Found along the eastern coast of Australia, are eucalypts known as Scribbly Gums. They were first described by European botanists in the 1700s, and since then have fascinated generations of Australians and visitors.
Until recently the scientific understanding of the scribbles was blurry. In the 1930s, entomologists discovered that the larvae of a very small moth caused the scribbles, It was identified as a new species and named Ogmograptis scribula – the scribbly gum moth.
In 1999 an observant student compared the scribbles on different species of eucalypts, found they were different and suggested that more than one species of moth might be responsible.
In 2005 two species of moth were collected from a tree with two different scribble tracks. This provided proof that more than one species was involved, and helped scientists to learn about the life cycle of the moths.
But it wasn’t until November 2012 that a breakthrough was made by a ‘retired’ moth expert, Dr Marianne Horak, working at the CSIRO National Insect Collection in an honorary capacity. Dr Horak discovered that there were at least 12 species of moths that made scribbles in bark, and described 11 new species of moth.
Australian blogger and vegetation ecologist Ian Lunt muses about the features that make a forest tick. How important are rain and flames in influencing how ironbark forests function in Southeast Australia? As global warming intensifies, it will be increasingly important to help these forests retain every drop of water they can, he suggests.
Even though my own home forest in the northeastern United States is very different, I was struck by Ian’s lead-in questions: “Which ecological process has the biggest impact on how your ecosystem changes over time?” And: “What if you’re wrong?” Do take the time to read this important think-piece.
From Ian Lunt’s Research Site comes a story about the challenges involved in studying old paintings to learn how Australian forests have changed over the past 150 years. It seems that a 19th-century painter named Eugene von Guérard, fired by Alexander von Humboldt’s plea to artists to paint landscapes, fauna and flora as accurately as possible, resorted to some interesting strategems to make his paintings look especially authentic — and these tweaks present special challenges to modern conservation biologists trying to use his paintings for restoration projects. Most egregiously,
Von Guérard included grass trees in many of his paintings. Not only that, but he repeatedly drew grass-trees in pairs, with the base of their twin trunks obscured behind a shrub or log, as though hiding a large pot plant that he’d carted around the countryside just for this purpose. Indeed, he plonked his pot plant down in almost exactly the same place in his paintings of Tower Hill and the Warrenheip hills (see paintings above).