Brittany and I chatted early last week and she is deep into the final stage of her work for Transmediale in Berlin, Germany. Many of the techniques that she is using for that project will help us with our work for the residency so I’m excited for when she has figured everything out and is ready to share!
Brittany and I talked about a new app called ‘uMake’ for creating 3D sketches. I downloaded it for my new iPad Pro (thanks Santa! AKA airmiles) and it seems great. (I’m hoping Brittany will have a chance to download it before she jumps on her transatlantic flight.) I fired it up, but am still at the stage where its easier for me to draw multiple angles in my sketch book. It looks promising though…
In Week 6 Brittany mentioned research about mealworms that can eat plastic. My latest issue of American Entomologist arrived and May Berenbaum wrote a great article about insect-plastic interactions - ‘Chance the Wrapper.’ In addition to the aforementioned mealworms, she wrote about a few other insects that are using plastic in interesting ways. A pelagic (neither close to bottom nor shore) water strider once with few places to lay eggs (think driftwood bits) is having a veritable field (ocean?) day with all of the plastic now adrift at sea.
“We netted, in one scoop, 833 insects and a single egg mass with an estimated 70,000 eggs on a plastic gallon (3.785-liter) milk jug.” Cheng & Pitman, 2002.
Another interesting case is of two leafcutter bee species that have retooled plastic bag bits to create their nests. Like many bees, leafcutters are solitary (that is, they don’t live in a hive like social honeybees) and make individual brood cells for their offspring usually within an old stem. Leafcutters generally make their brood cells with cut bits of leaf – you may have noticed half moon-shapes missing from your landscape plants in the spring/summer. Here is a cross-section of an au naturel leafcutter bee nest complete with larval bee (head at bottom right).
The bees in the study simply incorporated tiny bits of plastic.
Alas! Not actually mini-shopping bags, but the images in the study weren’t as much fun to look at as this one ;)
“It is interesting to note that in both bee species [studied], the type of plastic used structurally reflects the native nesting material, suggesting that nesting material structure is more important than chemical or other innate traits of the material.
Our understanding of how plastics spontaneous integrate into natural ecological processes will increase as more human-made material and products build up in both urban and non-urban landscapes. Even more so, as ecologists, naturalists, and all hobbyists having access to a camera and Internet can quickly disseminate unique observations, which can be used to both engage the public, and contribute to empirical research (Silvertown 2009). The extent to which human-made products such as plastic become a fixed part of the landscape might act as a novel selective pressure further delineating urban-adaptive and urban-avoiding species and subpopulations.”
[MacIvor & Moore 2013.]
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Brittany Ransom is an award-winning artist, technologist, and assistant professor of Sculpture and New Genres at California State University, Long Beach.
Cara Gibson is a graphic designer, director of Science Communications, and Assistant Professor at the University of Arizona in Tucson.