Why fallen leaves make the earth turn faster … and woodpeckers do not have headaches

Adult worker of the red ant (Myrmica rubra), drinking from water droplets, in Powys, Wales

During the next months, the Earth will begin to spin faster.

But do not be alarmed, it happens every year when the leaves fall from millions of trees. And did you know that wolves can change the course of a river?

Nature is like a giant clockwork mechanism. Everything is ordered and interconnected, with its own place and function.

But nature is much more complex than a clock: not only one tooth connects with another; everything is connected in such an intricate network that we probably never fully grasp it.

So, it is important that we realize that even small interventions can have enormous consequences.

For years, my children begged me to buy a bird feeder in our backyard. I resisted because it seemed too much to interfere with nature. But finally I gave in and placed one in front of the kitchen window.

March of the Red Army

Forget-me-nots can appear in unwanted groups in your garden thanks to their ability to conquer new territories.

For this, they have an army of small allies.

On the outside of its seeds is a structure rich in fat and sugar that resembles a cake crumb that is irresistible to ants.

Once dragged back to the ant nest, the tasty sandwiches are bitten and the worker ants carry them up to 200 feet away.

It's not just these little blue flowers that help. Wild strawberries and wood violets benefit from this ant distribution service.

There is a great army working in forests and fields. So far, about 10,000 species of ants have been discovered and it has been estimated that the combined weight of all the tiny creatures of this insect family is equivalent to that of all people on Earth.

Adult worker of the red ant (Myrmica rubra), drinking from water droplets, in Powys, Wales

Adult worker of the red ant (Myrmica rubra), drinking from water droplets, in Powys, Wales

The most common forest specimens – and possibly the most cruel – are the red ants (below) that once thrived in southern England and Wales but are becoming locally extinct in places where foliage grown in poorly managed forests blocks the sun and makes its nesting very well.

Red wood ants are important, though ruthless, protectors of our trees. They take advantage of the aphids that, joining the bark of a tree, stick their mouths to where their sap flows. From this, aphids extract the small amounts of protein they are looking for and excrete the rest as a sugary substance known as honeydew.

This is irresistible to ants, which provide about two-thirds of their caloric intake in a season, and instead of gobbling up aphids, they pluck their wings and keep them alive.

Unable to fly, they are imprisoned in the bark where their jailers effectively cultivate them for their honey.

And it's also good for trees. For a study by the University of Lancaster, it has been suggested that the loss of leaves is six times less in the birches colonized by these ants.

The bananas that are so commonly found in British streets and parks benefit, too, by increasing their circumference two or three times faster when protected by ants.

Since then we have not finished with poultry visitors. But even though we feed them with the best intentions, it is worth taking into account the warning history of the capirotada warbler, a bird that is found in Germany but quite new here.

The size of a tit and wearing a hat on the head (black for males and brown for females), these gray fluffs spent the summer in Germany and in the autumn they flew to warmer spaces like Spain, where they fed on berries and fruits. including olives.

But in the 1960s, many populations began to fly north in winter to the United Kingdom; The reason is that the British are great lovers of birds and they fed them so well that they no longer wanted to fly south.

This has changed the birds both visually and genetically.

Although their short, wide beaks were good for pecking olives, they did not serve to reach seeds and fat in bird feeders. Then, over time, their peaks have become narrower and longer.

Meanwhile, their wings have done the opposite.

As Britain is closer to Germany than Spain, the thin wings of the black warbler (useful over longer distances) are now shorter and rounder, improving the maneuverability of birds during short flights in British gardens.

As the altered species intersect with the original, their genetic makeup will continue to change until the cardinals that the world once knew no longer exist and that something unrecoverable has been lost.

This is not the only example of how small behavioral changes in humans and animals can have remarkable consequences. . .

FEEL THE FATAL LOVE OF LOVE

Hunters and prey coexist in a delicate balance that gives each one the chance to survive. But artificial light can alter the scales.

Although supposedly friendly to the environment, modern garden lights powered by solar energy are often found all night, attracting insects like moths and delighting the large number of spiders that benefit from spinning their nets nearby.

In the long run, the small ecosystem around the light changes, because some species disappear completely (in the stomachs of the spiders).

A light would not matter that much, but it is different when there are thousands, as in urban areas.

It is not that humans are the only source of additional light in the landscape. It has existed long before we started lighting things, even small amounts of strange mating rituals of fireflies.

Only males can fly and its body is designed to illuminate light, which is its mating signal, down. In this way, they do not reveal their presence to the enemies that fly over them, while at the same time they point out "look what kind of good I am" to the terrestrial females below.

When a woman receives the message, she lights her light, too, inviting Casanova to land, only to die shortly after mating, and to leave the ghost immediately after laying her eggs.

The masculine glow should mark the final flicker of a life that ends in a high ecstasy, but the females of some species of glowing maggots imitate the light signals of others to attract their males.

They land to find not an amorous adventure, but the anxious jaws of an ugly fatal woman.

They need the males for their calories and the toxins in their bodies. These protect the females from being eaten by the spiders, who also notice their light signals and, in the absence of toxins, would be happy to accept the invitation illuminated for dinner.

MOTHS FLIRTATIOUSLY FLOATS

Moths have remarkable defenses against bats, including a mini-forest of hairs on the back to deflect the sound waves their predators use to "see" and the ability to produce "decoy" clicks that make them disappear in the middle of the static in a bat Radar.

But some species of moths have led the arms race with more bats. The larger wax moths have evolved to hear sounds much stronger than the bat's capabilities and have the highest audience score in the animal kingdom.

They use the higher frequencies to find partners, flirting in peace without having to worry that the bats may be listening.

Culling wolves was a howler

Yes, the wolves (below) can change the shape of the rivers. It happened in Yellowstone, the first national park in the United States, when farmers of the 19th century, worried about the cattle that predators ate, began to eradicate them. The last package was annihilated in 1926.

The consequences soon became clear. With the pressure of the predators raised, the population of moose began to increase and large areas of the park were stripped by these voracious animals.

The banks of the rivers were severely hit. The grass and the shoots disappeared, as did the birds and beavers that depended on them.

The gray wolf or the gray wolf (Canis lupus). can change the shape of the rivers It happened in Yellowstone, the first national park in the United States in the 19th century

The gray wolf or the gray wolf (Canis lupus). can change the shape of the rivers It happened in Yellowstone, the first national park in the United States in the 19th century

The gray wolf or gray wolf (Canis lupus). can change the shape of the rivers It happened in Yellowstone, the first national park in the United States in the 19th century

Without plants to protect them, banks were flooded and soil erosion caused rivers to follow more and more winding paths through the landscape.

In 1995, the wolves were reintroduced; The numbers of the moose were kept under control once again and, because they feared being out in the open where the wolves could find them more easily, they grazed under cover.

The banks of the river became stable once again, the beavers returned and, as a side effect of less elk, the resident grizzly bears have more berry bushes to enjoy.

ROAD FROM THE TRUNK TO CATASTROPHE

For decades, forestry technicians have noticed that young trees have grown markedly faster because, thanks in part to vehicle exhaust gases and liquid manure applications, we have overloaded Nature with nitrogen compounds that act as a reinforcement of nutrients

Is this, in some sense, a good thing? No. Left to their own devices, the trees do not grow quickly. In ancient unaltered forests, young people must spend their first 200 years waiting patiently in the shadow of their mother.

As they struggle to get a few feet, they develop wood that is incredibly dense. A mature beech, for example, contains up to 14 tons of wood.

But if they shoot too fast, their woody cells are much larger than normal and contain much more air, which makes them susceptible to fungi.

A tree that grows quickly rots quickly and, therefore, never has the opportunity to age.

THE WEB THROUGH THE WOOD

The trees and plants in a forest talk to each other through their own version of the Internet, a network of mushrooms that grow their filaments all over the ground. In extremely hot summers, the first thirsty trees can send a chemical warning on the wooden network and advise others to be frugal with their last drops of water.

Or if too many seeds are dragged by animals like the wild boar, threatening their reproductive possibilities, the trees could coordinate the interruptions in the fruiting, starving the boars until their population has descended to a level that no longer threatens Trees

Woody knows the drill

Why do woodpeckers have no headaches? The answer is that, unlike a human brain, the bird's brain sits firmly on its skull so that it does not bounce back and forth when its beak is staccato beating a tree.

Male Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) exploring silver birch wood in Norfolk, England

Male Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) exploring silver birch wood in Norfolk, England

Male Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) exploring silver birch wood in Norfolk, England

Despite this, most woodpeckers still prefer to drill nests in dead trees, since rotten wood is easier to penetrate.

But the black woodpecker prefers to establish itself in healthy trees, relying on workers willing to do hard work for them.

A mating pair will begin by hacking an entry into the outer growth rings of a tree and then sit down.

In their absence, fungi continue the work. There are crowds of their spores in each cubic meter of air and only minutes after the first blow of the peak, they land on the damaged site.

By eating the wood alive, it eventually becomes soft and pasty so that the pair of woodpeckers can return to the construction of their house without having a headache.

This service is not free: mushrooms take advantage of trees to obtain up to a third of the sugar and other carbohydrates they produce through photosynthesis. It is a considerable piece of energy, and about the same amount that the tree uses to grow wood (the remaining third becomes bark, leaves and fruit).

But the mushrooms produce reliably, and in addition to sharing information, they can transport sugar between the trees to help the weakest members of the community and also provide nutrients from more distant parts of the forest floor.

In addition, they can live easily as trees. The holder of the world record, a fungus found in North America, is 2,400 years old and covers almost three square miles.

Like any conversation, trees can be victims of espionage.

The smell they use so that other trees know they are stressed can be picked up by the bark beetles that drill into their trunks and build their nests inside them.

They prefer weakened specimens that can not produce the pitch defensive bubbles with which their healthy counterparts drown the intruders.

TREES GOVERN THE WORLD

Just as children in the playground roundabouts can make them go faster or slower by stretching or extending their legs to change the center of the weight, deciduous trees can affect the speed at which the Earth rotates. Each fall, their discarded leaves end up about 90 feet closer to the center of the earth (that's the average difference between the treetops and the ground) and their combined weight makes everyone turn a little faster.

In spring, the weight of the new leaves that grow on the branches (and therefore further away from the center of the earth) slows down the world a little more.

Other processes, such as tidal currents, also affect the Earth's center of gravity, so trees only make a fractional difference of a second, but it is still a great feat.

. . . AND CAUSE RAIN CAE

When fresh, pure fragrances greet your nose in a coniferous forest, you are smelling airborne substances called terpenes, which are crucial to the ability of trees to rain. For precipitation to occur, a large group of water molecules must group together and become heavy enough to fall like raindrops. But they only do it if they can adhere to small particles that float in the air.

There are many of these, volcanic ash, desert dust, small crystals of salt from the ocean, but, above all, particles actively released by plants.

The hotter it is, the more terpenes the conifers emit, and they can reach the well with even a small storm cloud, which is capable of throwing 125 million gallons of water to the thirsty trees below.

A bitter blow for hungry deer

Female deer at the foot of a glen. When a deer (in the image) bites the upper growth of a young tree, leaves some saliva in the wound and, in tasting, the young tree produces bitter compounds that discourage other deer from doing the same .

Female deer at the foot of a glen. When a deer (in the image) bites the upper growth of a young tree, leaves some saliva in the wound and, in tasting, the young tree produces bitter compounds that discourage other deer from doing the same .

Female deer at the foot of a glen. When a deer (in the picture) bites the upper growth of a young tree, it leaves a little saliva on the wound and, by "testing" it, the young tree produces bitter compounds that discourage other deer from doing the same.

To defend against the attack, trees and plants are not as passive as you might imagine.

For example, when a deer (above) bites the upper growth of a young tree, it leaves a little saliva on the wound and, by "proving" it, the offshoot produces bitter compounds that discourage other deer from doing the same.

Plants like mutton grass, on the other hand, are protected with toxins. Although not all predators are dissuaded by these.

Take the caterpillars of cinnabar, a black and red moth that is found in much of Britain. Chew happily with leaves of grass, without suffering harmful effects from the poisons they contain, unlike predators that, in turn, can eat them.

To warn the attackers that they will make a deadly meal, cinnabar caterpillars wear black and yellow rings. These seem to be a universal warning in the animal kingdom, think of wasps and bees.

THE LONG DEATH OF ONE LEAF

Without the army of billions of bacteria, fungi, mites and beetles that live on the ground, the forest would eventually be buried under many layers of fallen leaves.

It's not that these tiny insects are trying to do favors for the trees. They are simply hungry.

Everyone processes their share of the reward. One savors the thin layers between the veins of the leaves. The next one enjoys the veins themselves. Others focus on breaking down the crumbly excrement of those who lead the attack.

In general, this group effort can take around three years. But, finally, the leaf is transformed into organic matter rich in nutrients that helps trees produce bark, wood and, of course, new leaves.

The crows of the northern latitudes revolve on fresh corpses, loudly claiming

The crows of the northern latitudes revolve on fresh corpses, loudly claiming

The crows of the northern latitudes revolve on fresh corpses, loudly claiming

Animals and plants have evolved to live side by side, or sometimes to repel one another to maximize their chances of survival.

Wolves are a good example. They have developed a symbiotic relationship with crows.

Like the vultures in the African savanna, the ravens of the northern latitudes circle the fresh corpses, clamoring loudly. And in doing so, they provide valuable assistance to the wolves.

From their vantage point in the sky, they alert the gray-haired hunters to the proximity of the brown bears who would easily defeat them in a fight for the spoils, and in return they are allowed to help themselves to share the spoils.

They could never do this without the permission of the wolves, who could easily eat them, but instead teach their children that these birds are their friends.

Wolf cubs have been observed playing with crows; They remember their smell and come to consider them as members of their community.

  • The secret network of nature: Peter Wohlleben's Delicate Balance of All Living Things will be published by The Bodley Head on September 27 at £ 14.99. © Peter Wohlleben 2018.
  • To order a copy for £ 11.99 (20 percent discount) visit mailshop.co.uk/books or call 0844 571 0640, p & p is free on orders over £ 15. Offer valid until September 22, 2018 .

.