An idea for an interesting study...if it hasn't been done already

Iruka Naminori
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An idea for an interesting study...if it hasn't been done already

A couple of weeks ago, it snowed "down low" as we say in the foothills of California.  It was a wet, heavy snow that caused a lot of trees (mainly live oaks) to lose limbs or (worse) fall over. 

Live oaks occur from the low foothills to about 3500 to 4000', at which point conifers take over.  Because they don't shed their leaves, live oaks sometimes get burdened with snow.  Too much and they can't stand the strain.

Between ten and fifteen years ago, we had a wet snow at my mother's house, which is about 3000' above sea level.  Nearly eight inches had piled up on the live oaks.  One of them could no longer stand the strain and fell over, clipping the edge of the house.

The snow we had last week wasn't very deep at my current elevation, which is below 2000', but the live oaks in the low country dropped like flies.  I didn't notice as much devastation among the live oaks above a certain elevation.

I hypothesize that live oaks at higher elevations develop in such a way as to withstand heavy accumulations of snow.  I further hypothesize that the live oaks at lower elevations don't need to be as sturdy because snows heavy enough to cause real damage are very, very few.  In fact, I was rather amazed that oak trees were collapsing under a mere 2-3" of snow.  There may be another reason for it, of course, but it sounds like a fascinating study idea. *shrug*

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gobaskof
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Sounds like a testable

Sounds like a testable hypotheses, but i have another one! Maybe the reason why not as many trees fell over at 3,000' is because the only ones that are still standing are the ones that have taken a lot of snow in the past and can handle it, the ones that fall over easily fell down ages ago.

Of course this is natural selection and so the trees are still standing are the ones that are going to reproduce. The only thing I am skeptical about (well not the only thing...I'm skeptical of just about anything!! Hence why I'm a member of this site!) is whether they have already evolved this characteristic, because of how long a oak tree generation is. But to really make my mind up it would be nice to know how long oaks have been growing there and how the climate had varied over that time.

But my hypothesis is still that only the sturdy ones are still standing high up, because the flimsy ones have already fallen down, and thats why they are all so sturdy!

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I would almost as soon believe with the old and ignorant cosmogonists, that fossil shells had never lived, but had been created in stone so as to mock the shells now living on the sea-shore. - Charles Darwin


Iruka Naminori
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gobaskof wrote:

gobaskof wrote:


Of course this is natural selection and so the trees are still standing are the ones that are going to reproduce. The only thing I am skeptical about (well not the only thing...I'm skeptical of just about anything!! Hence why I'm a member of this site!) is whether they have already evolved this characteristic, because of how long a oak tree generation is. But to really make my mind up it would be nice to know how long oaks have been growing there and how the climate had varied over that time.

Yes, I've been thinking about these very issues. Even falsifying the hypothesis would be interesting. I tried talking to my creationist mother about the idea. She was mildly interested, but seemed to want to fixate on this idea: Yes, but they're still oak trees, right? (It's the old micro/macro issue.) I conceded they were still oak trees and stated that it takes a much longer time for long-lived organisms to evolve.

You're right that we would have to know what the climate has been like here for several thousand years due to the longevity of the trees. I'm not sure this data is available. It would also be nice to know just how often a wet snow assaults the "low country." Dawkins pointed out in The Blind Watchmaker that even looking 5% more like a twig will help an insect body type survive. The ones that look 6% more like a twig will survive more often than the ones who look 5% like a twig. Over time, the insect body type of "twig-like" will become the norm.

So I'm willing to bet that trees that lose branches or fall over due to heavy snow produce fewer acorns over time. It would take quite awhile for "sturdiness" to develop in the higher country. I suspect that "sturdiness" increases with elevation and the possibility of heavy snows. Of course, one would have to define "sturdiness" and figure out exactly what produces that trait in an interior live oak.

Other issues I've thought of:

  1. Are there different species of live oak in this area? I know we have what is called the "interior live oak," but is this the only live oak species in the foothills?
  2. What about other trees that don't shed their leaves? I would have to know a bit more about the various tree species in this area.
  3. As I thought about the issue, it occurred to me that firs and pines (evergreens) have a better structure for supporting and/or shedding snow. The central trunk is close to perpendicular, so the weight is distributed at the roots. The branches are thin, as are the "leaves" which keep too much snow from accumulating on any given branch. Live oaks, on the other hand, grow at angles to the roots, have many thick branches and broader leaves. They tend to get very heavy with snow. It makes sense that evergreens take over as the elevation rises.
  4. Maybe it's partially "sturdiness" and partially another trait: flexibility. That which bends does not easily break. Flexibility would also have to be defined and measured.
As I typed out that last thought, something else occurred to me which may falsify the hypothesis. As elevation increases in California, so does total rainfall / moisture for a given year. A live oak that can absorb more water could be naturally more flexible and better able to withstand heavy snows. There may be no genetic component at all. Smiling

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gobaskof
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I think your best bet is to

I think your best bet is to go into suspended animation for about 10 million years, and if the climate has stayed the same (not too likley), then you can be pretty sure that the oak trees that are there when you get out of suspended animation will have a genetic diference to others that were in warmer areas!Tongue out

Also take a few photos of animals and some animal DNA with you just incase there are still creationists in the future....

Quote:
I would almost as soon believe with the old and ignorant cosmogonists, that fossil shells had never lived, but had been created in stone so as to mock the shells now living on the sea-shore. - Charles Darwin