Throughout the world there are many animals, plants, fungi and numerous other living organisms that are influenced by the overall condition or adaptations of other organisms. Whether it is a symbiotic relationship or a predator/prey relationship there are many ways in which animals and other living organisms operate and live; both dependent on others and their own adaptations. The point is that there are many relationships that provide a basis and means for the survival of a variety of different species around the world.
This relationship is very apparent in the scientific findings regarding northern spotted owls (Strix Occidentalis), flying squirrels (Glaucomys Sabrinus), and truffles, which can include many varieties but especially Tuber Gibbosum in the Pacific Northwest and northern territories. Together, these animals and fungus are dependent on one another for both nutritional and reproductive reasons. The northern spotted owl, which is the dominant predator in this food chain, is threatened, as it requires special conditions in which to survive.
The first condition for this owl is that it requires an old growth forest. An old growth forest is one, which has been around so long that is has attained biological characteristics that are unique. Due to continuous logging it is easy to see why the northern spotted owl is on the verge of being an endangered species. The northern spotted owls main source of nutrition is the northern flying squirrel. This squirrels main preference is to also reside in old growth forests as they provide optimal site for building nests and finding food.
Truffles are the third part of this system and happen to be one of the primary food sources for the flying squirrel. Typically, truffles are found on Douglas fir trees, helping them in absorption of water and nutrients from the soil. Altogether these three individual organisms make up a circle of life and are not only vital to the health and wellbeing of each other, but also the well being of other organisms. To first organism in this mutual relationship is the northern spotted owl.
Living all in many places around the United States and Canada, these owls are a grayish brown in color and also tend to have dark eyes as if compared to other types of owls. “The northern spotted owl primarily inhabits old growth forests in the northern part of its range (Canada to southern Oregon) and landscapes with a mix of old and younger forest types in the southern part of its range (Klamath region and California)” (1). The northern spotted owl feeds on wood rats and flying squirrels, but is not just limited to just mammals.
Spotted owls have also been found to consume insects, reptiles, and occasionally even other birds. Currently, the greatest threat to the spotted owl is the logging of old-growth forests. Interestingly enough, Douglas fir trees that are a part of these forests, are a preference among owls such as the northern spotted as both a shelter and a means of searching for prey. The northern spotted owl is usually only found in an old growth forest because of the amenities that the environment provides. Unfortunately, the diffusion of species due to habitat loss has also presented yet another threat.
The other threat is that barred owls, which are a more aggressive owl, are competing for nest sites and food, thus hindering any hope for survival of the spotted owls. “In 1998 it was estimated that in the Northern Cascades there were only 15 breeding pairs of spotted owls, and this is why they are federally threatened while in Washington State they are an endangered species” (4). The spotted owl’s dependence on a food source, such as the flying squirrel, is necessary in maintaining a solid population as well as aiding in the continuation of this species.
The northern flying squirrel is the second organism this system, as it is crucial to the well being of both spotted owls and truffles. These nocturnal, tree dwelling rodents have a membrane attached between the anterior and posterior legs, enabling it to “glide” or “fly” through the air. Flying squirrels prefer to nest in large tree trunks, especially those in old growth forests as they provide the optimal habitat and nesting environment. Unlike many other rodents the flying squirrel does not hibernate. Instead they group together during the winter and cold month’s to maintain warmth.
Northern flying squirrels usually communicate with a soft low chirp but also cluck just like other squirrels when distressed. These squirrels also use scent and touch to communicate with one another; utilizing their excellent senses of hearing, smell, vision, and touch to correspond with the signals they emanate. “A major food source for the squirrels are mycorrhizal fungi (truffles) of many different species, though they also eat lichens, mushrooms, all mast-crop nuts, tree sap, insects, carrion, bird eggs and nestlings, buds and flowers.
The squirrels are special in that they can find truffles by olfaction, which is the use of smell. They also seem to use clues such as the presence of wood debris, indicating a decaying log, and spatial memory of locations where truffles were found in the past. The northern flying squirrel is also known to stash food for when food supplies are lower such as in the winter. These caches can be in cavities in trees, as well as in the squirrels’ nest, or even within the ground. Lichens and seeds are the commonly stored items” (9).
Yet in this relationship the most important functions of this squirrel are to provide food for the owls, and in addition, to greatly enhance the dispersal of truffle spores. Truffles are the third and final organisms in this system, they are also found in old-growth forests, but are not limited to growing in these conditions. Growing underground, truffles are fruiting bodies. Often they are restricted to the Ascomycetes group, which produce their spores in microscopic asci. Highly valued in today’s society, truffles are hard to find and can sell from around 300-500 dollars a pound depending on the type.
The fruiting season for truffles runs from October to December. Generally, truffles are found at the bases of trees growing in clusters. They grow as the spore producing parts of mycorrhizal fungi, ectomycorrhizal fungi, helping to provide nutrients and water to trees. Truffles especially help in this relationship, as they are almost part of the roots of Douglas firs. Depending on the species, truffles can be from 1-2 cm across. Normally, they are harvested with a garden rake; however, it has been discovered that certain mammals, such as pigs and dogs, can smell truffles.
Even though these two animals are the most capable at finding truffles there have also been reports of goats and bear cubs that have been able to accomplish this same feat and actually locate truffles via their sense of smell. Truffles mainly rely on dispersal of spores through ingestion and excretion by other animals such as deer, insects, and rodents such as the flying squirrel. It is now possible to see the entire web of relationships among these three specific organisms and understand how vital they are to one another. Tree squirrels in the Pacific Northwest are part of a keystone complex that includes ectomycorrhizal fungi, Douglas-fir, and spotted owls. All three-squirrel species- the northern flying squirrel, the Douglas’ squirrel, and the Townsend’s squirrel – consume truffles produced by fungal partners of important tree species. The squirrels then spread the spores of these fungi throughout the forest in their feces” (2). Unfortunately, this relationship depends heavily on the existence of old growth forests, but due to all of the logging that is occurring these animals are struggling to survive.
Reduction of these species will not have only a drastic effect on animal diversity but also the abundance of truffles. In turn this reduction will cause the price of truffles to skyrocket and could lead to the demise of the species. As each of these organisms are so dependent on one another and this relationship is founded on the correct weight and balance; a single loss of one member can mean an end to all others. A demise of the truffles may result in one of many consequences, even the potential death of all Douglas firs.
Despite the fact that much of this is still speculation, it is still a very harsh reality that may lead to the end of all these species as well as other in the ecosystem. All of this is a shining example of the interconnectedness of organisms and their dependence on one another. Just like in our society, any action, no matter how small, will end in some reaction whether it is good or bad. The idea that strongly surrounds this complex system is the idea that many organisms depend on one another for shelter, food and basically life. The removal of a single factor requires either the adaptation or extinction of a species.
Bringing awareness to this issue would only provide sympathy for these organisms and do not do them justice. We as humans what need to preserve our forests and maintain the environment that is vital for so many organisms. Doing so will in turn lead to a reduction in animal diffusion and the protection of a specialized environment. This issue is more than just animals working together in a relationship; it is a complex system of animals, plants and fungi helping in the continuation of an entire network that does not exist when a single piece of the puzzle is missing. The reasonable man adapts himself to the world, the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. ” -George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) [pic] Northern Flying Squirrel (8) Works Cited 1. ) http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Northern_Spotted_Owl. October 28, 2007. 2. ) Carey, Andrew. January 2004. “Squirrels Cannot Live By Truffles Alone: A Closer Look At A Northwest Keystone Complex”. Science Findings. Issue Sixty. 3. ) http://animaldiversity. ummz. umich. edu/site/accounts/information/Glaucomys_ sabrinus. html. October 1, 2007 4. http://www. nps. gov/archive/noca/treas4-11. htm. October 3, 2007 5. ) Lehmkuhl, John. 2007. “Seeing the forest for the fuel: Integrating ecological values and fuels management”. Science Direct. 6. ) http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Tuber_%28genus%29. October 28, 2007 7. ) 2007. “Truffles and False Truffles in the Pacific Northwest”. Pacific Northwest Key Council. October 5, 2007 8. ) http://www. sfondideldesktop. com/Images-Animals/Squirrel/Northern-Flying-Squirrel-0. Jpg. November 14, 2007 9. ) http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Northern_Flying_Squirrel. November 14, 2007