The microscopic world of an Upper Teesdale Sphagnum bog revisited, with diatoms and desmids living on and in the spaces between Sphagnum leaves and diatoms The chlorophyllose cells are about ten micrometres in diameter (1/100th of a millimetre) whilst the desmid in the foreground (Cosmarium ralfsii) is about 100 micrometres (1/10th of a millimetre) across.
I showed my first attempt at portrayal of the microscopic life of a Sphagnum bog a few weeks ago (see “Swimming with desmids …“) but, at the same time, I felt that there were a few elements that could be improved, so here is my second effort. The first time I tackle a new subject, there are usually technical issues to address and, perhaps, the outcome was not quite as naturalistic as I would have liked. Not that I, or anyone else, really has a great insight into “natural” in this particular context, but then none of us have seen dinosaurs hunting in Jurassic forests, but that hasn’t stopped people producing “naturalistic” illustrations. In my first picture, just capturing the underside of a Sphagnum leaf in something approaching linear perspective and including two desmids seemed like progress. This time, there are two Sphagnum leaves plus a couple of diatoms – a single cell of Eunotia implicata on the underside of one leaf, plus a couple of cells of Tabellaria flocculosa on the other leaf. Both of these specimens were present when I made my initial observations of the Sphagnum leaves back in December.
One additional issue that the composition of this picture raised, is that the morphology of the upper surface of a Sphagnum leaf differs from that of the lower surface. This relates to the relative size of the chlorophyllose and hyaline cells (see the schematic diagram in Swimming with desmids ...). There were moments, I promise you, when I interrupted my meditations on Sphagnum morphology to wonder if I should go and get a life.
My justification, if any is needed, is that peering down a microscope and compiling data about the species present without sometimes contemplating the organisms in their natural state seems like an equally bizarre way of spending one’s life. I write this post having peer-reviewed a paper for the journal Limnology and Oceanography this afternoon. The work was quite interesting but, at the same time, I felt that it was a very sterile, technical study that had abstracted the real world into long lists of diatom species and then processed these using complicated statistical methods, without giving much sense of a real understanding of the ecosystems that they were studying.