The Trees That Miss THE MAMMOTHS

By Brounaugh, Whit | American Forests, Winter 2010 | Go to article overview

The Trees That Miss THE MAMMOTHS


Brounaugh, Whit, American Forests


Trees that once depended on animals like the wooly mammoth for survival have managed to adapt and survive in the modern world - by White Brounaugh

Warning: Heading this article may cause a vvhiplash-inducing paradigm shift. You will no longer view wild areas the same way. Your concepts of "pristine wilderness" and "the balance of nature" will be forever compromised. You may even start to see ghosts.

Consider the fruit of the Osage-orange. named after the Osage Indians associated with its range. In the fall, Osage-orange trees hang heavy with bright green, bumpy spheres the size of softballs, fu!) oï seeds and an unpalatable milky latex. They soon fall to the ground, where they rot, unused, unless a child decides to test their ballistic properties.

Trees that make such fleshy fruits do so to entice animals to eat them, along with the seeds they contain. The seeds pass through the animal and are deposited, with natural fertilizer, away from the shade and roots of the parent tree where they are more likely to germinate. But no native animal eats Osage-orange fruits. So, what are they for? The same question could be asked of the large seed pods of the honeylocust and the Kentucky coffeelree.

To answer these questions and solve the "riddle of the rotting fruit." we first need to go to Costa Rica. That is where tropical ecologist Dan Janzen of the University of Pennsylvania noticed that the fruits of a mid-sized tree in the pea family called Cassia grandis were generally scorned by the native animals, but gobbled up by introduced horses and cattle. Janzen. who received the Crafoord Prize (ecology's version of the Nobel) for his work on the co-evolution of plants and animals, had the idea that the seeds of Cassia grandis, and about 40 other large-fruited Costa Rican trees, were adapted to be dispersed by large mammals that are now extinct, lie teamed up with Paul Martin, a paleoecologist ai the University of Arizona, to develop the concept of ecological anachronisms.

An anachronism is something that is chronologically out of place: a typewriter or floppy disc in a modem office. Leather helmets at the Super Bowl. Or, hopefully, the internal combustion engine in the near future. An ecological anachronism is an adaptation that is chronologically out of place, making its purpose more or less obsolete. A tree with big fruits to attract huge mammals as dispensers of its seeds is anachronistic in a world of relatively small mammals.

In the case of Cassia grandis, Janzen and Martin figured that the foot-long woody seed pods were eaten for their sweet pulp by giant groundslotlis and elephant-like gomphotheres. These multi-ton animals had such big gullets that they didn't need to chew a lot, so most of the seeds passed through the animals unharmed and ready to propagate more Cassia grandis trees. However, the gornphotheres and giant groundsloths disappeared about 13,000 years ago. toward the end of the last Ice Age of the Pleistocene.

Gomphotheres and ground -sloths? The Ice Age? What, you may be wondering, do they have to do with Osage-oranges, honeyloeusts, and coffeetrees today?

In terms of evolutionary time, the difference between 13,000 years ago and now is like the difference between Friday, December 31. 1999 and Saturday, January 1, 2000. We may assign those two days to different centuries or millennia, but they are still part of the same week. Likewise, all the animals and plants of 13.000 years ago belong just as much in the present. In fact, they still live in the present, with just one major exception: most of the big and fierce animals are now gone. This happened just a couple thousand years before we invented agriculture and planted the seeds of civilization. Woolly mammollis actually survived on some Arctic islands until after the Egyptian pyramids were built!

Today, if you searched all of North America north of Mexico, you would find only 17 species of land mammals that could be called megafauna, a term for animals that exceed 100 pounds. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Trees That Miss THE MAMMOTHS
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.