Poor old Gilbert is getting restless. Despite the fact that there is more interest in wildlife than ever before, it seems that most of the so-called conservation organisations are losing interest in species. Instead they prefer to babble on about landscape scale conservation and ecosystem services (whatever they are). Could this be because most of their staff don't have any knowledge about species if they don't have four legs?
This is my attempt to encourage an interest in good old-fashioned natural history.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Charismatic megafauna

An update on the ants. As I feared, they weren't what I keyed them to. Never mind, too many species new to Skye in one day would just be greedy.

Tuesday dawned wet and windy, and with little prospect of improvement during the day. Sensible people would have found a nice sheltered woodland but we decided to test how good our waterproofs were on top of the Trotternish Ridge (in case you're interested, the answer was not very). The main reason for going up there was to look for the moss Sphagnum skyense which is virtually endemic to Skye. One of Britain's best bryologists lives just down the road but unfortunately was too busy to join us. He did give us the useful tip that unlike most Sphagnum species it does not grow in wet areas but on grassy ridges.

Shortly after leaving the car park we found some potential skyense but continued up the ridge looking for anything different. Going by the criteria in the book we got some samples that looked promising so, thoroughly soaked, we headed back to the car. Seth had something else for us to look for before we returned to the hotel however.

We drove to a secret site where he had been told there were Freshwater Pearl Mussels Margaritifera margaritifera. Sites for pearl mussels are usually kept strictly confidential due to illegal collecting and this species wasn't even on my radar. If we could get this it really would constitute charismatic megafauna - for this trip anyway. Seth had only tried this site once before and a combination of high river levels and dodgy directions meant that he had failed. Ten minutes or so of searching though and

Well chuffed, we headed back to the hotel to dry out and do some serious Sphagnum studying. Of the three books that we had, two don't cover S. skyense because it wasn't recognised as a separate species when they were written. That leaves the British Bryological Society book. This gives some information about similar species and we were able to conclude that at least some of our samples were not one of the main confusion species. The trouble was, nothing was said about how to separate it from one of the other species that, at least to us, looked very similar. It's a bit like telling you how to separate Ring-necked Duck from Scaup but making no mention of how it differs from Tufted Duck! Never mind, we'll use the Sphagnum key in the book. Or rather we won't because the key doesn't include skyense! So, would someone from the British Bryological Society care to explain what the point is of producing a key that doesn't include all of the species? Attempts to identify other mosses later in the week produced similar frustrations with this book. It looks impressive when viewed superficially but when it comes to serious use, not impressed. After a couple of hours of struggle we gave up and moved on to other things.

Sphagnum skyense? Probably not but we will never know
Seth squeezed a few drops of water from the Sphagnum sample and from those few drops I got seven new species! What? How? Freshwater algae, that's how. This was a whole new world to me and I love 'em. I don't have any photos but you can see some of the funky shapes you get in Seth's blog from last year. I was going to be saying that I'm considering getting the identification book but I am weak and earlier today I ordered it!

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