Archive for October, 2019

Winter is Coming

October 25, 2019

There was snow on the hills overnight.

Glamaig snow 191025a

Glamaig from the garden this morning

but I have just spotted an earthtongue in the “lawn”. It appears to be the Glutinous Earthtongue (Glutinoglossum glutinosum) but others are possible.

Glutinoglossum glutinosum

Glutinoglossum glutinosum (probably)

This Year’s Hawkweeds

October 25, 2019

I sent 19 specimens from VC104 and two from VC105 to David McCosh who has found them to be of ten different species, though one needs checking.

Hieracium subcrinellum (previously H. crinellum) (Blunt-leaved Hawkweed) is new to both vice-counties and was a late entry for vc104 as I found it in flower in October beside the Allt Daraich near Sligachan.

H. duriceps (Hard-headed Hawkweed) has quite a lot of VC104 records pre-2000 but one from the Geary Ravine is the first since.

H. eucallum (Spreading-toothed Hawkweed) had one pre-2000 record but this is the only more recent one from Skye, though there are two modern records from the Small Isles.

H. hebridense (Hebridean Hawkweed) has scattered records across the patch both pre-2000 and since and accounted for five of the 21 specimens.

H. orcadense (Orkney Hawkweed) is known only from Skye within the VC. This, from the Caladale Burn is the third modern site.

H. reticulatiforme (Reticulate-leaved Hawkweed) from Talisker Bay needs confirmation as all the flowers had gone to seed in the press and without knowing the style colour it cannot be distinguished with certainty from H. strictiforme (Strict Hawkweed). If correct, it will be the second ever record for the vice-county, the first being in 1968 when different taxonomy held sway for this genus.

A plant from Dunvegan was determined as Hieracium cf. scotostictum (Dappled Hawkweed)  i.e close but not an exact match for the currently understood species. H. scotostictum has only a handful of records in Scotland.

H. sparsifolium (Sparse-leaved Hawkweed) from an area to the west of Tormore is the first modern record.

H. sublasiophyllum (Slender-bracted Hawkweed) from Abhainn Gremiscaig is the first for Skye and the second for the VC as there is a 1986 record for Eigg.

H. triviale (previously H. vulgatum) (Common Hawkweed) is quite widespread and accounted for seven of the 21 specimens.

Seth has three specimens from Skye this year that have yet to be determined and I have a report of a spotty-leaved plant that may be a Hieracium from Sgùrr nan Gilean which, like the putative H. reticulatiforme, needs to be checked next year. Just at the moment I am feeling quite enthused about hawkweeds so maybe next year I will spend more time on them.

More Taxonomy!

October 24, 2019

Further to my recent note, I have found another recent publication which sets out the authors’ views on the broad taxonomic relationships of the 500,000+ green plant species based on molecular genetic data. Try this:

Plant evolution 3

There is much more material if this sort of thing interests you. It is freely available  here:

One Thousand Plant Transcriptomes and Phylogenomics of Green Plants. Nature, 2019 DOI: 10.1038/s41586-019-1693-2

Though not new, the position of  Charophytes/Stoneworts between green algae and bryophytes is confirmed by this approach.

Bernisdale Woods

October 24, 2019

Today Skye Nature Group spent a few hours in Bernisdale Woods. We hope to have found a rare or at least seriously under-recorded woodlouse – but this requires close examination of a male, which we may or may not have captured. More in due course.

Amongst a variety of invertebrates and fungi were these photogenic ones:

Birch Shieldbug

Birch Shieldbug (Elasmostethus interstinctus)

Rosenscheldia abundans

Rosenscheldia abundans on Prunella vulgaris (Selfheal)

Typhula erythropus

Typhula erythropus (Redleg Club)

There were already a high number of vascular plants recorded in the tetrad but we added 13 taxa to the tetrad list including Bromopsis ramosa (Hairy-brome), Cytisus scoparius (Broom), Fragaria vesca (Wild Strawberry), Geranium robertianum (Herb-Robert), Montia fontana (Blinks), Picea sitchensis (Sitka Spruce), Rumex acetosella (Sheep’s Sorrel), Sanicula europaea (Sanicle), Silene dioica (Red Campion), Tsuga heterophylla (Western Hemlock-spruce), Ulmus glabra (Wych Elm), Vicia cracca (Tufted Vetch) and re-found 1992 records for Castanea sativa (Sweet Chestnut) and Populus tremula (Aspen). Common species still unrecorded include Teucrium scorodonia (Wood Sage) and Vaccinium myrtillus (Bilberry/Blaeberry).

The Past Week

October 19, 2019

On Tuesday I set out to explore an area of the Red Cuillin that was new to me, south of Glamaig. It turned out to be a useful day with a new 10km square record for Empetrum nigrum subsp. hermaphroditum (Mountain Crowberry) and new tetrad records for things from the sublime…  Salix herbacea (Dwarf Willow)…. to the ridiculous…. Juncus conglomeratus (Compact Rush).

There were still occasional flowers on quite a few species such as Erica cinerea (Bell Heather), Hypericum pulchrum (Slender St John’s-wort), Pinguicula lusitanica (Pale Butterwort), Potentilla erecta (Tormentil), Ranunculus acris (Meadow Buttercup), Succisa pratensis (Devil’s-bit Scabious), Scorzoneroides autumnalis (Autumn Hawkbit) and Vaccinium vitis-idaea (Cowberry).


Vaccinium vitis-idaea (Cowberry)

I have found V. vitis-idaea flowering late in the year on a previous occasion, though not this late.

On Friday Skye Nature Group went hunting for earthtongues in response to a request from Kew to try and find previously known sites for some rare ones. We found at least three types of black or almost black ones (scaly, slimy and furry – proper names after DNA work!) plus some others:

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Today I went to check up on Toetoe Valley on Raasay as I wanted a photo of Cortaderia richardii (Early Pampas-grass) for a poster I am presenting at the forthcoming Scottish Botanists’ Conference. All welcome! (But book now.)

Cortaderia richardii Raasay

Cortaderia richardii (Early Pampas-grass) on Raasay

Numbers have increased since I last counted them, as it spreads down the valley.

Taxonomy & Evolution

October 14, 2019

As an inquiring field biologist, it would be difficult not to have an interest in taxonomy and evolution, though for some this may not extend far beyond their immediate speciality – such as plants. Personally, I find the wider picture fascinating – and it gets clearer but more complicated all the time.

It is a long time since the simple idea of kingdoms like plants, animals, fungi and protists was good enough and by the early 2000s about six supergroups were accepted (versions varied). These included

  • Opisthokonta which included animals, fungi, and several protist lineages
  • Archaeplastida with primary plastids – the photosynthetic organelles deriving directly from cyanobacteria by endosymbiosis. The three main groups were green algae and land plants, red algae, and glaucophyte algae.
  • Amoebozoa which included free-living amoeboid forms with lobose pseudopodia (e.g. Amoeba) but also some flagellates, and various slime moulds.

Further molecular work, mostly on newly discovered protists, has transformed our understanding of protist and hence eukaryote diversity.

A recent publication (Burki et al., The New Tree of Eukaryotes, Trends in Ecology & Evolution (2019) sets out a current view like this:eToL

Eukaryotic Tree of Life 3.1

where Chloroplastida includes green algae + land plants, Rhodophyta (red algae), and Glaucophyta, and opisthokonts includes animals, fungi, and their respective unicellular relatives. So there is considerable consistency with the previous version for these familiar groups; the major explosion in diversity at a basic level is amongst the “protists”. This scheme seems likely to be far from the “final” answer.

I suspect it will be a while before opisthokonts becomes a household word….. and don’t let us even start on prokaryotes…….