Article 62 – ‘Unseen enemies’ Part 1

Hi, and welcome to Taiga Bonzai in article 56 ‘Bug apocalypse’ we discussed a topic that was hot news to many horticulturists and conservationists at the time re: the continuing decline in insect population that is causing great concern as they are vital to our survival.

Introduction – this 4 part series ‘Unseen enemies’ discusses an even bigger issue – the increasing problem of pests and disease that is devastating the world’s tree and crop plantations and the ultimate effect on society. How this phenomenon occurred is the result of mankind’s actions. Since the dawn of time these actions have caused catastrophic consequences in many ways, now the world is facing unprecedented challenges that will be extremely difficult to resolve. Have we reached the point of no return – some believe that we have past it whilst others are more complacent, ‘yes these situations need to be addressed but they can be resolved’; but can they?

During our travels around the globe we have been privy to some extraordinary and amazing locations, returning to them at a later date we note that many have been destroyed – piles of rubble, barren land, some are now heavily polluted – rife with pestilence and disease. Such experiences do not wane, they remain strong and clear in the mind. How have we arrived at this juncture, follow our journey as we try to shed some light on the issue.

The beginning – according to scientific research vegetation had evolved on Earth approximately 700 million years ago and fungi and bacteria approximately 1,300 million years prior, this evidence is based on the earliest fossils of those organisms. The general consensus is that organisms also called microbes are beneficial for example, they keep nature clean by helping break down dead plants and animals into organic matter.

However, in the dinosaur periods Triassic (251.902 to 201.3 million years), Jurassic (201.3 to 145 million years) and Cretaceous (145 to 66 million years ago) we know creatures that roamed the planet were predominantly herbivores; but not all. Carnivores also existed and confrontation between the two resulted in carnage on an immeasurable scale. All animal and vegetable life whilst decaying gives off a rank fetid odour attracting bacteria and pathogens to take hold and multiply and thus eventually spread and infect. Fortunately early hominins had yet to evolve hence were oblivious of the problems of that time.

Paleolithic Age

Mankind’s contribution – the Hunter-gatherer culture developed among the early hominins of Africa, with evidence of their activities dating as far back as 2 million years and according to Richard B. Lee & Richard Daly of the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Hunters and Gatherers “was humanity’s first and most successful adaptation, occupying at least 90 percent of human history“. In addition, it is understood that through archaeology, anthropology, genetics, linguistics and the advent of writing from primary and secondary sources this information is relatively common knowledge.

Colin Tudge in his book ‘Neanderthals, Bandits and Farmers: How Agriculture Really Began’. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press (1998) contends that.”The Neolithic saw the Agricultural Revolution begin between 10,000 and 5000 BC in the Near East Fertile Crescent” (Mesopotamia). During this period humans began the systematic husbandry of plants and animals and as agriculture advanced, many humans transitioned from nomadic to a settled lifestyle as farmers in permanent settlements. The relative security and increased productivity provided by farming allowed communities to expand into increasingly larger units, fostered by advances in transportation.

However, Alina Polianskaya of Inews.co.uk (March 15th 2018) points out that “Early humans may have been trading with each other much earlier than previously thought, scientists excavated ancient artefacts at Middle Stone Age sites dating back 300,000 years at the Olorgesailie Basin, in southern Kenya. They uncovered weapons made of materials that could not be found there, suggesting hominins at the time may have exchanged goods with others.”

In his paper ‘Evolution: What Makes a Modern Human’ Nature. 485 (7396) (2012) Chris Stringer tells us that “Modern humans spread rapidly from Africa into the frost-free zones of Europe and Asia around 60,000 years ago.” This notion is supported by Adam Hart-Davis in his work ‘History: The Definitive Visual Guide’. New York: DK Publishing “The rapid expansion of humankind to North America and Oceania took place at the climax of the most recent ice age. At the time, temperate regions of today were extremely inhospitable. Yet, by the end of the Ice Age, some 12,000 years ago, humans had colonised nearly all ice-free parts of the globe“.

The Silk Road – a network of trade routes connecting China and Far East with the Middle East and Europe, was established when the Han Dynasty in China officially opened trade with the West in 130 BC. Although these Silk Road routes were protected from exterior forces by the Han and other countries under signed treaties, ‘unseen enemies’ (pests and disease) also travelled with the traders causing infection, sickness and often death, because those who came into contact with these infectious bacteria had no immunity for example. In 541 to 549 AD the Justinian plague recorded by the Greek historian Procopius court historian to Justin 1st. (r. 527–565) was the first major outbreak of the first plague pandemic.

Emperor Justin 1st

The plague Yersinia pestis is a gram-negative rod-shaped, coccobacillus bacteria that is related to both Y. pseudotuberculosis and Y. enterocolitica. It is a facultative anaerobic organism that can infect humans via the oriental rat flea. Y. pestis was discovered in 1894 by Alexandre Yersin, a Swiss/French physician and bacteriologist from the Pasteur Institute. Strains of Y. pestis closely related to the ancestor of the Justinian plague strain have been found in the Tian Shan, a mountain range on the borders of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and China, suggesting that the Justinian plague originated in or near that region. It is estimate in some quarters that the Justinian plague killed between 30 and 50 million people – about half the world’s population at that time and that was just the beginning of what was yet to come.

Alexandre Yersin

The Silk Road routes remained in use until 1453 AD, when the Ottoman Empire boycotted trade with China and closed them. It has been nearly 600 years since the Silk Road was used for international trade, but the routes have had a lasting impact on commerce, culture and history that resonates today and now they are being reopened. Today international trade is arguably the most important factor in the modern world as nations rely on others to supply the many types of commerce they need, hence agreements are signed to lessen the bureaucracy. Nonetheless, international trade does bring problems as we shall find out in this series.

Some countries enforce stringent rules on imports for example, Australia probably has the strictest regulations on what is imported, meat products, fruit and plant material including seeds from many countries including Asia and Middle East are prohibited, but some are permitted if the exporter is registered and has the required documentation. Unlike the rest of the world Australia (although having its own disease problems) is free of many other known diseases and has been since 1872, due to stringent pre and post-border measures; meanwhile the rest of the world continues to battle with disease containment.

Today much has changed we have advanced – science and technical horticultural knowledge has allowed us to become adept in food production; new plant species have been introduced, more variety and apparently more taste – but have we gone too far? -The reason why this question is asked is because for every action there is a reaction often resulting in irreversible consequences.

In part 2 of ‘unseen enemies’ we continue our journey giving more factual information on for example, how pests and disease endemic to a particular part of the world are now commonplace in many other regions; the result of man’s actions and the devastating outcome. Until next time, BW, Nik.

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