⚪️ One poster a week to record points of interest when reading about human & non-human interactions ⚪️
Survival of the Cutest
Analysis published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [PNAS] has found that more than 500 species of land animals are on the brink of extinction and likely to be lost within the next 20 years. In comparison, the same number of species were lost over the WHOLE of the last century [100 YEARS]. We often hear about increasing numbers of charismatic megafauna, such as the @wwf announcement that wild tiger numbers are increasing for the first time. However, what we often don’t see or hear about, are the many species that are being pushed to a critical point, that perhaps don’t look as cute on the poster..
Resource: PNAS Vertebrates on the brink as indicators of biological annihilation and the sixth mass extinction. Gerardo Ceballos, Paul R. Ehrlich & Peter H. Raven. June 16, 2020.
Living with Pests
As agents operating within the natural world, we need to re-evaluate our preconceptions of the ‘pest’. We might champion the success of species conservation globally but, what use are these successes if we hold a blatant disregard for the rapid habitat loss on our front door step? We complain about defecating bats, though they are the main predator of disease-harbouring mosquitos. We remove beehives and ward off bees, despite the fact that bees pollinate over 90% of the world’s wild vegetation and over 30% of the world’s crops. Not only are bat & bee populations declining in urban environments, but they are also endangered in rural areas. Natural pollinators are struggling due to the increasing use of chemical pesticides. If we continue to regard certain species as ‘pests’ (and in turn, a disposable part of our ecosystem) we only contribute towards the current ecological crises.
As a designer, I am practicing within a landscape of shifting cultural and ecological values. I must not only develop outcomes that integrate wildlife habitat & biodiversity into the built environment but, I need to also take on the challenge to rethink the spatial & cultural dimensions in which urban animals and organisms may exist. In doing so, this should enable urban inhabitants to envision the possibility of a truly biodiverse urban landscape, one which there is space for all species to co-exist.
Resource: Volume #35: Everything Under Control
We Need Solitary Bees
In the age of the Anthropocene, the importance of bees - and other pollinators such as butterflies and moths - has become more apparent than ever, with more than 75% of the world’s food crops and 35% of global agricultural land depending on animal pollination. However, bee species are under threat, with current extinction rates being 100 to 1,000 times higher than normal due to human impacts, according to the United Nations. Intensive farming practices, land-use change, mono-cropping, pesticides and higher temperatures associated with climate change all pose problems for bee populations and, by extension, the quality of the food we grow. How can we do more as individuals?
1. Planting a diverse set of native plants, that flower at different times.
2. Buying products from sustainable agricultural practices.
3. Avoid pesticides, fungicides or herbicides in the garden.
4. Protecting wild bee colonies where possible.
5. Providing suitable habitat in outdoor spaces.
Resource: UNITED NATIONS: We all depend on the survival of bees (www.un.org/en/observances/bee-day)
The London Underground Mosquito
Currently reading Menno Schilthuizen’s captivating book ‘Darwin Comes to Town: How the Urban Jungle Drives Evolution’.
One study in the book, (Katharine Byrne, 1999) demonstrated that the underground mosquitos on three tube lines were found to be genetically different from one another. The only way for the mosquitos in the Central, Bakerloo and Victoria lines to become genetically mixed, would be “for all of them to change trains at Oxford Circus station”.
It was later found that the underground species of mosquito was not unique to London and it lives in cellars, basements and subways all over the world. The reason perhaps that we are so captivated by such a story, however, is that it demonstrates urban evolution is happening right here on our doorstep. The notion that ‘wild’ animals are adapting to environments that we have created, further cements that we are causing irreversible changes to the planet. What if the Underground mosquito is representative of all flora and fauna that come into contact with humans and the human-crafted environment? What if our grip on the Earth’s ecosystems has become so firm that life on Earth is in the process of evolving ways to adapt to a thoroughly urban planet?
Resource: Byrne, Katharine & Nichols, Richard. (1999). Culex pipiens in London Underground tunnels: Differentiation between surface and subterranean populations. Heredity. 82 ( Pt 1). 7-15. 10.1038/sj.hdy.6884120.
Resource: Schilthuizen, Menno. (2018). Darwin Comes to Town: How the Urban Jungle Drives Evolution. Edition published 2919 London: Quercus Editions Ltd.
Animal-Centric Facial Recognition
I recently watched the Netflix documentary ‘Connected’. In the surveillance episode, which could be described as Animal Farm meet’s 1984 (or George Orwell’s worst nightmare), presenter Latif Nasser shows viewers around a “Piggy Facial Recognition” research centre. The project, run by UWE Bristol’s Centre for Machine Vision and Scotland’s Rural College, sees AI and facial recognition software correctly identify the face of a pig with 97% accuracy.
Their next step is to introduce recognition of facial expressions, in order to answer important animal welfare questions such as; is this pig stressed? Is this pig in pain? Being able to recognise such emotions is likely to improve the overall welfare for farm animals, removing the need to mutilate through ear tagging and giving the pigs more individualised healthcare attention.
I also viewed the project as a potential tool to engage us with the inner consciousness of other sentient beings. In anthropomorphising and empathising with captive animals, might we consider them to have a higher intelligence or level of consciousness than previously understood?
Or, naively, perhaps this is just another commercial tool to ensure the intensive farming industry can continue on a mass scale. What are your thoughts?
Resource: Connected, 2020. [TV programme] Netflix.