Welcome to my blog

This is where I post various musings about wildlife and ecology, observations of interesting species (often invertebrates)
and bits of research that grab my attention. As well as blogging, I undertake professional ecological & wildlife surveys
covering invertebrates, plants, birds, reptiles, amphibians and some mammals, plus habitat assessment and management
. I don't work on planning applications/for developers. The pages on the right will tell you more about my work,
main interests and key projects, and you can follow my academic work here.

Monday 26 November 2012

What's in a wall?

As you might imagine, I don't mean bricks and mortar - instead I am more interested in the species that can be found growing on walls, particularly old rough stone walls in areas with low levels of air pollution such as might be found in the village of Slapton in south Devon. Yup, where I was one holiday a couple of weeks ago... Old walls are well known to be important for wildlife - for instance, lizards can often be seen basking on them - but for those of us living or working in cities, especially with relatively new and smooth-surfaced buildings (and more air pollution), the opportunities to see such species can be limited.

Some are so strongly associated with this type of habitat that their common names reflect it, such as the wall pennywort Umbilicus rupestris (the generic name reflects its other common name, 'navelwort'). Like many wall-dwelling species, they are also found on natural rocks, but man-made rocky surfaces can be just as good.

The round leaves of wall pennywort Umbilicus rupestris.
You can see pale green lichenous growth here, but a closer look around this wall revealed a somewhat more impressive display - the little trumpet-like fruiting bodies of the lichen Cladonia (one of several similar species).
A cluster of Cladonia
There were also larger growths of non-lichenous fungi among the damp, mossy hollows. One was the branched and spindly Grey Coral Clavulina cinerea. This is a common species but being associated with the ground in woodlands, might not seem a likely wall-colonist. However, the crevices were full of moss and soil, and roots were present from the woody plants on top of the bank the wall retains. So, from the fungus' point of view, just like home! Another was an attractive orange-red waxcap Hygrocybe sp., possibly H. helobia which was only described scientifically in 1974 and is more often associated with grassy woodland clearing or heaths (but again, conditions are suitable in this wall). However, without closer examination (beyond what I'm likely to do on holiday), the species-level ID remains tentative.
Grey Coral fungus Clavulina cinerea

Waxcap Hygrocybe sp.
Moving through the major taxonomic groups, there are also ferns associated with walls. One of these is the rustyback Asplenium ceterach which I initially thought I had found; however, closer examination (yes, sometimes even on holiday, though it took iSpot to confirm it as I don't ID ferns very often...) showed it to be A. adiantum-nigrum, though both are common in SW England. Another (which I can also find growing from crevices in the walls of the church near where I live) is the maidenhair spleenwort A trichomanes.
Asplenium adiantum-nigrum (upper surface of fronds)

Asplenium adiantum-nigrum (lower surface of frond showing red-brown sori)

Maidenhair spleenwort Adiantum trichomanes
Lastly I want to return to the flowering plants, this time a non-native garden escape Nerine bowdenii, also known as the Guernsey Lily. This southern African species is a popular plant in the village of Slapton and can be seen along the narrow lanes outside many of the cottages. However, coming from mountainous areas, it too can adapt to 'mural' life and at least one had managed to escape through a garden fence and grow on top of the old stone wall featured here. I could continue - after all, with all these plants, fungi and lichens, there are of course many invertebrates (my usual topic!) - however, as I promised my wife I would not spend the week rummaging around with collecting pots, these will remain mysterious for now and I'll simply leave you with the big pink lily which, although appearing delicate, was clearly capable of surviving repeated buffeting by passing vehicles...
Guernsey Lily Nerine bowdenii.

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