June 10, 2021

White Rock Lake nature walk in Dallas, Texas: 6/9/2021

Hello everyone! My family is currently on a trip in Texas, and I have really enjoyed observing the biodiversity here and how it differs from the biodiversity I see at home in Illinois. Another stark difference is the weather! It was a lot more hot and humid on this walk, which led to a lot of mosquito bites (we forgot bug spray :( ) . There was a cool breeze coming off of the water though, and the trees provided some nice shade from the burning sun. My mom and I found a beautiful reservoir called White Rock Lake that was only about 10 minutes from our hotel, and we walked for about 45 minutes around the lake. At home, we really enjoy going for walks together, but never have we took the time to really observe species around us, especially those that are not plants or animals. I can't believe how many times I have walked past lichen and other types of fungi without really knowing what they are and why fungi are so important. Every time I saw a tree with some fungi on it during this walk, I made sure to get really close to it to see what else I could find lingering on the bark. I was also really fascinated by how many snails I could find on the trees. They were so, so small and so easy to miss. I noticed a correlation between the amount of fungi on a tree and the number of snails and/or insects on it-- it seems like the more fungi, the more snails. I learned afterwards that many snails and even some types of insects eat fungi, so this correlation would make sense! In contrast, some areas of the woods seemed so bare. I wonder what makes the beta biodiversity of such a small wooded region so different? Maybe it has to do something with the amount of water plants can get, the light available, or other nutrients in the soil? One of my favorite things about observing fungi in particular on this walk was how diverse they are, both ecologically and morphologically. Some of them looked more mat like (maybe a slime mold and not even a fungus?) and were found on the ground, while others were flatter and stuck off the sides of trees. They also came in many different colors. I really liked the bright yellow Candleflame lichen and how it seemed to "paint" itself a plain brown tree, and the lichen that formed beautiful rosettes on bark. I also liked the puffball mushroom, Lycoperdon, that I found. At first I just thought it was a white rock, then noticed how it seemed to be spiky. Later that night I was watching the lecture about fungi and got pretty excited when I realized that I saw a puffball! I think that it is so cool that they "explode" to spread their spores. Prokaryotic, fungal, and plant reproduction is so interesting to me. I now realize that I had such an anthropocentric way of viewing many things, reproduction being one of them, before starting this class and really taking the time to observe nature. I noticed how distinct the fruiting bodies of the Ascomycota and Basidiomycota are, and how these structures give rise to beautiful diversity. It was also interesting to think about these fungi as being beneficial for the trees they grow on/near. I always thought of fungi as bad and parasitic, but had fun explaining to my mom the symbiosis that are occurring and that without the fungi, none of these large trees and beautiful plants could be here! Another cool finding was leaves that were cut out in seemingly characteristic patterns. After watching the video about leaf cutter ants, it seems like that is what is doing the cutting. In fact, leaf cutter ants are very common in Texas! I love thinking about how this fascinating insect forms a mutualistic relationship with a fungus. I wish I got to see the fungal garden it was growing. I also thought it was kind of funny that I captured a picture of poison ivy without even knowing it. Luckily I didn't touch the plant. That could've been bad! I like learning about how plants and microbes can cause problems for humans, and how we learning about these problems can help the future of medicine. As my mom and I were driving back to the hotel, I told her that I am glad my professor assigned us to go on a nature walk while in Texas. I never would have thought to find a reservoir near Dallas to explore. I also told her that I am now starting to see how ecology and evolution relates to medicine perhaps more than any other science. Exploring microbes in nature is where we find new medicines, learn new gene editing technology, and learn how tightly intertwined microbes are to human well being and disease. Lastly, I loved seeing various beautiful webs on my walk. I saw classic detailed spider webs, and huge balls of webs that I later learned are formed by caterpillars or web worms. These structures are so fascinating because I don't think humans would be able to replicate their strength and intricacy if we tried. They also stand as a beautiful symbol of the web of life that connects all species together :)

On this walk I really started to appreciate aspects of nature that I never appreciated in the past. While my mom and I did get some strange looks for veering so far off the path and climbing through plants, it was totally worthwhile. There is so much more biodiversity that meets the eye. I can't even begin to fathom how rich White Rock is with bacteria, archaea, protists, and other microorganisms that I still couldn't see. It makes me realize how much of a blip eukaryotes are in the tree of life.

Posted on June 10, 2021 21:07 by courtney_redey courtney_redey | 31 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment