Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Earthworms form Herds

From BBC via Tom Moody

Earthworms form herds and make "group decisions"
By Matt Walker
Editor, Earth News

A herd of earthworms Eisenia fetida
A 'herd' of worms travel together

Earthworms form herds and make "group decisions", scientists have discovered.

The earthworms use touch to communicate and influence each other's behaviour, according to research published in the journal Ethology.

By doing so the worms collectively decide to travel in the same direction as part of a single herd.

The striking behaviour, found in the earthworm Eisenia fetida, is the first time that any type of worm, or annelid, has been shown to form active herds.

"Our results modify the current view that earthworms are animals lacking in social behaviour," says Ms Lara Zirbes, a PhD student at the University of Liege in Gembloux in Belgium.

Our hypothesis was confirmed: a social cue influences earthworm behaviour
PhD student Ms Lara Zirbes
University of Liege, Gembloux, Belgium

"We can consider the earthworm behaviour as equivalent the of a herd or swarm."

Ms Zirbes and colleagues were originally interested in how earthworms interact with other microorganisms in the soil.

These interactions are part of the important ecological role of that earthworms play.

However, the researchers began to notice that the earthworms seemed also to interact with each other.

"In experiments, I noticed that earthworms frequently clustered and formed a compact patch when they were out of the soil," Ms Zirbes told the BBC.

Follow the leader

So Ms Zirbes and her colleagues set up a series of experiments to test how earthworms decided where to go, and whether they preferred to travel alone or in groups.

They chose the earthworm Eisenia fetida, which tends to live near or at the soil surface, typically within the litter lining forest floors.


First, they placed 40 earthworms into a central chamber, from which extended two identical arms.

The idea was to leave the animals alone, and then to see how many earthworms moved to either arm over a 24-hour period.

Over 30 identical repeats of the trial, the worms preferred to group within one chamber over the other.

"We noted that earthworms moving out of the central chamber influenced the directional choice of other earthworms.

"So our hypothesis was confirmed: a social cue influences earthworm behaviour," says Ms Zirbes.

Touching moments

A second experiment tested how the worms affected each other's behaviour, investigating whether the worms use either chemical signals or touch to decide which chamber to move to.

The researchers placed one worm at the start of a soil-filled maze, with two routes to a food source at the end.

After the worm chose its route to the food, the researchers added a second worm to see if it followed the same route as the first.

Eisenia fetida earthworms on soil
Eisenia fetida prefers to move across top soil rather than burrow

However, after repeated trials, the second worms were no more likely to take the same route as their predecessors. This indicated that the worms did not leave a chemical trail behind them that communicated their direction of travel.

Yet if two worms were placed together at the start of the maze, they were more likely to follow one another, suggesting that they used touch to communicate where they were going.

In two-thirds of these trials, the worms followed each other.

"I have observed contact between two earthworms. Sometimes they just cross their bodies and sometimes they maximise contact. Out of soil, earthworms can form balls," says Ms Zirbes.

A modelling study then showed that, by using touch alone, up to 40 earthworms could follow each other in a similar way, explaining how herds of the animals preferred to move together into one chamber in the initial experiments.

"To our knowledge this is the first example of collective orientation in animals based on contact between followers," the researchers wrote in the journal.

"It is also the first one of collective movements of annelids."

Defensive posture

The researchers suspect that other earthworm species may behave in a similar way. They now hope to investigate why the animals come together to form herds.

One reason may be that clustering helps the worms protect themselves.

Individual Eisenia fetida earthworms secrete proteins and fluids which have antibacterial properties, potentially deterring soil pathogens.

They also secrete a yellow fluid to deter predatory flatworms.

Gathering into groups may increase the amount of fluids covering the earthworms and hence better protect individuals, the researchers say.


Friday, April 9, 2010

Joesph Beuys

Both photos copyright: Dieter Schwerdtle Fotografie. The bottom photo shows Beuys planting the fist of the 7000 oaks in front of the Fridericianum in Kassell, 1982

Joseph Beuys: 7000 Oaks

Joseph Beuys, 7000 Oaks. West 22nd Street between 10th and 11th Avenues in New York City.

7000 Oaks by Lynne Cooke with statements by Joseph Beuys

I believe that planting these oaks is necessary not only in biospheric terms, that is to say, in the context of matter and ecology, but in that it will raise ecological consciousness-raise it increasingly, in the course of the years to come, because we shall never stop planting.1

Thus, 7000 Oaks is a sculpture referring to peoples' life, to their everyday work. That is my concept of art which I call the extended concept or art of the social sculpture.2

I wish to go more and more outside to be among the problems of nature and problems of human beings in their working places. This will be a regenerative activity; it will be a therapy for all of the problems we are standing before.... I wished to go completely outside and to make a symbolic start for my enterprise of regenerating the life of humankind within the body of society and to prepare a positive future in this context.

I think the tree is an element of regeneration which in itself is a concept of time. The oak is especially so because it is a slowly growing tree with a kind of really solid heartwood. It has always been a form of sculpture, a symbol for this planet.

The planting of seven thousand oak trees is thus only a symbolic beginning. And such a symbolic beginning requires a marker, in this instance a basalt column. The intention of such a tree-planting event is to point up the transformation of all of life, of society, and of the whole ecological system...4

They are basalt columns that one can find in the craters of extinct volcanoes, where they become a prismatic, quasi-crystalline shape through a particular cooling process-which produces these shapes with five, six, seven, and eight corners. They could, and still can, be found lined up like perfect, beautiful organ pipes in the Eifel region. Today, most of them are protected. But we didn't have to have these particular splendid organ pipes, we just wanted a material with basalt characteristics from the environs of Kassel. So there we found basalt columns which are part crystalline, that is to say, they have sharp corners, but at the same time tend toward amorphousness. 5

My point with these seven thousand trees was that each would be a monument, consisting of a living part, the live tree, changing all the time, and a crystalline mass, maintaining its shape, size, and weight. This stone can be transformed only by taking from it, when a piece splinters off, say, never by growing. By placing these two objects side by side, the proportionality of the monument's two parts will never be the same.

So now we have six- and seven-year-old oaks, and the stone dominates them. In a few years' time, stone and tree will be in balance, and in twenty to thirty years' time we may see that gradually, the stone has become an adjunct at the foot of the oak or whatever tree it may be.


Walker Art Center's Tree-Planting Project

Beuys envisioned projects occurring throughout the world inspired by his 7000 Oaks. In conjunction with the Walker Art Center's exhibition of Beuys' multiples from the permanent collection, the Walker has undertaken a tree-planting project in the spirit of 7000 Oaks.

The Walker's three-part tree-planting project is being coordinated by independent curator Todd Bockley with support from the Visual Arts Department, as well as the Education Department's Teen Programs and Community Programs.

Part I: Cass Lake

In Cass Lake, a reservation town in Northern Minnesota, 1,031 seedlings were planted representing approximately one tree per resident. Although the planting itself took place over a one-week period in late May 1997, Bockley made frequent trips north over a five-month period prior to the actual planting to assure that the project "grew" in a way that was determined by the needs and personality of the community itself.

Through direct one-on-one interaction with a number of residents of all ages, presentations to community groups, the distribution of fliers, and two front-page articles in the local newspaper, the word spread as quickly as did enthusiasm for participation in this activity. In this way, residents themselves determined where the trees were sited -- on their own property as well as on public land -- and were actively involved in the planting as well.

One of the many events that can be pointed to as a sign of the success of this portion of the project is the tree-planting ceremony at the Cass Lake Elementary School that was integrated into the community-organized, week long "Community Wellness Gathering." At this same elementary school, a small tree farm was established with a number of the seedlings outside the science teacher's classroom. Students for years to come will participate in caring for these trees.

There are plans for continued contact with the residents of Cass Lake as well: The Bugonaygeshik School has become an Explore Member site. A catalogue from the exhibition Joseph Beuys Multiples was donated to the Tribal College's library upon publication. A bus was offered for residents to come to Minneapolis for October's Free First Saturday (see Part III below) and thus see the exhibition as well. A bus was also offered for participants to join the Information Office discussion scheduled for October 30 to discuss "Tree-Planting as Social Sculpture." If funds become available, David Levi Strauss, one of the speakers scheduled in conjunction with the exhibition, will travel north to present his lecture and discuss Beuys' relationship to America, including Native American traditions, with members of the community.


Part II: St. Paul Central High School

Bockley and other members of the staff worked with teacher Maxine Smith and her students throughout September to discuss Beuys' ideas, coordinate the planting of trees in the neighborhood, and plan for the continued care of those trees. The class is an interdisciplinary one in which photography is being used to teach math and reading skills.


Part III: Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

For this, the third and final part of the Walker's tree-planting project, a single symbolic tree with basalt stele was planted in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Members of the Walker's Teen Arts Council were involved in the planning and actualization of the planting with Bockley and Walker staff.

The planting itself will took place on October 4 as part of Walker's Free First Saturday program. As stated above, residents from Cass Lake were encouraged to attend. Students from St. Paul Central High School also received a special invitation to this event. In addition, all attendees at Free First Saturday were invited as this event had the potential to become an extended community gathering.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Urban Campfire

watch trees grow

“trees comforted me, their decisions always
looked good, unlike my paintings.”

Neo Earth Works

by Aron Namenwirth (brooklyn, ny)

urban campfire1
urban  campfire 3Trees are one of the few things most people like. Unlike the healthcare debates, we just ambiently enjoy their presence. Both a Buddhist symbol for enlightenment and shade on a hot sunny day, trees are part of our collective unconscious, be they imaginary, like the tree in Avatar, or primordial, like the trunk our children’s great ancestors climbed down from.
urban 4
Last spring, I became interested in growing trees. The interest probably developed from the desire to get a street tree in front of our building on North 12th Street in Williamsburg. Five years and numerous e-mails to the city later, I remained determined as Bloomberg’s million trees became visible. “We could be one of that million.” When the city tree was finally planted, Kiska decided they were going to erect the first luxury hotel with fusion restaurant and rooftop bar right next to us. The threat formed a special bond between me and this Pin Oak. At one point I threatened a cement mixing trucker who was grinding all the branches off the tree.
He asked me what I was going to do with the hammer I was holding. (more)

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