Free-market ecology

Unruly traffic, weather-inconsiderate BRTS, dupatta-covered female faces: roads of Ahmadabad in summer have almost nothing to offer to an eye looking for beauty; almost, because of one saving grace, and that are Garamala trees in full bloom!

Romantic souls may find the tree to be so proud of its soft buttercup yellow flowers that it shades all else while blooming, but dry scientists think that it is because nature opts for economy over aesthetics. The real reason is our extremely hot weather that would evaporate precious moisture through leaves, making it necessary to shade them while flowering.

Garamalo, misleadingly known as Indian laburnum (as the actual laburnum is a European tree) is cassia fistula, a rare native tree that has found place on our roads as an avenue tree even though it does not provide shade. Otherwise, Indian roads are mostly found lined up with exotic aliens as British overwhelmingly preferred shade-casting ability over ecological contribution from the trees. Due to this, even with a reasonable amount of tree presence, our cities are no longer home to our native birds. 

After departure of British, we have focused more on renaming our cities than reclaiming them for our native creatures, so our city administration has rarely considered moving away from Peltophorums and Millettia pinnata to trees that belong to local web of life. Garamalo is a rare exception, so there are very few more pleasant sights than a blooming garmala providing a feast to eyes, sunbirds and bees.

Sadly, one garmala I knew very well died recently…

Death of a tree is a very curious event as we mostly consider them immune to forces other than a greedy man’s saw. So, when my garmala died, I was really intrigued. Who killed a tree that Ayurveda calls aragvadha: killer of diseases and botanists know to contain antimicrobial compounds? 

The story that emerged is a metaphor of modern life, and may have a message for us all.

As I had remembered seeing huge amount of ants on my tree, I was tempted to follow the lead to a common friend/foei.e. the aphid. Aphids are sap-sucking insects than enjoy an interesting symbiotic relationship with ants. Various aphid species are “farmed” by ants that provide protection to aphids and, in return, “milk” honeydew that aphid secretes. Presence of ants is often an indicator of aphid infestation. Sure enough, it was an aphid infection that had weakened the tree that may have died of subsequent secondary infection of another pathogen (that happens to trees too!).

The interesting part of this episode was the aphid, Aphis craccivoraas it is not a creature of hot weather. Craccivora originates from Palearctic region, the northern part of the globe having temperate weather. So, its attack on garmala is almost like a grizzly bear attacking a black buck!

The important part to note is that we are now living in a free market of ecology. Human induced global inter-connectivity is providing logistic support to life forms making them cosmopolitan in nature. This is producing an entirely new kind of threat, i.e. threat of “alien” invasions. Ebola is flying out of African jungles into streets of Paris and craccivora is infecting garmala in Ahmadabad.

Free market ecology is just as destructive as free market economy for locals. The need of the hour is sensitive management of both. 

DNA: 1/5/15

I am happy to admit that I have managed surviving till now with minimum effort as all my intellect has be used to avoid doing anything meaningful. As I needed to while all the free time I generated in course of being lazy, science has been my favorite muse that I have enjoyed company of. As an effort to kill time (in a way, to get even with it) one fine day I decided to write a science column, more for my personal amusement than to attract readers. After getting educated about the attention span of modern readers from my editor, it became more like a challenge to tackle esoteric subjects in 600 words that I have managed to remain interested in for more than a year now. I do not want to add my worldly profile here as these are ideas that need to be considered only on the merits they carry and not as an opinion of a certain human being.

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