised. So in this reality-focused context something like $200 made a bigger difference on the real problem for the future than a (possibly failed) major $100m program. A bit of a stretched analogy, but you probably get the point.
We intend to continue our support of sustainable development work in the community in Caprivi in community-involved wild life conservation development, and look forward to our next trip, and others in the community who might be interested. Let me know, if this might be for you too.
Here I would like to draw attention to a new local initiative in the area to help support the families affected by a widespread HIV infection epidemic. There is need for education, healthcare, and support of the many orphans left behind by parents who simply die from untreated HIV infection. Consider what you might do by volunteering some simple help and support to the work out there. The new center is called TAG Volunteers (TAG for think-act-grow):
http://www.tagvolunteer.com/ I vouch this is a real legitimate project as Ronel, the woman setting it up, was also very much involved in competently running the important activities at our base camp on our last visit, such as getting something to eat when we got back very tired and hungry from our trips into the bush!
Welcome your feedback. If you do decide to take some time out to volunteering in some way, I suspect you will find it rewarding. And it is also at the same time such a special and beautiful country to experience!
I had an interesting and productive expedition in the Caprivi Delta in Namibia at the end of 2008. I have posted a description of some experiences there on The Ferryman and look forward to more conservation and sustainable development work later this year and beyond.
But 2009 is here and we are all tired already of the pessimistic news of the year ahead!
Nevertheless, our new OpenTox Predictive Toxicology research project has been progressing and I encourage you to join the community for this exciting project.
We will be holding our discovery informatics workshop week in Oxford again in July, with the interesting addition of a case study approach on kinases this year. We are also adding a second week dedicated solely to Predictive ADME and Tox problems. Both weeks should be excellent group working experiences. Please visit the eCheminfo community site for more details.
We are currently planning our community of practice activity for the year, which will include an introduction of new virtual resources and activities, and the planning for our annual meeting at Bryn Mawr in October. We should make progress I hope on several initiatives including the new PDB ligands initiative of Marc Nicklaus (NIH), the virtual screening intiative and further collaborative projects. Do contact me on barry.hardy -(at)- douglasconnect.com to discuss further.