James borrell is a conservation scientist and science communicator, with a particular interest in how species adapt to changing climate.

A scientific rite of passage

I’ve never celebrated the same thing so many times. Acceptance, submission, peer review, successful review, official acceptance, proof reading and at long last; publication. With every step I felt that the main hurdle had been cleared and so I celebrated; now at long last after folders of data and stacks of papers, I can simply follow a link and see my research online, in the public domain.

It seems amazing to me that two years of work, from inception to completion, can be condensed down into nine short pages. That hours of sitting in a dark, draft proof room could be represented by a handful of graphs.

It’s about pollen. Which, in itself, on it’s own, is quite boring. I once described pollen live on air as ‘flying sperm’, in an effort to liven it up and make it sound cool. So is there really anything interesting about pollen? Well, I hope I make a reasonably good argument in favour of it here.

Take a county like Madagascar, that has lost over 90% of it’s forest cover, where species likely become extinct before they are even discovered. Fragments of forest survive, isolated like islands of life in a sea of development and agriculture. In this context, pollen and how it works, becomes pretty important. An unseen mediator of plant reproduction across landscapes.

So what did I find? Well, in a nut shell, pollen might not go as far as we think. Little patches of forest could be quite isolated, and so, if we want to help forests adapt to threats like climate change we need to give them a helping hand. We might do this by designing reserves and reserve networks better, by incorporating habitat corridors and building them above a threshold size. Some of these things might sound quite obvious, but when it comes to implementing them, the weight of evidence matters.

This is my first small contribution.

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