Category Archives: Biology

House Sparrows, a vanishing species?

I had been looking for an answer for why our house sparrows have become a vanishing species?

I have not found any luck.

Our ornithologists and bird watchers have not done enough.

I put the question to myself and these are the emerging facts.

1. This coincided with the disappearance of the migrant bird species which I counted over 30 in 1984.

2. Last 5 years I have not seen more than five species coming to our neighbourhood.

3. The last species who lost the habitat due to development was a type of robin who makes nests in the paddy fields. I call them the paddy birds and dearly as the last of the singing Bohemians. Once they lost the paddy field they started nesting on grass and when the remaining little waste land (now there is a three story building there) was encroached upon they disappeared. Till then I used to see at least 4 to 6 of the young ones yearly.

4. The house sparrows are more close to human habitat but they disappeared some 20 years ago.

Why?

That was my question.

I have seen one or two sparrows in Kandy City Center occasionally but none in the suburbs.

1. Unusual predator

2. Unusual predator of the eggs

3. Unusual destructor of their nests

4. Poison in our food and grains

I come to the last conclusion.

The amount of poison we eat every day in our food is sufficient to kill all the house sparrows over the last 30 years.

By way of aggro-economics we are killing our birds.
The story is true for pigeons too.

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Rough Guide to the Tree Equivalent of Man and their Re-plantation

This is not referring to the commercial scale of replacement since the rate at commercial scale exploitation cannot be estimated to any accuracy.
This is based on the use of tree, timber and its products by man during his productive life.
If we were to sustain each man or women has to grow at least 10 trees and maintain them till their mature life. ThisĀ  has to be done in 4-5 year cycles and older you (above 35 years) are the cycle has to be at least 1-2 years.

Ideally each man or woman plants a tree on his / her birthday!

1. The use as timber products for roofing and housing

2. To replace the use of paper products
3. Use of fire wood (this has to be in relation to the use)
4. The use of furniture
5. Wastage in every production line
6. The trees not sustaining themselves due to bad planting or weather conditions
7. The last 4 are for unaccountable felling and vandalism encountered and may have to vary according to the country.

This amount is to keep the balance of nature. If one has a house with 4 adults in it this estimate makes it 40 trees around their neighbourhood and the way the houses are built in a city next to each other there is is no room for to grow enough trees.

Not even a single tree or hedge to act as windbreaks and shade. (please look at how rich Americans build their houses and walkabouts).
That means every major city has to have a buffer zone (this is how the ancient people built cities) of tree cover equivalent the population that is incarcerated in the name of development.

Colombo city can never regain its splendor what ever we do now for it.

The Kandy city has almost 3 three times population density of Palestine Refugee Camps and we are going to be no different to Israel in another 10 or 20 years.

We are losing it faster than it’s regeneration.

Regarding the commercial exploitation the re-plantation has to be according to the tree’s cycle. If the tree grows to maturity in 4 years for every tree harvested 4 should be planted and only a few trees fall into this category.

For some trees, if it is lost it is lost for ever.

They take may be 400 to 500 years for it to grow to maturity and often not reproducing fast enough due to their longevity and this simple equation cannot be applied in recreating it natural habitat.

This is only a rough estimate and we have lost about 60% of our forest cover in 50 years of unsustainable use.

I do not think these people with mega-development ideas have understood the problem or have insight into the matters of concern we are facing now.

The have no futuristic goals but presence of mind for exploitation.

Very soon we will be like Dubai, the work we have to do now is enormous if we are to arrest these trends.

Coconut Tales of Tail Spin and the Windshield of Whirlwind

Coconut tree which lives over 50 years of productive life sometimes more than 80 years if left untarnished by human activity lives behind a tell tale story of the weather beaten life.

If one looks at a human face at 80 (eighty) it leaves behind a sad tale of wrinkles but never leave behind the tale of destruction he or she has caused over his or her life time, leave alone the junk that is collected and left behind.

On the contrary, the coconut tree tells us all the rough times it has had over the years, if we look at the way the trunk had twisted and turned against the air current around it, it bears the true tale of forbearance.

What a contrast?

In fact it can tell the exact time of the last grand cyclone it had managed to withstand on its own.

Unlike the humans they are a barometer of wind currents of today and tomorrow.
If one looks at its leaves, the gentle rustle they create with the wind and how it raises a rhyming tune with some alarming whirring of a whirlwind, foretelling a thunderstorm that is about to land is something we have taken for granted but never given thought in any scientific manner.

We take it for granted that the water is abundant but at the same time pollute it in every possible way from Adams peak to the sea.

The same story is true for the coconut tree.

It is vandalized to the stem and we cry hard only when the coconuts go high in price but never cared to listen to its story and the windshield it creates on a daily basis.

My observation days back to my childhood inquiry not necessarily based on any scientific themes. If I wanted to fly a kite I look at the coconut trees and their leaves and then bring out the kite if I consider the conditions are favorable.

Then I go to a place where I can get the kite over the coconut trees quickly and off I go with the wind.

I never paused to think what a service it does as a wind breaker.

This little piece is to finally put to rest and peace of my mind with the wind physics (theory) of biological nature and facts which I call the biophysics of coconut saga.

I should have done this decades ago!

Not only the coconut tree stands to the wind upright but it divide the wind to upstream high and a downstream gentle for us to live in peace. This we forget when we chop it for fast growing development and consumption as timber.

It is the scene of coconut trees that touches my heart when the plane lands at Katunayake. It was strikingly beautiful 30 years ago but now we see s few coconut trees near the airport and the sudden thud of landing.

The landing is also not as smooth as it used to be.

I even go to the extend of saying that the planes used to land smoothly due to the coconut plantation driving the unnecessary tailspin and head wind currents well above the plane as it touches down making it easy for the pilots to land.

Think about it this as food for for thought for scientists who are hell bent on discovering new source of energy along with foot prints of destruction.
I wish our veteran pilots do some study on this keeping in mind those who were on service during the second world war II might know it better than the present day autopilot youngsters.

Coconut tree is a wind breaker and a windshielder.

Of course it will provide its trunks to climb when the next tsunami comes if we start growing thousands and thousand of them around our beaches instead of constructing polluting hotels that divert the sewerage to the sea.

This is my wishful thinking but I am sure more trees will be down to move the fast development trends of our political mights.

Good Bye my friend windshield and welcome thy whirlwind of destruction in the name of construction!

Biophysics-02 and Biodiversity

Biological live agents has the capacity to duplicate themselves either by sexual or asexual means. In mathematical sense this is easy to comprehend but what goes behind the scene is very complex.

Man is very good at converting and producing by products from animal material and it is emerging there are over 184 pig products in the market.

This is same for cow too but cell division and its organization into about 600 to 1000 cell derivatives has taken billions of years of duplications and organizations. That is where the biophysics operate and man can never duplicate that sequence however much he tries.

Biophysics unlike simple physics and chemistry works at a rigid thermal atmosphere since bio-molecules especially proteins cannot stand high temperature.

High temperature and curing that include tanning make these biological materials commercially useful. Gelatin and fibrin are two of them used for making texture of food attractive but have no food value at all.

This short article highlight some of the mathematical concepts involved in biophysics and not their modifications in the commercial world.

It is binary mathematics of duplication somewhat similar to binary computer mathematics. How 256 characters and 0 and 1 are used for modules in computing, in the biological world about 2500 to 25.000 large biological molecules (not-nanoparticles) give the diversity around biological structure.

It is said that genetic code doubles itself every 3 to 5 million year cycles and this event why it happens we do not know but heralds new species on this planet.

For example the change that occurred from chimpanzee to human occurred when this cycle of duplication occurred last time on this planet.

In about 65 million years ago we so dinosaurs disappeared but the cockroaches who remained would have told us the story in detail if they had computerized brains in their possession.

But we have to surmise what went on and what went wrong then.

This is written in the same conceptual framework what we know is little what we do not is enormous.

What will become of this planet we do not know in way the biodiversity is changing in every nick and corner of this planet from deep sea to mount Everest.

Coming back to my mathematics 2 is the base.

The other base is 10 the log base and log normal.

In biology there is a tendency for log normal behaviour in time scale.

Put these figures together I derive 20..

The figure 20 is my figure for looking at the available species and make some deductions.

For example take a plant (an animal) from a site (area should be defined) and see whether there are 20 similar pants not interbreeding (definition of species difference) at the same site.

If we see a site with that number it is a biological hotspot.

I wonder whether we have any to fit this description or anybody has done this calculation before. (we can argue about the veracity of the number 20 till the cows come home with a pipe and arm chair critics) in an observational manner but the point I am arriving at is that we look at a whole country and say (for example Sri-Lanka) we a re bio-rich is a total misconception.

I have arrive at a figure by simple observation of my neighbourhood for every three plants I see in my garden we have lost another 17 in the last 100 years or so.

It is said that the anaconda (Ana conda is a Sri-Lankan name) type of snake had been sited in Sri-lanka by foreign invaders about 200 years ago.

Where are they now?

The corollary to my argument is that if we can collect 20 similar species in an environment that environment is conducive for biodiversity.

I can give two examples of my childhood.

We could have identified at least 10 varieties of tortoises and 100 varieties of butterflies less than 50 years ago.

Bizarre use of insecticides in agriculture and DDT in particular (thanks to WHO – Sinhalen who) by ill conceived pundits in the health sector has done irrevocable damage to our biodiversity.

Final nail will come when the two Coal Power plants are operational.

Problem in my argument is that there are no true scientist left in this country to take my argument forward with observational data in spite of 40 years of free education in mother tongue.

We have not produced a single biological scientist that we can say were nominated for Nobel Prize in 40 years of free education,.leave alone winning it.

By producing private universities this cannot be remedied since they are profit oriented.

We lack Think Tanks in power and also in opposition..

Think tanks are there when they are in opposition!

We have thin tanks how to get to power and remain there for ever.

We need to produce outstanding thinkers.

We are sadly lacking in that endeavour.!

Biophysics

This is another word I would like to add to English, if it is not there already in existence, this time in Scientific World.

We had an Engineering Exhibition in the University, I do not know what was being exhibited there but what my gut feeling says is that they are all big events for public consumption and certainly not miniature exhibits of biological nature.

I am pretty sure they did not talk about biophysics and nano-technology.

I have been against the Coal Power Project form its inception.

 

I have many reasons including Acid Rain and I have stated that Coal Marketing Board will be as bad as the Paddy Marketing Board of yesteryear and its corruption scale will have to be estimated in time to come.

 

Suffice is to say that most of the Coal would wind up in undesirable places and the scale of corruption will be covered by black soot. 

How black soot will effect our children’s chest physiology and sporting outcomes are a different kettle of fish. 

I have voiced these concerns with scientific data but they are under the carpet of power politics now.

 

One pertinent question our energy planners not addressed is that these coal power plants are operational 24 hours a day and the interruption of nocturnal terrestrial cooling effect that is necessary for air circulation and water condensation and the night rain pattern that we used enjoy that invariably purified the air of soot, dirt and chemicals is going to be disturbed due to constantly warm air that is not circulating. 

The effect of this is going to be phenomenal.

 

As long as the rain is there even infrequently and with disturbed patterns then there is some reclamation. 

But think of the scenario for some reason or the other if the rain fails for a period of two years with drought. 

Then we have to be using more and more coal power to generate power, the conditions are conducive for catastrophic events.

 

The nocturnal cooling effect is negated for a prolonged period of time and the pollution it created is of clinical scale. 

We see this pattern in Kandy even without the warming effect discussed above and that is why Kandy is the most polluted city of the country when rain fails the nocturnal cooling draft fails and the pollutants remain for considerable length of time in the lower atmosphere. 

We have now cleared our rain forest to less (33% is the critical value) than the sustainable level for natural rain and ecological balance. 

We can see the effect of acid rain in less than 5 years after a period of prolonged drought.

 

I will talk a little about the miniature life of biological nature that can mop up some of the CO2 created by the mega projects like Coal Power Plants. 

But more than thousands of other chemicals that are emitted which cannot be made safe and some of them causing cancer (are the projects for future studies) in the air not diluted due to stagnation and failing air circulation.

These are mega events and banning cigarettes has no ameliorating effects once these chemicals are in air and in circulation and when we have to breath them 24 hours a day.

 

The algae I had been interested in are tiny but common in nature and their contribution can be very significant if properly harnessed but the experiments done on them are very few an far between.

I gather in Germany they are working on them to mop up CO2 emitted by coal power units.

What ever big or small engineering feats it may be whether it is motor car or a rocket no engineering feat can bring about more than 33% efficiency or throughput.

 

In biological system this is scaled down to less than 3 to 4% and even though the process is very slow by the shear numbers of biological beings and the multiplying cells the process of conversion is made good with eventually.

 

Problem with engineering feats is that they are not cost effective or efficient. 

The rate of conversion is fast and the rate of production of pollutants and poisons are also fast.

 

This is what I used to argue with my fellow engineering students at the campus many moons ago and also asked why they used heavy metal to built cars (that also not stainless steel) that is subjected to resistance or impedance or inertia of motion and why not aluminum like in aircrafts.

 

They will give some answers and I will give counter arguments while playing bridge (which I learnt from them) and this goes on with new themes added.

Years went by we parted and departed from ivory towers we built and went into real world and domestics. It is sad now I cannot find somebody to talk ten words in analytical English on a scientific topic or discussion.

Even, people like Prof. Carlo Fonseka talking and taking partisan in bizarre politics in their twilight years sadden me most. 

I am not saying that he not entitled to it. With his reputation if he makes a mistake his ardent followers are left astray.

 

What has happened to their scientific inquiry and what has happened to their inbuilt instincts.

 

We were fed a good and healthy dose of inquiry and free discussion then and now there is paucity of inquiry and query, question or rationalistic views about world around us living and inanimate (Physics).

I dearly remember Prof. Osmond Jayaratne and his investigation into lightening.

There was Prof. Rnjith Ruberu with beautiful exposition of Botany and Biology.

I am not talking about Chintanaya Professors with mathematical talents.

I never talked about biophysics then since all medical stuff including biochemistry was boring for me.

 

Now that I am somewhat of an independent thinker my argument of biophysics start with a simple relationship (not Newton’s equal and opposite reaction).

This is where I have element of disagreement with Buddhist practices, too.

Why only animals are sacred?

Why not other living things, the plants that all animals depend directly and indirectly?

To me plants are sacred too.

Without plant life the world cannot exist.

This is where my thinking is at variance with even Buddhist tenets.

Why there is only a law for animals?

Is it only animals with brains or nervous system that is important to Buddhists?

I have not found a answer for this in Buddhist scriptures.

So I am entitled to my own analysis in a biological sense.

So my simple theoretical aspect of biological relationships especially the biophysics is that there is infinite relationship one to one and one to many in every biological cell or biological system.

There is no distinction of pant life and animal life whatever the form it may be.

They are all life forms in a constant web of actions and reactions.

As far as we know they can be seen with definite evidence only on this planet.

This planet is the only planet we know of and I am not extrapolating to any other heavenly objects with life or without life in this universe.

Ever since the life began in this planet this biological or biophysical relationship continuously existed without a break.

There is either positive or negative relationship but this relationship is such that it was never to destroy or eliminate one or the other.

 

Continuity of life existed uninterrupted in spite of major physical catastrophes.

 

If this would not have being the case various new forms of life would not have emerged in evolution.

There was competition but never extermination by living thing by living things.

That is my bona fide or the compelling argument.

All life forms are important including mosquitoes whether they carry infectious agents or not.

We cannot argue that world should be without insects including mosquitoes.

There my argument and tent converge with Buddhism.

All life forms be happy!

It is the physical catastrophes that eliminated species lock stock and barrel but never simple biological competition.

This theoretical aspect had very interesting convergence when I saw my fish dieing in the open including the Guppies.

First I thought it was the algal bloom and the lack of oxygen.

It is the very simple and straight forward plausible explanation I can give.

But when this happened again and when I checked with the internal digital temperature it was not strange coincidence that the temperature was above 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

 

It was the global warming (atmospheric temperature) that killed the fishes, other factors were contributory.

 

Interestingly high atmospheric temperature encourages mosquito breeding.

 

Every ton of coal (when it is burnt 24 hours a day) we burn will increase the number of mosquitoes by billions!

Single physical change, the temperature alone can kill animals.

Humans can die of heat stroke and why not fish.

There is a protein called heat shock protein even in bacteria and our cells also have it in a different form and all animals too have this protein to overcome stress.  

Heat is a stress.

That system can easily be damaged.

Yes most of the fish who are kept indoors especially the mollies cannot live above 86 degrees.

 

It was only algal bloom and lack oxygen alone the some fish could come up and breath at the surface or produce young ones before dieing but this did not happen.

 

The biological relationships I propose in theory could not keep pace with the adverse temperature which is partly man made.

There was no time for evolutionary adaptation.

The other relationship is human population expansion.

I believe we have come to the optimum population of 6 billions.

The earth cannot sustain 9 billions.

This extra 3 billion will upset the balance of biophysical relationship that come into equilibrium in the microscopic levels.

The mega level is man and his megalomaniac beahviour.

Earth cannot sustain its biophysical relationships with the rate at human population is expanding and consuming all the limited resources.

Biophysical barrier will break down soon.

Then calamities after calamities would occur.

Gloom, bloom and doom unless we arrest the population expansion and the rate of use of easily available energy resources.

First we have to arrest the population growth.

Second we have to have a food security.

Third we have to prevent the made made causes of global warming.

Even in this country the priority is on energy and its use and its expansion and not conservation.

We got our priorities wrong.

We will loose all the biodiversity and elephants in no time.

We do not have neither the master plan nor the vision.

We do not have philosophers.

We do not have scientist of international caliber.

We only have politicians of various shades and colours but without a distinction.

23rd September (Poya)