Tag Archives: Mexico

WILD9 World Wilderness Congress: Different toolbox, same mission

Young Professionals and some of histories greatest conservationists gather at the Piedradeagua Hotel in Merida, Mexico, to enjoy some fine dining and discussions of how to conserve our planet. (Photo/Morgan Heim)

WILD9, thrusts you into a different world. Standing among so many of your heroes, legendary conservationists like Jane Goodall, and many of the world’s most renown conservation photographers can be an overwhelming experience, especially for a young professional. Everyone comes from a different background, science, conservation, communication, policy and business. Throw into that mix the intermingling of culture all around us, and it’s hard to know where to focus. And as any photographer can tell you, not knowing where to focus makes us just a little bit nervous.

But as the days pass, a transformation happens, and you start relating to each other as fellow human-beings with a common purpose. We are holding different parts of the puzzle and bringing it all together. We are participants. And after a few days, the mayhem begins to settle until you flow between roles and people and conversations.

Sasha, a young professional from Kamchatka, Russia jumps into a doorway to avoid streets flooded from the rains that hit Merida most likely in connection with Hurricane Ida.

I’ve been lucky. Much of this congress has focused on the role of conservation’s next generation. Of which, I am a part. I’ve had the opportunity to participate on panels, giving talks about how to use new media to further conservation messages. And work with the other young professionals on their media training day. It’s quite clear that we are here for a reason.

Last Tuesday night, many of the young professionals attended a special dinner in the ivy-walled gardens of the Piedradeagua Hotel in Merida. Fellow iLCP emerging league photographer Joe Riis was there, along with young professionals with veterinary backgrounds, community planning, and nature conservation management. And we found ourselves dining with the likes of Dr. Kenneth Miller, former Director General of the IUCN. To me this symbolized the culmination of our partnerships and the importance of meetings like the WILD9 World Wilderness Congress – a community of conservationists, each using a different toolbox, and spanning generations, but working together for the future.


The Mangrove Forests of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula

more about “Mangrove Forests of Yucatan“, posted with vodpod

Along the Yucatan Peninsula, in a land of heat and drenching humidity thrives a rare mangrove ecosystem, important for coastal life and home to jaguarundi, hundreds of bird species and, yes, maybe a mosquito or two.  I hope you enjoy this short jaunt into the mangroves, sans the mosquitoes, near Celestun in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. One afternoon doesn’t do a place like this justice, but it is a glimpse into this vulnerable ecosystem that is increasingly under threat from climate change, deforestation, pollution and coral reef degradation.


Vegetarian spider also a smarty pants

Female Bagheera kiplingi

Adult female Bagheera kiplingi eats Beltian body harvested from ant-acacia Photo/R.L. Curry

For ages, ants have had a monopoly on the coveted acacia, protecting the plant from would-be predators in exchange for shelter and food, or so they thought. Skulking in the background, and recently discovered, is an unlikely competitor of the ant — a spider. And this is no ordinary arachnid. The Bagheera kiplingi also happens to be a vegetarian, and is the first of its kind known to science.

“This is really the first spider known to specifically ‘hunt’ plants,” said Christopher Meehan of Villanova University. “It is also the first known to go after plants as a primary food source.”

The veggie-loving tendency of this jumping spider was first discovered in Central America back in 2001 by Eric Olson of Brandeis University. Since then he has teamed up with Meehan, who independently observed the jumping spider in 2007, to learn more about this unusual creature and the extent to which it likes plants. Not only is Bagheera kiplingi the only predominant vegetarian of 40,000 known spider species with plants making up more than 90 percent of its diet, but it’s showing scientists a complex side of arachnid biology and behavior that indicates the spider’s diet is just the beginning of this animal’s surprising life history.

Bagheera defense

Adult female Bagheera kiplingi defends her nest against acacia-ant worker. Photo/R.L. Curry

Ants are aggressive defenders of the acacia plant making life difficult for outsiders who attempt to encroach on their turf. After all, they want those yummy beltian bodies all to themselves. So how is the jumping spider managing to exploit the acacia for both food and shelter?

Science is still trying to figure that out, but preliminary research shows the spiders take advantage of the invertebrate equivalent of run-down real estate, setting up residence in less-than-desirable regions of the acacia. But their ingenuity doesn’t stop there. Bagheera kiplingi are outsmarting their ant foes, said Meehan, exploiting their intelligence and agility to get around the ants. “Individuals employ diverse, situation-specific strategies to evade ants, and the ants simply cannot catch them,” he said.

As if to add insult to co-evolution, the ants may not even know when spiders are in their midst. Bagheera kiplingi literally dupes the ant by baring young that look like carbon-copies of the ants, and Meehan has reason to suspect that the spiders actually wear a sort of insect perfume that makes them smell like their would-be attackers.

More research is forthcoming, including a look at the possibility that spider dad’s help raise the babies, a virtually unheard of behavior in spider biology. In the meantime, I hear Meehan and Olson’s methods included high-definition video of these smarty-pant vegetarian spiders. Now that would be some footage to see.

Meehan and Olson’s study is available in the October 12 issue of Current Biology.


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