September 6, 2014 | David F. Coppedge

The Meek Control the Earth

How can such a small thing affect the geology and climate of the whole planet?  Don’t underestimate the power of small creatures.

Ants Control the World

A paper in Geology presents “Ants as a powerful biotic agent” of the dissolution of two common types of rock: plagioclase and olivine.  Both minerals are important constituents of earth’s crust.  The scurrying and digging activity of uncounted trillions of ants can add up to a big effect, Ronald Dorn of Arizona State has calculated from controlled observations spanning 25 years.

The biotic enhancement of Ca-Mg silicate weathering has helped maintain Earth’s habitability over geological time scales by assisting in the gradual drawdown of atmospheric CO2. 25 years of in-situ measurements of Ca-Mg silicate mineral dissolution by ants, termites, root mats, bare ground, and a control reveals ants to be one of the most powerful biotic weathering agents yet recognized. Six sites in Arizona and Texas (USA) indicate that eight different ant species enhance mineral dissolution by ∼50×–300× over controls. A comparison of extracted soil at a 50 cm depth in ant colonies and adjacent bare ground shows a gradual accumulation of CaCO3 content for all eight ant species over 25 yr. Ants, thus, have potential to provide clues on how to enhance contemporary carbon sequestration efforts to transform Ca-Mg silicates and CO2 into carbonate. Given that ants underwent a great diversification and biomass expansion over the Cenozoic, a speculative implication of this research is that ant enhancement of Ca-Mg silicate dissolution might have been an influence on Cenozoic cooling.

This makes one wonder how the biosphere got along before the Cenozoic.  Regardless, a response to the global warming alarmists might be, “Go to the ant, thou sluggard” (Proverbs 6:6); “consider her ways, and be wise.”  The finding also raises questions about the habitability of planets without ants.  This is an interesting finding that seems to reinforce the concept of the biosphere being intricately linked to a planet’s habitability.

Salamander Salve

Another small animal may have power over humans: the ability to heal.  Medical Xpress reported experiments that show a peptide in salamander skin, when rubbed on mice, promoted “quick and effective” wound healing in mice.  This could lead to human trials before long.  Salamanders are way ahead of humans, too, in the ability to regenerate limbs.  There’s things people can learn from the lowly in the world.

Long Live the Monarch

The delicate butterflies that fly 3,000 miles in their migration are in need of help.  Stars of Metamorphosis: The Beauty and Design of Butterflies, these beautiful one-gram kings and queens of lightweight flight have declined some 90% in two decades, PhysOrg says, primarily because new GMO corn allows farmers to spray Monsanto’s Roundup pesticide indiscriminately on their corn crops, killing off the milkweed on which the butterflys’ life cycle depends.  National Geographic calls on concerned citizens to rescue them by planting milkweed in their yards, but it appears this will require a national effort of many ordinary citizens to be effective.

Name that Animal

Scientists are scratching their heads over creatures collected back in 1986 in deep waters off Tasmania, stored in jars and forgotten.  They look like mushrooms, but they don’t fit obviously into any known animal phylum (see pictures in the BBC News, Science Daily, National Geographic or Nature).  They have “medusae” (umbrella-shaped tops with dangling stalks), but they don’t have the characteristics of jellyfish and comb jellies.  What are they?  The authors who announced them in PLoS ONE don’t know.  They recommend researchers go out and find more, so that they can sequence their genomes.

There’s an outside possibility, based on resemblance, that these creatures, named Dendrogramma enigmatica and D. discoides, represent living members of Ediacaran organisms, long thought extinct before the Cambrian Explosion.  If so, they could represent the oldest “living fossils” on earth, raising the usual questions about how they could have survived intact so long without leaving a trace in the fossil record.  New Scientist notes that the organisms are small, just half an inch or so; “There are no obvious sex organs in the specimens, no nervous system and no apparent means by which the disc could be flexed to enable movement.”  Then the article asks:

Dendrogramma‘s disc-like shape is very reminiscent of three Ediacaran genera – Albumares, Anfesta and Rugoconites. The snag is that all three went extinct half a billion years ago, along with all of the other weird Ediacaran creatures.

Does this mean that Dendrogramma is proof that some Ediacaran creatures have managed to cling on in the remote depths of the oceans for all this time?

This will be a story to watch.

Update 6/07/16: Tim O’Hara at The Conversation reports that Dendrogramma is a siphonophore, a member of cnidarians that include jellyfish and corals. Genetic information from new samples has solved the puzzle. It is not an Ediacaran.

We humans often feel small and insignificant in such a vast world and universe.  These stories remind us that size is not necessarily a barrier to having a great impact.  When the glory is given to the Lord, He can take any small instrument and accomplish much.  Go to the monarch butterfly, thou sluggard: consider her ways, and be wise.  Maybe the Lord would have you take a part in a stewardship campaign to save a true wonder of nature.


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