Thursday, April 30, 2009

New York Times Article: Let’s Hear It for the Bees

Guest Column: Let’s Hear It for the Bees
Honey bee nectaring on button willow.Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey, UC Davis Department of Entomology Honey bee nectaring on button willow.
By Leon Kreitzman

Gardeners know that plants open and close their flowers at set times during the day. For example, the flowers of catmint open between 6:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m.; orange hawkweed follows between 7:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m.; field marigolds open at 9:00 a.m.

In “Philosophia Botanica” (1751), the great taxonomist Carl Linnaeus proposed that it should be possible to plant a floral clock. He noted that two species of daisy, the hawk’s-beard and the hawkbit, opened and closed at their respective times within about a half-hour each day. He suggested planting these daisies along with St. John’s Wort, marigolds, water-lilies and other species in a circle. The rhythmic opening and closing of the plants would be the effective hands of this clock.

Plants have carefully timed routines determined by internally generated rhythms. In 1729, Jean-Jacques d’Ortous de Mairan, a French astronomer, put a Mimosa plant in a cupboard to see what happened when it was kept in the dark. He peeked in at various times, and although the plant was permanently in the dark its leaves still opened and closed rhythmically – it was as though it had its own representation of day and night. The plant’s leaves still drooped during its subjective night and stiffened up during its subjective day. Furthermore, all the leaves moved at the same time. It took another 230 years or so to come up with the term circadian – about a day – to describe these rhythms.

In a similar vein, tobacco plants, stocks and evening primroses release their scent as the sun starts to go down at dusk. These plants attract pollinating moths and night-flying insects. The plants tend to be white or pale. Color vision is difficult under low light, and white best reflects the mainly bluish tinge of evening light.

But plants cannot release their scent in a timely manner simply in response to an environmental cue, like the lowering of the light levels. They need time to produce the oils. To coincide with the appearance of the nocturnal insects, the plant has to anticipate the sunset and produce the scent on a circadian schedule.

Flowers of a given species all produce nectar at about the same time each day, as this increases the chances of cross-pollination. The trick works because pollinators, which in most cases means the honeybee, concentrate foraging on a particular species into a narrow time-window. In effect the honeybee has a daily diary that can include as many as nine appointments — say, 10:00 a.m., lilac; 11:30 a.m., peonies; and so on. The bees’ time-keeping is accurate to about 20 minutes.

The bee can do this because, like the plants and just about every living creature, it has a circadian clock that is reset daily to run in time with the solar cycle. The bee can effectively consult this clock and “check” off the given time and associate this with a particular event.

Honeybees really are nature’s little treasures. They are a centimeter or so long, their brains are tiny, and a small set of simple rules can explain the sophisticated social behavior that produces the coordinated activity of a hive. They live by sets of instructions that are familiar to computer programmers as subroutines – do this until the stop code, then into the next subroutine, and so on.

These humble little bees have an innate ability to work out the location of a food source from its position in relation to the sun. They do this even on cloudy days by reading the pattern of the polarization of the light, and pass this information to other bees. In the dark of the hive, they transpose the location of a food source in the horizontal plane through the famous “waggle” dance into communication in the vertical plane of the hive.

Honeybees can tell their sisters how far away the food is up to a distance of about 15 kilometers. For good measure, they can also allow for the fact that the sun moves relative to the hive by about 15 degrees an hour and correct for this when they pass on the information. In other words, they have their own built-in global positioning system and a language that enables them to refer to objects and events that are distant in space or time.

German scientists in the early part of the last century called this ability of bees to learn the time of day when flowers start secreting nectar and visit the flowers at appropriate times Zeitged├Ąchtnis, or time-sense. But the species of flowers in bloom, say, this week, is likely to be replaced by a different species at a different location next week or the week after. The bee needs a flexible, dynamic appointments system that it continually updates, and it has evolved an impressive ability to learn colors, odors, shapes and routes, within a time frame, quickly and accurately.

While the initial dance by a returning scout bee informs her sisters of the location and distance of food plants and the quality of their nectar, bees that visit the food source learn to synchronize their behavior with daily floral rhythms, foraging only when nectar and pollen are at their highest levels. At other times, they remain in the hive, conserving energy that otherwise would be exhausted on non-productive foraging flights.

Although most animals, including humans, cannot sustain long-lasting periods of activity without circadian rhythms, honeybees have developed a marked flexibility in their circadian rhythm that depends on the job they are doing. Whereas a particular circadian determined behavior is usually fixed to a certain phase of the cycle, in honeybees the circadian rhythm is dependent on the job the bee is doing.

Adult worker bees perform a number of tasks in the hive when they are young, like caring for eggs and larvae, and then shift to foraging for nectar and pollen as they age. However, if the hive has a shortage of foragers, some of the young nurse bees will switch jobs and become foragers. The job transition, whether triggered by age or social cues, involves changes in genes in the honeybee brain; some genes turn on, while others turn off.

Young worker bees less than two weeks of age who typically nurse the brood around-the-clock display no circadian rhythms. Older workers (more than three weeks) typically perform foraging activities and have strong circadian rhythms that are needed for the time-compensated sun-compass navigation and timing visits to flowers.

Recent research in Israel has shown that when young worker bees are removed from caring for the brood and placed in individual cages, they rapidly show circadian rhythms in their behavior. Newly emerged bees isolated in individual cages typically show circadian rhythms in locomotor activity when at 3 days to 14 days old, ages at which most bees in the hive perform around-the-clock nursing activities as mentioned above. Older foragers who revert to nursing duties switch back to around-the-clock brood care activity similar to that of young nurses in typical colonies.

The molecular clockwork mechanism that produces the circadian rhythm works by a series of feedback loops in which the proteins produced by several genes feedback to repress their own production. It is a complicated system, but the end result is a near-24-hour cycling in the levels of various proteins that in turn result in the cycling of the secretion of hormones and other substances.

It seems that there is a plasticity, or flexibility, in the organization of this molecular clockwork mechanism in honeybees, and that the social factors that influence division of labor in honeybee colonies are important also for the regulation of this circadian mechanism. As there is mounting evidence for increased pathologies and deterioration in performance when around-the-clock activity is imposed on most animals, including humans, detailed study of the plasticity of the circadian organization in honeybees may provide pointers for ways for us to have our 24/7 cake and eat it.

Honeybees are remarkable not just for the organization of their circadian clockwork. James Gould of Princeton first studied bees as an undergraduate. It was his pioneering study that showed conclusively that Karl von Frisch, who won a Nobel Prize for elucidating the waggle dance, had been right in concluding that the dance was a means of conveying information.

Ironically, an allergy meant that Gould had to stop working directly with the creatures, but his respect for them is enormous. As he has pointed out:

When a human decides whether to recommend a restaurant, taking into account its menus, the tastes of the friend being advised, the cost of the food, the distance to the establishment, the ambience of the dining room, the ease of parking and all the other factors that enter into such a decision, we have little hesitation in attributing conscious decision-making to the calculation. When a small frenetic creature enclosed in an exoskeleton and sprouting supernumerary legs and a sting performs an analogous integration of factors, however, our biases spur us to look for another explanation, different in kind.

We have been exploiting honeybees for thousands of years by systematically robbing them of their honey. The least we can do is take proper care of these wondrous creatures. Instead we are killing them off in their billions through our befouling of their environment. The honeybee brain has only a million or so neurons, several orders of magnitude less than ours. It is a moot point as to whether humans or honeybees make the best use of their neuronal resource.

Update | 7:41 p.m. An earlier version of this post included a photo of a bumblebee that was misidentified as a honeybee. The photo has been replaced.



For a discussion about how bees know what to do, and when, see the appropriately titled paper by Pahl M., Zhu H, Pix W., Tautz J., Zhang S. “Circadian timed episodic-like memory – a bee knows what to do when, and also where ” J Exp Biol. 2007 Oct, 210(Pt 20):3559-67.

For circadian plasticity see Shemesh Y., Cohen M., Bloch G. “Natural plasticity in circadian rhythms is mediated by reorganization in the molecular clockwork in honeybees” FASEB J. 2007 Aug;21(10):2304-11.

James Gould quote from Gould, J. L. & Gould, C. G. (1999) “The Animal Mind.” W. H. Freeman, New York.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Wish I were Perry Rubenstein...

Commissioning such a work through BMW for his artist, Robin Rhode. And even a car thrown into the deal I heard.

You can watch the video of the performance/art work creation if you click the title of the post. Simply fabulous!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Tribeca Film Festival

My friend Terence Mulligan invited me to an online film festival party; Babelgum. Spike Lee was the honorary invitee, and presented awards named after him. He is the epitome of the indie filmmaker I guess. I see him as a Black Woody Allen.

Yesterday I rode around on my bike and enjoyed it so much; going to places I wouldn't normally walk, seeing new things. The weather was perfect, not humid, not too hot or cool.Everyone was out and looking good. Life was good!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Shark River Lime

On the way up to Grande Riviere, about 7.30 am in the morning, Omar pointed out that the guys ahead of us in the back of the pick up truck were reading the newspaper and drinking beer. I laughed, and Omar reminded me that in Trinidad there is no specific time to drink a beer. I laughed some more, but lower down the road they stopped to take a piss and in passing them we slowed on the narrow road, they waved and asked us if we wanted a beer. I figured why not, though I was tired. After all, I had only a couple hours before stopped partying at a club! They gave me a Carib and said they were heading to Shark River to have a lime (a chill out party) and that they would be cooking and we were welcome to come.

Later, when I woke up, I remembered this and got my friend Uli to drive us up to Shark River on his motorcycle, about a half hour from Mt. Plaisir, where we met up with them and spent the afternoon swimming in the River, eating and drinking and limin'. It was over twenty men and just one woman, me, for several hours. Finally, about the time I was about to leave, one other woman appeared.

Surely, this area of Trinidad is heaven on earth. The river is beautiful and curves around a bend and under a river and flows out into the ocean. At the mouth of the river it is rocky and there is a big backwash of salty water from the sea. Divine.

The next day when I left I felt so refreshed, reborn almost, as everything in the environs is restorative, from the trees, the water, the people, the music. There was a big soundsystem set up at Shark River; the locals said they do that every weekend. Shera, or Queen as some people call her, gave me a massage. She is the wife of the Rasta Jackatan. They live in the forest and take people on tours to the waterfalls and such. Queen, or Shera, knows all about the herbs and their curative properties. It's great to talk to her and learn about these things.

51 Degrees

I had the pleasure of seeing the sun rise Saturday morning. I went to 51 Degrees Friday night and stayed out until the sun came up. We left a little after 5 am and Omar, the driver, picked me up at 5.30 am from the guesthouse where I was staying and drove me to Grande Riviere. I didn't sleep till 8.30 am and then for only two hours as my friend, Uli, arrived.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Last few days in Trinidad

There are most definitely challenges to working here in Trinidad, starting with a true divide between what is said and what is done, a sort of language barrier for me e.g. when someone says "I'll be right there, I'm two blocks away," I expect to see them soon, not a half hour or 45 minutes later...There are many other obstacles too, not the least of which is not getting a call back when you leave a message, or not getting an email that someone said would be sent.

On the upside it is such a warm sensual place where smart people can make fun and talk sexy and not offend anyone. And of course there's nature all around. One of the pics has an egret hanging out on the sidewalk in Woodbrook. Tomorrow, thank God, not a moment too soon, I'll be heading to Grande Riviere for the day. I'll spend the night and leave the following day to go to the airport. Plans for Tobago didn't work out and I'm glad as I was able to meet some people and do some things I hadn't had the chance to do before.

There are pics from an exhibition at Horizons Art Gallery and ones from More Vino where I went after. Girls danced on the bar for the birthday of someone, I'm not sure who, and there were tassa drummers.

The last few pics in this post relate to a presentation at Holy Name Convent where Alicia, a senior at UWI, did a film project with the students as part of her thesis. The others are at The Corner Bar, where I asked everyone to join me as I imagined this would be the last opportunity I had to be there before leaving. The bunnies were outside of Aura and 51 Degrees later that night.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Newsday article about the exhibition at The Corner Bar

French artist at Corner Bar

By MELISSA DASSRATH Sunday, April 19 2009

click on pic to zoom in
This photograph taken by Herzog on her travels shows  Snaefeljokull, a glacial volcano....
This photograph taken by Herzog on her travels shows Snaefeljokull, a glacial volcano....

A French artist with an intense fascination with the violent beauty of volcanoes and their ecological hazards and social implications, yesterday unveiled a collection of photography and paintings at an art exhibition entitled “Fractures and Faults” at Corner Bar.

Anne Herzog, 25, of Cherbourg, France works across genres and mediums and schools of thought. Hers is a sort of hybrid form of abstraction of paints, photography, text, sound and cartoonish resemblances of reality.

Her innovative approach to art began at the age of 12. She and a group of students travelled to a radioactive part of Normandy to capture the deformed and regenerating landscape through art. And, as she explained, her stylist take on art would evolve: “ Then I started recording the sound of my pencil and using the sound as an artwork. While I was listening to the song ‘Antichrist Superstar’ by Marilyn Manson.”

She described her work as a “earth work, fiction and reality” that exaggerates the sacred and profane. According to her, an important element of her pieces is “premonition”.

Herzog attended the academy of Visual Arts in Iceland, studied at Multimedia in the University of Angers and also studied Fine Art at the Nantes School of Art. After graduating with a Master’s Degree in Fine Art, she flew to New York for an internship. She explained that she was awarded a scholarship by her school that allowed her the chance opportunity to make art works with volcanoes as its central theme. The experience would awaken a fiery enthusiasm in Herzog for these explosive mountainous features, volcanic eruptions and the toxic billowing smoke and soot.

The premise of her research project was to illuminate the possibility that the Snaefeljokull volcano could be the centre of the earth, a mystical portal to a fantastical underworld or the gateway to a hidden realm ruled by aliens. Snaefeljokull, which is a glacial volcano, was the subject of classical literary works as the introduction to an allegorical quest.

Jules Vernes published the Journey to the Centre of the Earth in 1864. In it the antagonist explored an extinct volcanic crater known as Snaeffels on a glacier in Iceland, entered an extremely unstable parallel universe and escaped through the mouth of another active volcano called Stromboli off the coast of Sicily.

“My project was to find the centre of the earth in Iceland in 2004. I made a documentary film and pictures of the incredible Snaefeljokull volcano.”

Her intrigue with volcanic activity eventually inspired her to create an entire collection of artwork about the powerful formations created as a result of extreme shifting between tectonic plates of land that float on molten lava. “I’m interested in geology, volcanoes, amphibians, underground world. I also have a fascination with representations of volcanoes.”

But Herzog who has been working as a video editor, is not afraid to trek around the globe to get a closer picture of an unpredictable volcano. Nor does she cower when facing the agitated rumbling beast that is her muse. She journey across rugged terrain in almost unreachable places toting nothing more than a camera and a tripod in search in of active volcanoes.

Her journey towards the jaws of the earth, has taken her to some interesting destinations.

She remembered some of the people and places along the way: “I went to a volcanic area near the Indian Ocean. I visited Italy and Iceland. I spend 3 months in desertic area called Snaefelness to capture the landscape. People say it’s the perfect place to see aliens.”

She moved around a lot and took up various jobs near volcanic sites to help her earn a living. Her time there granted her insights about the relationship between mythology and mankind. “I was recording all the things that people were telling me and I was hitch hiking around the volcanoes. I was recording the drivers. Also I was going down into the caves in the fire mountain and climbing through the snow on the top of the volcanoes to find the centre of the earth. I thought there was an interesting genealogy of people that lived in that area.”

The collection “Fractures and Faults” will be featured between April 18 and May 16 at the Corner Bar on Ariapita Avenue, Woodbrook. The central idea of the pieces that will be displayed in the exhibition are drift continents that are related to the origins of the world as we know it: “My work is on the origins of the universe. It concerns volcanoes, Jurassic reptiles and amphibians. Creatures mediating between water and land, linking periods of time between prehistoric times and age present. As well as strange ‘attractors’ and ‘fractals’ which are the subject of chaos theory.”

One piece called “Flag, The Roof is in Fire” is an apocalyptic view of end times: “I made flags and then I burnt them to express the drift continents. I kept the ashes in a box and the wood burnings of the flag. This is a sculpture.” Another piece called the “Brooklyn, Dream” is a haunting video that was created by burning the film and destroying with chemicals in a dark room. “There are mysterious pictures where we can see an another reality.”

The art show will feature a selection of sketches, drawings, paintings, photographs and films. “It’s a silver film that can show something else as a reality. It is a medium that can show the invisible, ghost , apparition, different times and futures and other dimensions.”

Herzog said that it was her art curator Nicollette Ramirez based in New York who suggested that she present her art in Trinidad: “Nicolette proposed that I show my art on this island in the Atlantic ocean. Trinidad is a piece of land that is surrounded by water. It’s a piece of earth, is an emergent land feature. It seemed to me to be a curious, specific and original country.

I would love to explore this area.” Though, she will not be in Trinidad during the exhibition, she is planning on making a trip to discover the mystery of the island herself.

But she stated that something is still pulling her to return to the site of the glacial volcanoes: “I know this project is not finished for me. I will always look at the centre of the earth in western part of Iceland.”

Monday, April 20, 2009

Behind the Scenes At the Summit Party

Colin Soulboy Williams did a great job putting a party together last night at The Corner Bar. It was a fabulous turn out including Meiling, the fashion designer,the calypsonian David Rudder, a Minister in the current government, and a sophisticated crowd of expats and Trinis who spend time in the US and here. I loved meeting all the new people, and hanging with some who I already knew. Rael and Ashton came to join us after dinner. A journalist from the Express was there too. I hope she writes about the exhibition. Yesterday there was an article in Newsday

Sunday at Maracas Bay

What a wonderful relaxing day it was yesterday. Kenny, my friend, suggested a day of doing nothing on the beach. He brought Ben his friend and we met Ashton Luchman and his girlfriend Rael there. So much fun! Afterwards we followed them to Ashton's house on the hill overlooking the sea and the city down in the valley. So beautiful. I want to get a place in that neighborhood too. It was on the same road leading to Peter Doig's place, but instead of veering right you veer left.

Anne Herzog's opening at The Corner Bar, and Peter Doig's Birthday party on the North Coast

The opening at The Corner Bar was well attended though the summit definitely curtailed the turnout. Those people who were important in the art world in Trinidad, eg. artists Jackie Hinkson, Sundiata, Dean Arlen and Steve Ouditt, made my night. The owners of Softbox were there as well. I was happy. And the night became even more fun when we went to Peter Doig's birthday party. Everyone was there and we were dancing as Chris Ofili deejayed. Peter spun a few tunes too and it was a great atmosphere out there up in the hills with the sea dark down below in the distance.