Thursday, February 9, 2012

So the groundhog got me thinking... do animals adapt to freezing Chicago winters?

Humans seal ourselves off in conditioned homes and cars, burning a lot of fossil fuel energy to do so.  But animals don't have that option.  So how do they do it?  I decided to revisit my grade school classes and relearn what I've forgotten.  And maybe there is something we can learn for design.

Photo credit: National Geographic Society 
Groundhog Day got me think, of course, about groundhogs.  As I learned in grade school, they do in fact hibernate from approximately October to March, but toward the end of hibernation (oh, say February 2nd or so?), they enter various stages of arousal to test the temperature and scope out new territory before entering into a semi-hibernated state like torpor.  The purpose of hibernation, of course, is to conserve calories when food is scarce, so the animal's metabolic rate slows and the body cools, respiration and heart rate are depressed.  Groundhogs enter into obligate hibernation, where they are aroused by internal mechanisms and usually unable to be aroused due to external stimluli. Other animals enter into facultative hibernation, or semi-hibernation, where they are able to be aroused but the purpose is the same: conserve energy when it is scarce.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Thinking about Niches - a Spanish Biomimicry iSite

In Spain for our latest BProfessional intensive, we had an iSite where we picked an organism and looked to find it's niche - how it fits in with its environment. The location of our retreat was a hilly area with lots of clay, falling rocks, and erosion.  And even without a lot of water - the area was almost considered a desert - plants were there to stabilize some of the soil.  There were quite a few plants with really gnarly roots that seemed to zigzag down the slope in such a way that I thought it could be a stabilization mechanism, much like how we spread our feet and place them parallel to the slope to stabilize ourselves on a steep slope.  I can't find any mention of this form in the literature I've referenced, but I'm sticking with my observation until proven wrong.  So when looking at the contextual limiting factors for this Rosemary bush, it would seem that its ability to thrive in unstable soil with poor nutrients and not a lot of water allowed it to carve out a niche where other organisms aren't able to survive.  And the zigzag form is one that I find interesting. This tool for natural observation is one that I find useful when trying to understand the contextual factors that influence an organism's ability to survive and be resilient against adverse conditions.