Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Forget the Selfish Selfies, the real Poppy Apocalypse is underground

This post isn't exactly about the selfie obsessed or where to go to view the best hottest 2019 SoCal wildflower superbloom. The Media and almost every cheezy social media site on the net has put a glaring spotlight on this subject already. But unfortunately I have to use the selfie superbloom fiasco as a lead in or this post may not get noticed at all. This post is about something I noticed in photographs some other folks have posted about the superbloom which has inadvertantly exposed some common poor land management practices prevalent today and how all types of plant ecosystems have suffered which has resulted in a change of the underground soil microbiota from a mycorrhizal one to a predominantly bacterial one. The problem being that it's the bacterial one which favours the ruderal non-native type of weeds. The result has been major declines in the more desired native plant community. Okay, let's deal with the selfie obsessed and get it all out of the way. 

(AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Image - Steven Kostoff
Inapropriate behaviour of the shameful selfie obsessed has shown up all over social media venues like Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, GooglePlus, Tumblr, etc. In our modern social media times it's common to see these sick scenarios where people photo themselves in selfies at funerals, car crashes or worse. Even the supposedly responsible professional people of our society like police officers, firemen, etc have gotten in on the act and been busted by other people with their own selfie cameras while they engaged in inappropriate behaviour. And true enough, nature has taken a very hard hit from these selfish selfies. Perhaps you may remember over the recent past where people obsessed with selfies even killed poor harmless animals like that baby dolphin down in Argentina which was killed after being mobbed by tourists looking for that perfect selfie. Modern human society as a culture has really gone downhill.

Walker Canyon, Lake Elsinore
Remember all those selfish selfies back in the wildflower superboom of 2017 ??? I even saw many non-profit environmental group leaders even leading the way in posting a plethora of photographs in hopes of conning their followers into believing how resilient Nature was after that 4+ years of mega-drought in California. Sure, in the past we could say nature has been resilient. Unfortunately, scientific advancement has reverse engineered so many of the major components which allowed this resilience restoration mechanism to move forward, that it's doubtful just how much if any of it is still really intact. In some areas the Earth is at the point of no return. Think I'm kidding ??? Look all around you at how many people there are out there practically celebrating the six extinction. Now here we are with the Spring of 2019 in Southern California and the superbloom has hit again with the conventionl news media and social media exploiting it for all it's click-bait ratings worth. Unfortunately the Media's extra attention has made things worse for many of the well known wildflower viewing areas where people flat out refuse to obey rules and physical barriers. This is all too common in today's enlightened progressive society, where the average person resents being told what they can and cannot do.

But I did read however about one responsible photographer,  Stephen Kim, who visited the Lake Elsinore site (Walker Canyon) early on a Sunday morning, where he said he saw “so much garbage”, it made him disgusted and he made a personal effort to pick up water bottles on his walk. The garbage was not surprising since others photos out on the net exposed several entrepreneurial food wagons taking advantage of the circus atmosphere to sell their junk food wares. Mr Kim said:
“You see this beautiful pristine photo of nature but then you look to the left and there’s plastic Starbucks cups and water bottles on the trail and selfie sticks and people having road rage because some people were walking slower.”

Okay now, let's leave all that nonsense news behind, because there were other people (photographers) out there who had taken photos and had written posts in their blogs about their visits to lesser known areas away from general public view. Like this location in the same Estelle Mountain Preserve region, but higher up & south of Lake Matthews in the Gavilan Hills area. This one blogger I stumbled upon is a CSU Fullerton Communications student named Daniel Coats who took some beautiful photographs in an isolated area. Now aside from all those pretty wildflowers, I saw some other interesting things in his photos which fortunately highlighted & documented something profound from an ecological point of view. This region he photographed in is within the Lake Matthews Estelle Mountain Reserve and the popular Walker Canyon area which is also part of that preserved area. The photos below were taken south of Lake Matthews Drive
How Bulldozers and general raw land stripping by land owners of native vegetation destroys the underground mycorrhizal fungal internet network or grid & facilitates invasive weeds
Photo by Daniel Coats

This area in the photos above and below are south of the Cajalco Expressway Road (further east turns into Ramona Expressway) and just off Lake Mathews Drive. Note the bulldozed brush piles lined up in neat rows ? Much of this is not only interior sagescrub, but also the rare native California Juniper for which many small woodland pockets or groves are now under threat of disappearance because of land development boom since the 1980s in western Riverside County. I say rare because such presence of very large specimens of California Juniper are disappearing in western Riverside County, though they are numerous elsewhere. What should catch everyone's eye is the abrupt change in vegetation type at the edge of this land clearance area from the native sagescrub with abundant wildflowers to the non-native invasive weeds like the Black Mustard, Wild Mediterranean Oats, Wild Radish, Cheatgrass, Yellow Star Thistle, etc. Underground, both types thrive on two totally different microbiological ecosystem communities. The native sagescrub (California Buckwheat, California Sagebrush, Brittlebrush, wildflowers, etc) require mycorrhizal fungi, while the invasive non-native weeds are non-mycorrhizal and thrive in a bacterial soil profile. The weeds (especially the black mustard, wild radish, tumbleweeds, etc) also send out alleopathic chemical signatures through their root exudates into the soil which hinders mycorrhizal symbiosis associations with native plants allowing themselves full reign dominion over the area. 

Google Earth
You can see a real difference from a much closer photograph here below of poppies and sagescrub in contrast to the land area purposely cleared of all native flora. Once the native plants, which are the living host to the mycorrhizal fungi are removed, the fungi will die out. They need these hosts to continue on living. Any beneficial mycorrhizal spores in the soil will stay dormant and may eventually may lose their viability to germinate even if a host becomes present again. At that point the non-native invasives become the dominant species of plants. In fact where mycorrhizal fungi are present with large healthy populations in the soil, any non-native invasive weed has a tough time thriving because the mycorrhizal presence will out-compete the weeds for precious phosporus along with other nutrients and water. At best if they do geminate, they will be incredibly stunted in their growth. Take a close look next time you're out on a hike. Also take closer note of this contrast below.

Photo by Daniel Coats

In the close up photo above, take note of the striking contrast of the perfect border of native vegetation at the bulldozer line above and the non-native weedy scenario below the same line. But, have you also noticed how the massive presence of weedy invasives below have been unable to make any inroads or encroachment into the natural healthy native plant ecosystem above. Why is that ???Because the underground abundant healthy mycorrhizal grid network won't allow any germinated weed seed to thrive and it simply whithers. But there is even more here. Now take note of the poppy encroachment below this same line into the weedy invasive held territory. This is because mycorrhizal fungi can move underground into new areas slowly but surely. Take a close look below at how this is beautifully illustrated in the mycorrhizal corn experiment.

Image - University of Florida

David Read/University of Sheffield
The photograph above is a drought experiment on Corn down in Florida in sandy soil which is water stressed under a controlled environment condition replicating industrial Ag conventional farm practices on the right in contrast with Corn inoculated with Mycorrhizal Fungi on the left which is not water stressed. Why ? Because mycorrhizal fungi increases water and nutrient uptake by mimicking an incredibly extensive root system as seen in the photo of pine seedling on the right. The fungi presence allows an increase of water and nutrient uptake by anywhere from 200% to 800% depending on soil conditions. But there is something else and it relates to the poppy encroachment below the bulldozed line in the previous photograph. Note here also in the corn photo, that the controlled corn plot has healthiest plants near the edge closest to the mycorrhizal plot. This is because the endo-mycorrhizal fungi has moved underground and come into contact with host plants not infected with any fungi. Same thing is illustrated with these two pine seedlings. The pine seedling on the left has it's roots infected with the mycorrhizal fungi which is noticeable moving to the right to colonize pine roots of the seedling without fungi. I'm using the pine example which is colonized by ecto-mycorrhizal fungi, because it is more easily seen to the naked eye and because it forms truffles or mushrooms familiar to most folks. It's easier to illustrate because shrubs & wildflowers are colonized by endo-mycorrhizal fungi which requires magnification to be seen. But the principle and behaviour of movement underground are identical. Here is another poor land management example below in Santee California.

Image by Lynda Marrokal

Western Santee, California, area known as Dove Hill

Notice the same land disruption in this Santee photo above ? Santee has been expanding since the 1950s baby boom era. In the beginning of it's agricultural history prior to baby boom development of bedroom districts, this land was overgrazed and later plowed by farmers and later bulldozed by land developers whose actions destroyed what network grid may have still existed. Suddenly the soil scenario was ripe for non-mycorrhizal invasive ruderal weeds like Black Mustard to move in. But again, notice the contrast and the fact that the mass of invasives do not easily cross the line upslope into Dove Hill. The Black Mustard is only held in check because of the healthy though isolated mycorrhizal grid on that hill. That's not to say the tiny wind blown mustard seeds haven't made contact onto the land above, but it's just that they haven't been successful in germination and establishment. And another example below in Santee is at Sky Ranch Development on Rattlesnake Mountain.

Photo is mine from 2011

Prior to the Sky Ranch housing development, this area in the photo above was not encroached upon by Black Mustard, Yellow Star Thistle or African Fountain Grass like it clearly is now. Now it's everywhere. One of the conditions of development was the creation of a conservation area to protect one of the last beautiful examples of Coastal Sage Scrub habitats complete with endangered species like California Gnatcatcher. Hence the threatening signage against trespass into the land surrounding the Sky Ranch Housing Tract. Funny, the signage didn't deter the residents in that photo above from taking a chainsaw to the group of several 35+ year old Torrey Pine Trees which were up there like the one in the photo above. No matter, what's done in ignorance is done. Take a look below at some research links which explain how the Black Mustard (& other Mustards) effect soil conditioning and inhibit mycorrhizal colonization with host plants. 
Some interesting facts you may never have known about Wild Mustard 😲
Photo by Tom Moyer

Remember all those stories blaming the evil Spanish Explorers bringing Mustards seeds over in pottery shards and oxen cart wheels etc to North America ??? Forget it! While it could be possible, it really exploded in the early 1900s, when farmers used to plant Mustard in orchards, vineyards, etc because most Brassica species release chemical compounds that may be toxic to soil borne pathogens and pests, such as nematodes, fungi and some weeds. This practice is still used in most California Vineyards today for the same reasons like the photo above of a vineyard in Sonoma County. Seriously, Google the images yourself. The concept of pursuing a biological control approach was/is a noble one, but it's had horrible side effects. This is what happens when no one takes a holistic view which only means looking at the bigger picture down the road. Down in SoCal it was planted in orange groves for the same reasons. Here is a blog article asking the question and explaining the why Mustard plants were used. Some seed companies for agriculture still sell great quantities of seed for this same method organic method today, although they recommend farmers mow Mustard plants at the flower stage before seed sets and till mowed plants under the soil.
Naomis Organic Garden: "Why do wine makers plant mustard seeds in young vineyards?"
Berkeley Labs & Hopland Researchers Extension Center findings
(Credit: Javier Ceja-Navarro)

Microbes that flourish in the area around plant roots
take up specific organic acids from the root exudates.

The researchers set out to determine the relationship between microbes that consistently bloomed near the grass roots and the metabolites released by the plant. They found that the microbes that flourished in the area around plant roots preferred a diet more rich in organic acids than the less successful microbes in the community. Here are some quotes about their conclusions:
“Early in its growth cycle, the plant is putting out a lot of sugars, ‘candy’, which we find many of the microbes like,” Northen said. “As the plant matures, it releases a more diverse mixture of metabolites, including phenolic acids. What we discovered is that the microbes that become more abundant in the rhizosphere are those that can use these aromatic metabolites.”  
“We’ve thought for a long time that plants are establishing the rhizosphere best suited to their growth and development,” said Brodie. “Because there are so many different types of microbes in soil, if the plants release just any chemical it could be detrimental to their health.  
“By controlling the types of microbes that thrive around their roots, plants could be trying to protect themselves from less friendly pathogens while promoting other microbes that stimulate nutrient supply.
Berkeley Labs: Plants Really Do Feed Their Friends - Berkeley Lab researchers prove complex connection between plants and what soil microbes eat 
Below here are some other good links on the effects of Mustard in soil conditioning and mycorrhizal signaling disruption. Scroll down to two important subheadings: "Evidence for Allelopathic Effects From Soil Conditioning and Field Studies" and "Allelochemical Effects of Alliaria on Mycorrhizal Fungi"
More Important Reading References - Don't get bored. This is too important.
BioOne Complete: "A review of garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata, Brassicaceae) as an allelopathic plant"
The invasive plant Alliaria petiolata (garlic mustard) inhibits ectomycorrhizal fungi in its introduced range
ScienceMag (May 10 2019) A specialized metabolic network selectively modulates Arabidopsis root microbiota 
Antelope Valley California Poppy Preserve
Image - Dan Potter

Okay, here's another example up in Antelope Valley California where the well known poppy preserve had yet another widlflower explosion this year (2019) too. With all the lucrative Grants and other government money giveaways out there, unscrupulous solar farm speculators land grab at accelerated rates. Of course they choose land deemed worthless for anything else. But that's clearly not the case. The establishment of a massive solar farm will eventually change the underground soil biota which will eventually crowd out native plants and offer a welcome mat for weeds.

Image - Johnathan Huddleston - (NorthStar Solar)

This photograph below shows how massive Solar farms have crept right up to the border edges of the California Poppy Preserve. I've tried to look up and research it, but it may be too early and eventually too late, but Solar Farms generate regional heat islands. This means these black panels absorb and generate more heat into the surrounding area than existed in an area previously. So I've been curious as to what effect higher temperatures might have on surrounding wild native vegetation. These alternative energy schemes and technologies are creating what they were supposedly  designed to eliminate, Global Warming. Same with Wind Farms.

image from
That other negative that comes with installation of  the Industrial Solar Farms ->>>>>> TUMBLEWEEDS
Photo from WWS - Wind & Solar Maintenance

The images above and here on the right are of maintenance crews from the Wind & Solar maintence company WorldWideSolar (WWS). Tumble weeds are a bane on the landscape for a number of negative reasons. Most importantly wildfire hazard. Hence they require removal or the solar farm is at risk. But the whole reason these often exist at solar farms is because of human land mismanagement in the first place which disrupted the mycorrhizal soil biota to construct the solar farm. Antelope Valley has a huge problem with tumbleweeds because of numerous abandoned farmlands which were allowed to go fallow and the Tumbleweeds took advantage. The introduction of solar farms has exacerbated the problem. Indeed, bad agricultural practices, railroads, highway construction & maintenance and massive development in general have all help spread this aggressive invader. But interestingly, according to a 1991 Scientific American article ("Tumbleweeds") by a researcher named James Young, he stated that without human ignorance with their land management intervention the tumbleweed would probably have remained an innocuous plant. Actually this is true of most hated weeds like the Black Mustard and believe it or not, for the very same underground changes in soil microbiology caused by human ignorance of proper land management, even when developing the land for seemingly positive purposes. 

Researcher David A. Bainbridge of the Soil Ecology and Restoration Group Biology Department SDSU, wrote about the tumbleweed problem occuring in the Antelope Valley, the reasons for it's spread and potential for eliminating it. Here's just one small quote which gets to the heart of the matter. But read it's entirety.
"It's non-mycorrhizal and in fact attempted mycorrhizal infection proved pathogenic rather than symbiotic (Allen and Allen 1988; Allen et al. 1989). This explains why sites that are only slightly disturbed will often fight off the infection of tumbleweed within a few years as soil health recovers. Like many other weeds, it will disappear if it is left alone and the land is not overgrazed, tilled, or degraded."
California Exotic Pest Plant Control: "The Tumbleweed Centennial in the Antelope Valley, California"
The Very Thing That Could Eliminate Weeds is the Very Thing That Was Missing to Begin With ->>> Arbuscular mycorrhizal Fungi

Simply weeding is not enough when it comes to native plant restoratin, you have to replace the host plants for which mycorrhizal fungi will thrive. Certainly inoculating the soil is important, but you need the right kind of fungal species and from a reputable company. Hence I've always gone with Mycorrhizal Applications Inc  from Grant Pass Oregon. There is a plethora of companies out there farmimg Biostimulants, beware. Not all are desirable inoculums. Do your homework first.
Biostimulants & Fertilizers are not Magic Dust
University of British Columbia: Do additives help the soil?
Conclusions on when you Photograph Nature
Photograph mine from 2014 near Julian California

Mine also from 2014
Back to photography. I photograph things most others overlook when I'm out in the bush. For example what the heck is that up above ??? 😕 Oh yeah, I brushed the soil and plant dander away and lo & behold it's an ecto-mycorrhizal truffle. I also take photos of root systems from washouts in the bank of a wash which has been cut away by a flashflood exposing extensive rootsystems of several meters deep of native chaparral shrubs. I like nature networks, hence the name Earth's Internet. But I also noticed the same clues when viewing other folks photos. I did it with several photographers who took pics of Torrey Pines State Reserve between La Jolla & Del Mar near San Diego California. Once iconic photo locations are now gone because of environmental degradation. I wrote about that here with this post Major decline in Torrey Pines & SoCal Forests in general

It's ironic that the Park's website and brochures still will not update their photos reflect todays reality. So tourists hopefully will still flock to the park in hopes of experiencing the nature as they viewed it in those photos which drew them there in the first place. Same with those wildflower photos taken by others. There is a plethora of things to learn if you are able to immediately decern and recognize what you're looking at. You know, the same way people will look at things like clouds and see some abstract image that reminds them of something. Except my viewing of the photo images is not about the abstract, it's about reality 😉
"When I would recreate myself, I seek the darkest wood, the thickest and most interminable, and to the citizen, most dismal swamp… The wildwood covers the virgin mould, and the same soil is good for men and for trees." 
And finally in the interests of encouraging responsible photography. There are commercials and there is this commercial

Update: May 25, 2019
Bulldozed Catlines an Invitation to Invasive Non-Native weeds
Update: June 1, 2019
The Escondido Creek Conservancy had a similar observation as myself back in April 10, 2019. Good for them for revealing and exposing the danger of being ignorant as to what is causing the downswing in general ecosystem health in California. 
Escondido Creek Conservancy: "The Superdoom"

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