Have you ever attended a large party, where many conversations were happening all at once? It can be hard to focus on just conversation, even if you’re participating in it. Now, for a moment, consider that there are thousands of conversations going on around you at this very moment. Conversations of which you are unaware; conversations that are occuring not just under your nose, but under your very feet.
If you have a vegetable garden, or a compost pile, there are nemotodes living in your topsoil. Nematodes , commonly known as roundworms, are found throughout the world and “are one of the most abundant animals on the planet”. One species in particular, Caenorhabditis elegans , has been studied extensively, in part because it is used as a research organism in scientific laboratories. C. elegans lives in garden soil and compost piles and feeds on bacteria.
And these nematodes talk (gossip?) to each other, through a chemical cue they produce, a chemical known as ascarosides . Ascarosides are part of family of molecules know as glycolipids, a combination of carbohydrate, phosphorous and fat. Ascarosides  are produced by nematodes such as C. elegans and are used to “regulate a number of behaviors like attraction, repulsion, aggregation with other worms and entry into dauer or environmental diapause.”
The term, “dauer or environmental diapause”, may need some additional explanation. If the environmental conditions are harsh (too crowded, unsuitable temperature or not enough food), the nematode larva can enter into into a developmental stage know as “dauer ”, where it can remain alive and moving, but without feeding, for up to three months.
Ascarosides function a bit like unemployement statistics, telling a nematode whether to quit a job they hate or stay put until the job market improves. In terms of gossip, ascarosides tell nearby nemotodes who’s “hot” and who’s not. And in terms of social networking, ascarosides tell nematodes where the next “meet-up” will occur.
All of this makes me wonder what other conversations I’m missing.
Upcoming Outdoor Events:
Trail Maintenance Schedule. Come join our volunteers as they help maintain our trails. Contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org  for time and place.
Wednesday mornings, January 2, 9, 16, 23 & 30.
Saturday mornings, January 5 & 19.
Saturday, January 19, 1:00-3:00 PM. “Native American Use of Plants” at East/Rice Canyon. Meet in the parking lot at the gate. Click here  for a map and directions.
New trail maps available. If you’d like to explore a bit on your own, the City of Santa Clarita has a website with trail maps of our local open spaces: http://hikesantaclarita.com /.
There’s also a new website for bicycle riders. http://bikesantaclarita.com 
You can listen to stories like this every Friday morning at 7:10 a.m. on "The SCV Outdoor Report", brought to you by your hometown radio station KHTS (AM1220) and by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.
Or check out our Facebook page - L.A. Mountains .