Sunday, April 9, 2017


We bought a house in autumn 2016. It's in an old neighborhood with lots of old, established trees and shrubs and things. I'm trying to replace all the invasive ornamental plants with native ones. Here's the progress so far:

Pulled out all the english ivy that's creeping in from the neighbor (some day, I'll see if they'll let me kill all their ivy, too), and pulled out all this viney ornamental weed in the shade garden, whatever it was (it used to cover all the ground between the house and the path below).

Despite some slug damage, the wild ginger I transplanted last autumn is doing well, so I went out to the parents' property and liberated some more, plus some other native plants, mostly for the shade garden. Scored some sword ferns, oxalis, bleeding heart

I also got a couple cuttings of salmon berry, and salal.

We'll see how they root.

This clump of dirt and moss pictured above is actually a very old sword fern that was living next to my parent's house.

Here it is the oldest photo I can find of it, c. 1985, but it might have been growing there for many years before that. The house was originally built in the '30's or '40's. Dad's been thinking of killing it for years because it blocks one of the vents, so I saved it. Let's see how it likes being a suburban fern.

On a related note, it is surprisingly hard to find out how long a sword fern can live. Individual fronds only live a few years, but the rhizomes can obviously live for decades. If anyone knows of a reputable source that has this info, I'd love to know.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Artist's view of Canis lupus phylogeny and gene flow

Click for larger image

We like to think of phylogenetic trees like this, with nice, neat, tree-like branches. This is fine most of the time when studying relationships between species, but it give a false impression of evolution being simple and clean cut. I picture speciation more like taffy pulling apart.

This is especially true of the species complex I think of as "Canis lupus and Friends". We now  know, for example, that dogs and wolves, and wolves and coyotes, did, and do, exchange genes much more frequently than makes us comfortable. We're also pretty sure there were multiple dog domestication events, most leading to "dead end" lineages, but that "proto-dogs" existed in some kind of association with humans for a long, long time.

Even after closed studbooks became popular a couple centuries ago, illicit genes still manage to sneak their way into even the most tightly regulated breeds. And even after the rise of the dog show, we've always had the more traditional, more popular (but perhaps not as loudly advertised) breeding practices outside of the breed clubs - which involve all kinds of gene mixing, some documented, some not.

This is an attempt to visualize about 50,000 years of the Canis lupus family tree. Y-axis is roughly time; X-axis is roughly, roughly, geography. Those pokey terminal ends/nodes/thorns represent extinct lineages. A lineage can be anything from a subspecies to a breed or landrace. (Curly thorns do not represent time-traveling dogs, as fun as that sounds; it's a visual effect on the theme trees and branches n' such.)

A lot of the pre-historic (and historic, for that matter) extinct lineages pictured here are pure speculation, but are not out of line given what we know about how dogs (and dog owners) operate. There should probably be a lot more, actually. The whole thing should look a lot more thorny.

I've purposefully kept the labels to a minimum. If you're wondering where on here a specific breed or wolf population is, I could give you a general idea, but it's not precise. If you want a good (or, as good as current science can provide) breed family tree, try this one here.

Likewise, don't get too excited about specific dates - the scale is wonky, especially towards the bottom. The odd 'feathering' effect from recent modern breed creations should really be so tiny it would barely be visible, so the effect of the last 200-300 years of dog breeding is magnified visually.

Huge thanks to Scottie Westfall for his insight and enduring so many questions.