Thursday, 20 September 2012

Science is done by people

Meet two of the team working up at Druridge Bay; Scott, a postgrad (on the left) and Dave, from Northumbria University. At their feet one of the small ponds dug out at Northumberland Wildlife Trust's Hauxley nature reserve in the autumn of 1994 so we could record the changing wildlife from each pond's creation. There are thirty of these ponds, now choked with moss, amphibious grasses and spike rush, but once a tapestry of stoneworts and water buttercup which thrived in dry years when pond dried out and baked to hard clay. A pond that dries out need not be a problem. It is still a pond, just not a pond with any water in it. Temporary ponds have their own specialist animals and plants. The Hauxley ponds were particularly good for tiny crustaceans called pea shrimps (Ostracoda is the scientific name), although they look more like those exotically flavoured multicoloured jelly beans you find in pick n'mix racks. The species of pea shrimp in each pond would vary year to year depending on how long a pond dried or flooded. Dry summers like 1995 and 1996 were best. Then came the wet July of 1997 and the ponds did not dry at all. Thick, clogging algae took over in bubbling mats and lank strands. The pea shrimps did not like that and had to wait until 1999 when the ponds dried out again and the tiny crustaceans reappeared, probably from tough eggs which had hung on through the wet years until the good times of the summer droughts resumed.

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