Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Erepofursia: Hit and Miss

Another batch of nereophytes is done.  It's taken longer than I expected, and the plants are by no means all that complicated, either to draw or conceptualize.  One of my artistic weaknesses is fine, repetitive detail; I get bored drawing a fur texture or a convincing field of grass, and here I've been drawing fields, drifts, and thick knots of vegetation.  Some of the images I'm quite pleased with, and others I think could use a new attempt.  In any case, I hope that they are helping to properly convey the nature of the autotrophs of Nereus.

Conceptually, I also think that I've had successes and failures.  The bankvine was always intended to be a sort of 'proto-sog,' an example of how erepofursians got their start from more primitive forms.  However, hindsight reveals what seems like quite the biological leap between the featured Coleria and this first example of a new taxonomic group.  I guess viewers are going to have to fill in the blanks a little.

The sog itself, thanks to insights from the Speculative Evolution forums, became the more specific-- though still quintessential-- avanyu sog.  Again, I don't know if its most interesting features are highlighted, but this is something I think can be fixed.  One of the things I plan on doing at some point is some material (artwork/information) that helps to explain entire clades in general terms.  One such feature would be the mechanism of fluid transport this group pioneers and, in the case of sog, masters.

Musselmat was a simple, quiet success in my mind.  It's a clear transitional form that connects the 'leafless' Gymnovina order (represented by the bankvine and sog) to the forms of the Phyllogera order.  The anatomy of its offshooting pods should also give some indication of the ontogeny for future nereophyte structures.

And while I think it was conceptually satisfying, the feathermat might be a little unclear visually.  The vine portion of the plant is completely lost in the illustration, and while it's true that the downy protrusions do overshadow the feathermat's vine, I think it might be easy to miss how it fits into the clade.  Perhaps, when I'm putting together those clarifying general features I could include an evolutionary timeline where I could show the feathermat's anatomy in a little more detail.

The quetzal vine is another satisfying addition to the group.  It's different-- very different, and it's a good example of how I want to merge the aspects of science and creativity that I see in the most appealing approaches to xenobiology.  When I started thinking about nereid plants, I thought it would be interesting and different if I didn't include any flower analogues.  But when I reached this genus I realized that, despite my intentions, the natural process of development in this project brought about a sort of flower.  I've embraced it, mostly because they're natural, unique, and decidedly non-terrestrial.  Can you?

The sea slough turned out well also, and it helps show how nereophytes aren't simply Earth plants in alien costumes.  The niche of this organism is much like that of seaweed, and while it is a comparatively simple organism, it's more complex than the Earth analogue.  I think that sea slough is a good example of how xenobiology projects like this can echo and even give a nod to terrestrial inspiration, but still be biologically and ecologically unique.

Finally, I've just finished the waterfleece.  It too is strongly influenced by Earth algae (kelp, to be precise), but I have a hard time thinking it achieved the same level of success as the sea slough.  Its picture borders on impressionistic, and it doesn't really stand out as biologically unique in any interesting ways, but it forms a strong ecological base, both in terms of landscape for local swimmers and as a food source.  It began as a sort of kelp-like backdrop for goldwave and it never really changed.  Can't win 'em all, I guess...


  1. I find the designs filling different niches to be creative, and that may raise questions on how their role is fulfilled: Where are the analogue flower-parts in sea-slough for instance, and how do they function in a water environment?
    Why does the sea-slough need to dry-out to release the seeds, Is that a way to keep seeds close to the shore? Is the high/low tidal cycle long enough to allow drying?

    To overcome the artistic weakness of fine repetitive details, you may instead use a "botanical drawing" showing details of a single plant (Roots, stems and so on) and then use a simpler design for the purpose of creating a scenery. The quetzal vine is a good example that shows flowers to some level of detail.
    Showing botanical drawings may also pinpoint evolutionary lineage. You may include plants in a cladogram which shows evolutionary milestones and co-evolution with the local animals.

  2. Thanks for your interest and insight, Christmas Snow. It helps me see where my project needs further explanation.

    The flower parts on the sea slough, for example, are the leaf-like projections off the central vine, just like the pennants on the waterfleece and the downy tufts on the feathermat. They're all developmentally the same thing. Beginning in the musselmat as a protective shell, it softened and fanned out in later organisms to serve as a photosynthetic surface. From there it diversified, as can be seen among the different nereophytes. In feathermats it also functions as an insulator, shrouding the vine in a downy covering; with the quetzal vine it has exploded into a bright display item, the purpose of which is still debated by experts; in the sea slough and waterfleece it has evolved an air pocket, which adds buoyancy and helps to carry the plant over longer distances.

    The time on shore is necessary for the sea slough's reproductive system because its seed chamber doesn't have the same release mechanisms that the waterfleece does to release its seeds; the chamber has to dry in the sun so it cracks open. Chalk it up to the vagaries of evolution and mutation. :)

    Before I started drawing the nereophytes, I considered a more formal botanical drawing, with an example of seed pods, root systems, etc. I also wanted to show how they influence the landscape and scenery, since there were questions early on about what nereid environments are like. Instead of doing two pictures for every entry, I instead tried to accomplish the goals of both in a single image. I guess it could be considered one of the measures of success or failure for each image: does it effectively show the details of the plant while giving the overall feel in its environment, as do the images of the sog and quetzal vine, or is it somewhat uneven, sacrificing botanical detail for the overall feel, like the too impressionistic images of the feathermat and waterfleece, or the somewhat scenically limited image of the musselmat? It's a balance I'm always trying to strike, but I may need to abandon one for the other. As you say, such details as evolutionary lineage may be clarified if I did so.

  3. Well, I guess it goes to show that being influenced by the plants of Earth can be a bit challenging to "mutate" for needs to be suited.