English summaries 11/2003
Mutualism among the fascinating bracket fungi
Text and photos by Tuomo Niemelä
Together with Heikki Kotiranta, Tuomo Niemelä has developed a point system based on 33 different species of bracket fungi. By applying their system it is possible to assess and thus compare the conservation values of forests. Many of the 33 bracket fungus species are fairly common in ancient old growth forests but are sensitive to disturbance. The system has already saved thousands of hectares of forest from logging.
Bracket fungi are the forest’s waste disposal personnel, breaking down fallen twigs, branches and trunks, tree stumps and the roots left in the ground into forest soil. Birds and a wide variety of mammals find suitable nesting places and food in decaying wood. Deadwood and the bracket fungi that inhabit it are of particular importance to many species of beetles. However, the bracket fungi are also often essential to each other.
Tuomo Niemela’s lengthy research disclosed the fact that some bracket fungi were always found growing on the same kinds of tree where previously some other type of bracket fungus had appeared and then died down. He discovered that such bracket fungi are only able to survive on top of a dead bracket fungus of another species. They are thus saprophytes on saprophytic fungi! It soon became apparent that this is not a unique feature of bracket fungi; many other species of fungi have adopted the same habit. But the situation is not always as simple as that. Instead of growing on the fruiting body of another fungus, the associated species may also grow on a surface strewn with the hyphae of a dead bracket fungus. As such studies have progressed, an increasingly large contingent of these mutualistic fungi has come to light.
Saved from a frosty fate
By Ari Raninen
As the majority of migratory birds leave for the south, a few individuals remain here to await the cold and certain death. In general the reason for this is some accident or other, a wing broken after a collision with a power cable, injuries sustained by flying into a window, or a road accident. Some individuals are left in such a weak state that they are physically unable to leave the country.
A bird in this kind of unfortunate condition will die unless somebody finds it and takes it to ‘hospital’ in time. There are three clinics in Finland officially licensed to care for injured birds, plus a few other locations capable of dealing with wild animals in distress. The oldest and largest bird clinic is the one at Heinola, to which 250 birds are brought each year. Of these, less than one half are released after treatment. Permanently injured specimens that are, however, still capable of looking after themselves, remain in captivity at the clinic.
The cost of looking after injured birds is high, since the patients require food, rather spacious, warm accommodation, the services of a veterinary officer, and medicines. Most of these costs are met by the Municipality of Heinola, but Olli Vuori, who heads the establishment, feels that the State ought also to contribute, as the clinic accepts birds from all over Finland.
Patvinsuo National Park provides good home for brown bears
By Markku Lappalainen
Located in northern Karelia, close to the Russian border, Patvinsuo National Park is home to populations of the three-toed woodpecker, capercaillie, red-flanked bluetail, pine marten, and flying squirrel - added to which there are brown bears. The bear is in fact the park’s mascot and there are now several individuals of this great predator roaming its 130 square kilometres. Visitors can easily spot faeces, claw-marks on tree trunks, and wrecked ants’ nests, all typical signs of bear activity in the area. Mushroom and berry pickers in the national park tend to speak loudly and make a commotion to deter any bears that may be around from coming closer.
Patvinsuo is a meeting point of southern and northern species of organisms, a snippet of the taiga (boreal coniferous forest) zone of northern Europe. It features a broad spectrum of wetland types with the plants and animals typically associated with these. Visitors can make use of well-defined trails as they ramble through the national park. In the wettest areas duckboards have been laid across the soggy ground. There is also a bird observation tower, from which bears are frequently glimpsed ambling over the distant open mires. Nowadays Patvinsuo sees something like 15,000 visitors a year, the park being so remote that few travellers chance on it by accident.
People are migrating south: habitats are being destroyed
By Jarmo Pasanen
Uusimaa, a province in southern Finland, is the target of a provincial plan that would guide land use for the next 25 years. According to the proposed strategy, people, roads, railway lines, places of work and services would be increased, forcing natural habitats to withdraw before them. The plan has not yet been approved but is presently being circulated with a view to inviting comments. Nature conservationists feel it should be entirely revamped.
Some people consider that it is to the ecosystem’s advantage if increasingly more folk move down from the north, since this would leave more areas as nature reserves in that region. Conservation expert Keijo Savola stresses that one cannot make ‘swap deals’ with nature: every part of an ecosystem has its own unique features. We cannot sacrifice the rich plant and animal communities of southern Finland in order to rescue some natural areas in Lapland, he stresses.
One major problem, now as also in the future, is the severe competition between municipalities for more residents. Each municipality is seeking to acquire as many tax payers and work places as possible. Along with the rest, the municipalities of Uusimaa are vigorously attempting to attract hordes of new faces.
EU stars shine above the ‘Pusta’
By Juha Valste
Hungary will accede to the EU on 1st May 2004. How will this affect the nation’s wildlife and nature conservation? When questioned, many officials replied that everything is fine in that respect and that through Hungary’s accession the European Union will inherit a wealth of new natural places.
The large ‘pusta’ in Hungary’s eastern region has mainly been protected as the Hortobágy National Park. Aside from endemic animal and plant species, this park also serves to conserve ancient cattle, pig, sheep, horse and dog breeds, the old rural way of life, and various domestic animal flocks together with their shepherds. The latter consider that, while the ‘pusta’ will remain, its people will probably not. These days young folk want to move to the towns, not follow the old way of life in the countryside.
While questioning members of the public in urban areas, it was discovered that many were not even aware of what nature conservation means and how the EU could influence it. Many had not heard, either, that their country already has ten national parks, in addition to a large number of other conservation areas. Moreover, these matters did not interest many of the respondents in any way whatsoever.
Customs combat toxins
By Alice Karlsson
Ninety-one percent of the total pesticide residue content of Finnish food comes from imported foodstuffs. A large proportion comes from apples, pears, rye, grapes and oranges. This notwithstanding, on average the Finnish intake is only around 50 micrograms, i.e. one hundredth of the ‘safe’ intake.
The safety of imported foods is supervised by the Customs laboratory. This institution takes samples of all foods imported to Finland. In addition to pesticides, tests are also often performed on heavy metals. Nowadays it is rare to find hazardous levels of substances in foodstuffs - the last case was the withdrawal of a consignment of grapes containing too high a level of an acutely toxic substance. This was in 2000. Around five percent of the tested samples fail, however, to comply with the regulations, even though the surplus amount is not generally hazardous. Products that fail to comply with the law most commonly come from the Far East, particularly Thailand, in some of whose food products the permitted levels of harmful substances are exceeded by over 20 percent.
In the Customs laboratory around 3,000 samples a year, i.e. 15 samples a day, are tested. The blame for non-compliant foods frequently rests with the fact that the EU’s norms have constantly become more stringent, so that producers have been unable to keep up. However, the tests show that the exposure of Finns to pesticides has consistently decreased as time has gone on.
Teksti: Leigh Plester