Their time to thrive
March 5, 2012 3:14 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for examples of plants, animals or ecosystems that suddenly thrive under relatively rare and occasional conditions. One example is the marine ecosystem of microorganisms, shrimp, tiny fish, etc that thrive on the corpses of dead whales. Another is the Australian eucalypts which regenerate after bushfires. Another example is pantry moths, which can suddenly explode in population when grain is improperly stored. Can you think of any other examples?
posted by dontjumplarry to Science & Nature (14 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Necrotizing fasciitis is caused by an explosion in the population of some types of common bacteria in the body. Fortunately rare.

Also under certain, but not necessarily rare circumstances, Myxobacteria - slime bacteria - group together to achieve mobility.
posted by three blind mice at 4:02 AM on March 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Tanymastix lacunae is a very ancient species of shrimp. A lake that comes and goes depending on the groundwater level in one small corner of Germany is one of the few places in Europe they can be found - and even then it's only for a few weeks every few years. (The original article, in German, is here)
posted by cmonkey at 4:05 AM on March 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Here in the Pacific Northwest, there are a lot of kinds of plants which have evolved to take advantage of forest fire zones. One example is Fireweed.

After Mount St. Helens destroyed a large section of Washington State back in 1980, scientists studying the area were surprised at how fast life got reestablished. Turns out that the forest-fire specialist species took to the volcano-devastation areas just as readily.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:08 AM on March 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

In Pakistan post flooding in 2010, the trees were shrouded in webs due to multiple spider species and possibly other insects like moths. I'm not sure that this was population explosion or the flooding driving the existing ones up into the trees where they just adapted though.
posted by tangaroo at 4:26 AM on March 5, 2012

The Jack Pine cones only open (and therefore release the seeds) after being exposed to intense heat.
posted by HarrysDad at 5:12 AM on March 5, 2012

The South African fynbos is one of the world's six floral kingdoms and is reliant on fire for regular rejuvenation, as it were.
posted by miorita at 5:37 AM on March 5, 2012

Distillery fungus!
posted by nicebookrack at 5:45 AM on March 5, 2012

After the forest fires in BC a few years back, my mom and her boyfriend made a killing picking morel mushrooms that regrew in the fire zones. She had never even tasted morels before then, since they are usually way expensive. These ones were sold to some company that shipped them to Japan, according to my mom.
posted by arcticwoman at 6:17 AM on March 5, 2012

Scaphiopodidae (spadefoot toads) in the Sonoran desert spend pretty much all year underground inside a sort of mucosal cyst which holds in their moisture. When the rains come, they bust out to the surface, mate, lay eggs in the ephemeral ponds that persist for just a few days, and then burrow down under the ground to wait once more. There are other toads that have the same or similar strategy in other parts of the world, as well.
posted by Scientist at 6:40 AM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Desert pothole organisms




Dark Life: Martian Nanobacteria, Rock-Eating Cave Bugs, and Other Extreme Organisms of Inner Earth and Outer Space
by Michael Ray Taylor
=this book talks about the gamut of extremophiles from caves, to space, to hydrothermal sea vents

The Secret Knowledge of Water: Discovering the Essence of the American Desert
by Craig Childs

=this book has some stuff in there about desert pothole organisms and includes some thoughts on other similar encysting /sporulating species of plants and insects
posted by lakersfan1222 at 7:31 AM on March 5, 2012

I know that you mentioned whale falls in your question, but it would be good to recognize and appreciate bone-eating snot flowers, too.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:37 AM on March 5, 2012

the trees were shrouded in webs due to multiple spider species

That was a population explosion, due to a sudden increase in the number of available prey.

posted by dhruva at 10:43 AM on March 5, 2012

"the trees were shrouded in webs due to multiple spider species"
"That was a population explosion, due to a sudden increase in the number of available prey."

Which is itself the underlying reason - a sudden increase in available resources - for all 3 of the OP's examples.

Ecological succession might also pique the OP's interest (but, on the basis of a quick skim, I'd avoid the Wikipedia article).
posted by Pinback at 12:30 PM on March 5, 2012

Algal bloom
posted by Rhaomi at 9:46 PM on March 5, 2012

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