Today proved to be a jam packed day of information and new plants that we hadn’t previously seen in the PEAC site on the Rosemount part of campus, with our latest tour guide for the day Harry (http://www.ucd.ie/plantpalaeo/yiotis.html). Personally I had been really looking forward to this activity – we were getting to use the thermal imaging camera (you know the one, they use it in Predator / war movies where they suss out the baddies using this crazy equipment that you think can’t really possibly exist because it seems too high tech but secretly hope you will one day really experience? You see where I am going with this!) So I figured we would spend the day taking pictures like this, just for laughs.
But as it turns out, this super sensitive, nicely pricey camera was not just a play thing and can be put to great use to measure the relationships between the wet and dry temperature of leaves, and the stomatal conductance, something Harry was putting it to use for for the day.
We used the camera on ten different species to measure these recordings. During this time we discussed the need for plants to close stomata in response to conditions that were often too hot or too dry (something the poor things are currently having to do at the minute in these weather conditions!).
Next up was time to get the full tour and talk about the Peac lab set up. This facility houses chambers that are designed to allow the experimentation of different levels of gas in our atmosphere, for example ambient levels, low oxygen levels, high carbon dioxide levels.
By allowing plants to grow in these various atmospheric conditions, the team can examine plant events long before our time, and what we might be able to predict for the future. This of course will be of major importance to us, but I never realised just how much until I started here in UCD – suddenly it is my main focus to discover where will plants take us and how will they help us in years to come.
With the different ratios of gases in the chambers, precautions need to be taken when entering. Harry was only too happy to model the current season of Peac fashions; I won’t be rushing out for one myself, can’t see them taking off!
After a friendly lunch time debate on such topics as bad Irish food, bad Greek food, bad Turkish food, Norman invasions, Viking invasions, does the macademia nut come from Macedonia, Irish bog men and much more, we headed back into the heat of the greenhouses with Harry to discuss plant adaptations – how do they protect themselves from herbivores? This is something of great interest as there is a tendency to presume because plants can’t move, they can’t protect themselves.
Plant poisons, unusual leaf colours, thorns, succulent leaves, variegated leaves (less colour around the edges) were all discussed in detail and it really got us thinking, when it comes to natural defence plants really are steps ahead of us in many ways. See can you pick out the plant from the picture below that is often known as Mother-in-Law’s Tongue (but maybe don’t explain your reasoning for your choice if she is knocking around!)
Harry, a bottomless pit of information on all things plants, finally decided we had seen and done enough and if we didn’t call it a day soon, it wouldn’t only be the plants looking for water after the heavy heat! We headed away from the Peac facility with lots to think about on the similarities that we often overlook between plants and animals.