Friday, August 03, 2007

An intricate, beautiful world

When I turned the key in the ignition this morning, the car radio was set to RN, where Michael McKenzie, host of Bush Telegraph, was chatting to a man called Andrew Murray from a project called Southern Ark.

They were talking about ecosystems, a subject dear to my heart ever since the Matric Biology exam in which I wrote a surreal, heat-struck rave comparing an ecosystem to a piano. More specifically, they were talking about the fox eradication program in East Gippsland.

It seems that since the program was implemented, the potoroo population of East Gippsland has gone through the roof. This came as no surprise to a farmer's daughter who vividly remembers the sight of fox-mangled newborn lambs, to say nothing of the slow-burn paternal displeasure that accompanied it, and the retaliatory (and also slow-burning) poison gas thingies that he used to chuck down the foxholes.

(While this sounds mean, it's nowhere near as bad as the reason foxes were introduced into this country in the first place in the 1870s: they were brought over so that people could chase them down with horses and dogs, thus terrifying and exhausting them before having them torn to shreds, in the hateful, vicious sport of foxhunting.)

The potoroo, it seems, eats a particular kind of truffle-like fungus. These truffles grow in the roots of trees and shrubs, not parasitically but in a symbiotic relationship in which the truffles enable nutrient takeup from the not-very-good-soil. Because the trufffles grow underground, they can't spread their pores by shedding or bursting like mushrooms or puffballs, so they rely on the potoroos to eat the truffles and spread their spores via fur and gut. The potoroos, in digging for truffles, aerate the soil and help the breakdown of leaf litter, both of which improve the nutrient value to the trees and shrubs. Via mobile potoroos, the spores are spread, new truffles grow on new roots which uptake nutrients to new trees, and the forest maintains itself as habitat for more potoroos.

Andrew Murray explained this lovely bit of bio-clockwork to Bush Telegraph host Michael McKenzie, who was clearly mesmerised by the neat, balanced beauty of this scenario; you could practically hear him listening, and when Murray finished the description there was a little pause in which you could hear McKenzie being too enchanted to speak and then remembering he was on air. 'What an intricate, beautiful world we live in,' he said.


fifi said...

And isn't it indeed an intricate world.

Vive le Potoroo.


Anonymous said...

Okay, I have to ask....what mark did you get for that Matric Biology exam?

Pavlov's Cat said...

Heh -- an A. I obviously got very lucky with an imaginative examiner. Either that or I got all my multiple choices right.

meggie said...

I do love your writing! And thanks for writing about this.

Suse said...

I read this too fast and thought you were talking about a potato population.

(Yes, on my third glass, thanksforasking).

Pavlov's Cat said...

Ah yes, the self-truffling potato. A rare and precious species.

Meggie, thank you for those kind words.

ThirdCat said...

Round here, the self-truffling potato is a dime a dozen. As is the self-truffling carrot, the self-truffling get the picture, I'm sure.

melaleuca said...

I hate to be a pedant but thems be Gilbert's Potoroos of the type found in WA.

Nice story BTW.

dogpossum said...

i heard a neat story about dingoes RN's Science Show a few weeks ago - aparently they don't kill sheep but do outcompete feral cats and dogs. so killing off dingoes means giving feral cats and dogs and foxes free reign.