Inspired by The Green Planet, Ani Talwar talks about five of the most captivating survival tactics that have been studied in nature.
You might have seen David Attenborough’s The Green Planet since it started airing a few weeks ago on television, or simply heard about it from your friends and family. This great new Attenborough series has inspired me to take my own journey into nature and highlight for you five of the most, in my opinion, captivating survival tactics our planet has.
1. Seed spread
The ecballium elaterium (known as a squirting cucumber) that was filmed in The Green Planet, is first in my list here, since it inspired this article to begin with. As a small pod-like plant, it releases it’s seeds in an explosive jet of water, spreading the seeds so they can grow in new areas. They eject their seeds with such force that they can travel up to 6 metres (or 20 feet) from the plant itself! This plant can actually be found at the Cambridge University Botanical Garden, despite being originally native to the Mediterranean.
2. A life in shelter
Although the sun helps us find our way through the day, not all life needs light. Bats and snakes are adapted to spending their time in caves; in fact, animals that are specialised to living in caves even have their own name: Troglofauna. However, one specific African animal has been credited with the expansion of a particular cave called Kitum Cave, on the side of Mount Elgon: elephants! It has been said they break rocks in the area to get sodium from them, and have contributed to the 160 metres long cave system.
3. Surviving the depths
In underwater caves, there is lack of light, food, and oxygen, and yet remarkably, life perseveres. In the Bahamas, caves known as ‘blue holes’ have intrigued scientists, due to the variety of life that has been found inside them. In fact, the survival of the bacteria that have been identified are allowing scientists to work out various ways in which life might have developed on Earth.
4. Life in blazing heat
As we know, there are some extremely hot places on Earth, yet life can even survive in these tremendous temperatures; a place of note is in Ethiopia, known as the ‘Gateway to Hell’. With hot pools of sulphur, as well as cool copper puddles, expeditions to this area have had to begin by simply figuring out how to work in these extreme conditions in the first place.
In 2017, samples from the Danakil area revealed there was surviving bacterial life, somehow adapted to live with lots of acid, heat, and salt, creating a new record for life found in areas with the lowest pH (the previous record was in the Spanish Rio Tinto River at a pH of 2, but these acid pools have life at pH 0) So far, scientists believe the bacteria is surviving by using similar mechanisms to hydrothermal life systems: where proteins/enzymes are more stable at higher temperatures due to more amino acid bonds.
5. Life in the sky
It’s a brilliant thing when life evolves and survives in ways that amaze scientists; in fact, there is a certain historical population that we know still exists, but for a long time haven’t been able to understand why. 4,000 metres in the air, the Tibetan Plateau was once home to a population that survived despite the little oxygen that is that high up. At a site called Chusang, handprints dating back over 12,500 years show that a family survived all year round in an atmosphere with only 66% of the oxygen in the air we breathe now.
For a long time, this was perplexing to the scientists who studied Tibetan adaptations, as all evidence suggested that they served to actually reduce the oxygen content the blood can take. However, it was later understood that by doing this, the strain on blood vessels caused by higher haemoglobin is reduced, which also reduces the instance of Chronic Mountain Sickness, which can be fatal. The peculiar low oxygen adaptation seems to work though, with instances of Chronic Mountain Sickness occurring in only 1% of the population.
In another experiment, it was found that a specific gene in these populations was different; this is a gene which was known to cause a change in blood haemoglobin levels, which can be traced back to nearly 50,000 years ago where another population from Siberia’s mountains, known as the Denisovans, met, reproduced, and happened to pass on the genes to allow such astonishing survival.
About the author: Ani Talwar is the Content Manager at WILD Magazine. Ani can be found at @Mischief.weavers; she cares passionately about sustainability and wrote the book Atro-City, The Flood, which introduces sustainability to readers in the form of a fiction adventure.