Pee, poo & pollen say climate change is real

Rock Dassie – Wikimedia Commons

While chatting with one Nigel Barker of UP (@Nigel_GEBP) about something different entirely, he mentions that Dassie middens, used by generations of the little critters to drop their deposits into neat, sticky piles over 100s of years come rain or shine, can tell us if, in fact, it was raining or shining.

The stickiness of the middens is the important thing here because pollen in the air gets stuck on every fresh layer of mush. Pollen comes from plants, and different plants make totally different pollen. In other words, bossies won’t make the same pollen as trees, so if you take a pile of dassie dung and cut it in half, you can see when there were more daisies than dennebooms.

What that has to do with the weather is that different plants thrive in different temperature and rainfall conditions. If we find pollen belonging to plants that love rain, chances are it rained more during the time those plants made pollen.

I’m fascinated that dassie poo, pee and pollen can tell the weather, but I’m also interested in the meaning of all this for climate change. This kind of information tells us that South Africa’s climate has been changing quite a bit over the last few decades and centuries, but that temperatures and rainfall always kind of went up and then down and then up again, always balancing out.

Except recently. That equilibrium was totally disrupted. By us.

Because of man-made climate change (carbon pollution, fossil fuel burning etc.), the balance is off and climate change is no longer oscillating gently; it’s going one direction only, and that’s straight to hell (where it’s very hot, apparently).

By the way, dassie dung is #SAscienceHero Prof Louis Scott’s specialty:

Louis Scott

Professor, Department of Plant SciencesUniversity of the Free State Louis Scott obtained his PhD in 1979 for a thesis entitled ‘Late Quaternary pollen analytical studies in the Transvaal (South Africa)’. After a short period with the Southern Oil Exploration Corporation (SOEKOR), Johannesburg, he joined the staff of the University of the Free State.

More on dassie dung:

‘Save the dassie toilet’

Cape Town – Dassie “toilets” should be treasured, warns a group of academics opposed to the trade in dassie urine, which is used in the production of medicine and even perfume.

Can dassie dung save the planet? | IOL

Scientists across the world are turning to ancient faeces – or, as they are known scientifically, coprolites – for answers about the past. What they are finding is causing a stink. In the United States a 1 000-year-old coprolite revealed what was on the menu of a chilling feast, while in South Africa a botanist believes prehistoric hyena and dassie dung could one day help save the world.

 

 

Anina Mumm

Anina Mumm is a science communication and digital media consultant at ScienceLink, a company she co-founded to help scientists connect with the world, particularly through the use of multi-media story-telling and other innovative digital tools. Anina is also the Chairperson of SciBraai, a proudly South African NPO dedicated to science journalism, communication and outreach, and she is an active member of the South African Science Journalists' Association. Full profile on LinkedIn: za.linkedin.com/in/aninamumm/

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