This entry was co-written by amarettoball for the Curses and Magic themed NT issue #837. We hope you enjoy it! To see the painting Amarettoball made for this article, check out the article through the NT release.
Hello Neopia, and welcome to another exclusive interview in the "Science with the with Seekers" series, sponsored by our parent newspaper, The Obeslisk Times. My name is Sally Mance, and I will be bringing you up close and personal with one of Neopia's distinguished Academic heroes: Dr. Pamela Eriopsis, Magical Ecology Professor at Brightvale University. A full-time professor of the college for over thirty years, she has authored over fifty papers on the subject, and is well regarded in both the scientific and Seeker communities. Many would call her the founder of Magical Ecology, and one of the world's best glimpses into the fascinating intersection between the two fields of study.
And here she is now, a tall Christmas Vandagyre with white, pony-tailed hair, thick sunglasses, khakis, and a black collared shirt with flower filigree. As per the usual, a Weewoo mote is sitting on her shoulder and cooing softly. The office where she stands is covered with paintings of motes as well as draconic petpets and an impressionist piece called "aether."
Sally: It's an honor, Dr. Eriopsis. We shake paws. Shall we take to our seats?
Dr. E: Let's do it. Such a pleasure to meet you, Sally. I can't wait to share some exciting news with the readers at home.
Sally: Then let's get right to the preliminary questions and move from there.
Dr. E: Sounds like a plan!
Sally: Please describe for me what Magical Ecology means.
Dr. E: Certainly. It is the study of how magical creatures interact with each other as well as their environment.
At this moment, the Weewoo mote hops off her shoulder and bounces onto my legs. Once it reaches me, it makes a shrill chirp, and nestles into my lap.
Dr. E: Looks like Sir Altricial found a new friend.
Sally: It appears so! And speaking of your fine elemental friend here, what originally got you into this field? What was your spark moment, so to speak?
Dr. E: She pauses for a moment, putting her hand to her chin. Hmm… I wouldn't say it was a spark moment so much as a childhood in the woods that impressed on me a love for wild creatures. I was a lucky girl to grow up in the foothills of Brightvale where crystal clear streams flowed through lush old-growth forests. The conditions there were just perfect for wild motes. I often found myself playing with them before school. Ahh… Just talking about it brings back fond memories.
Sally: Oh? And why's that?
Dr. E: Water motes would bloop about me when I swam in the streams, begging to be tickled. Mud motes would slink about the ground looking for pets. Electrical motes would zip about like fireflies in the evening… it was all so wonderful.
Sally: It certainly sounds it. So why do you think this area was so great for motes?
Dr. E: Habitat diversity helps, as does the advanced age of the forest. You see, magic tends to pool. Think of it like a series of ponds connected by streams and waterfalls. In areas where this "water" collects, there will be a higher concentration of magic and mythical creatures such as motes and draconids. And the quality of the habitat has a lot to do about what kinds of creatures are able to live and thrive there. Magical charges often dwell in the nearby soil, and a healthy habitat is able to store more than an unhealthy habitat. Preserved magic dissipates in the ground, creating an interconnected web of magical energy throughout the environment.
Sally: Fascinating. When you say an unhealthy habitat, what do you mean?
Dr. E: One that has been altered significantly by Neopians. Think paved streets, large houses, channelized streams, clear cut forests… that kind of thing. It's not to say that cities won't hold their own kind of magic, but it tends to attract far less diversity than something more natural and pristine.
From underneath the chair, a zen mote swirls. It gurgles from the ground as it begins to hover overhead. After a few seconds, it lands on Dr. Eriopsis like a crown.
Dr. E: Whoops! Hey there, little one. Yeah, sometimes this zen mote will hang out under my desk. I think it likes the mood in my office or something. Which brings me to another point about motes: they latch onto energy. Not in a bad way or anything, but they are attuned to the innate magical balances within our bodies. Those will a higher affinity for magic will act as a magnet to them.
Sally: You must be quite the magic user then, huh?
Dr. E: Funny you should mention that. The Seekers wanted so badly for me to join them as some high ranking elemental mage during the Obelisk War, but I was too busy with my research. Besides, I've never been much for fighting.
Sally: But from the sounds of it, it sure seems like you could—
Dr. E: Next question, please.
The zen mote jolts up from the Vandagyre's head as if charged by an electric shock. Dr. E's feathers are standing up on end. She gives the mote a quick pat, but it zooms beneath a chair and hums there. She whispers some hushed words of apology to the creature.
Sally: Riiiight, right. My apologies, Doctor. So, does magic flow through the bodies of these creatures like blood flows through my veins? Or is it something more complex than that?
Dr. E: She takes a deep breath as her feathers lower. It's more so the latter. Magic can and does circulate through the body of a creature attuned to its power. Exposing oneself to low levels of magical energy can lead to long-term changes in body chemistry and in moderation, this is completely fine. Beneficial, in fact. Often, magical energies are the purest forms of elemental power, and work well with each other to make internal processes more efficient. It's when there are high levels of one element or another that stress begins to be an issue.
Sally: Balance in all things, right?
Dr. E: Indeed. But in places where there are unbalanced magical energies—and mind you, this is coming from a Neopiocentric view here—species of Petpets and elemental creatures have learned to adapt and thrive. Take for example the Cirrus, everyone's favorite cloud petpet. In the wild, they tend to live high above the ground in areas that pool both electrical and water energies. These places shun all but the slightest bit of earth, fire, and air magic. Unlike most other petets, Cirrus can deal with such conditions because of their physiology. This petpet uses the abundant water in the atmosphere and stray electrical energies to sustain their physiological processes.
Sally: What you're saying is that species adapt to their environments and take advantage of the ones around them?
Dr. E: Exactly!
Sally: So very warm and humid areas attract species that feed on water and fire energies?
Dr. E: For the most part, yes. As conditions become more extreme, fewer, more specialized elemental creatures exploit these environments. This gives them a competitive advantage in an otherwise hostile place. Lava motes are a great example of this.
Sally: Fascinating. And how do these magical sprites survive? What does a population of motes look like?
Dr. E: When a mote is overflowing with magical energy, they displace it by means of budding. "Mini motes" form and stay with their "parent" mote for up to a year, depending on the stochasticity and harshness of the climate. Some motes are surprisingly caring of their buds and will help them find large pockets of energy to draw from until they're self-sufficient. For others… it's quite the opposite. After the mini mote breaks away, their parent mote leaves them be, forcing them to fend for themselves. Motes that live in a more typical forest environment tend to break off relatively quickly and bud more frequently. We believe that is due to a lower saturation threshold than that of the resilient motes. Perhaps not surprisingly, these are among the least proactive nurturers in the mote world.
Sally: Some motes produce many buds and others create a few, I see. If there are only a few motes, I could expect a higher level of care. Does that sound about right?
Dr. E: Sure does!
From my lap there comes a small chirping sound. I turn over the resting Weewoo mote to find a mini mote of much the same shape.
Sally: Aww, your Weewoo has a little friend!
Dr. E: Eyup! And the more available habitats, the more motes can exist there. Sometimes, motes will even form partnerships called mutualistic bonds, and help each other grow. I've used this data I've to argue for habitat conservation, restoration, or even creation when all else fails. Of course, it's finding the funding for these projects that's the hard part, data or not.
Sally: I can believe it. But focusing on the positive, how can your research help protect at-risk species?
Dr E.: If we know where groups are likely to inhabit, we can push to protect these areas. Often, we can use the most at-risk species as a flagship of habitat protection. For example, if we found a small colony of Silver Mote, we could protect a large swath of habitat for the sake of that sensitive species. In this way, all species sheltered under this umbrella will be positively impacted.
Sally: So you've protected a lot of land through single species conservation?
Dr. E: Acres and acres over the years. It's one of my proudest accomplishments.
Sally: What would you say your most successful project?
Dr E.: I think that would be the preservation of the Brightvalian old-growth forest behind the Hagan dorm building. My students could tell you—it's a treasure drove of mystical diversity. Not just motes, either. Plenty of dragon and faerie petpets are attracted to the energies that swirl in the ancient grove. Although we're still in the early stages, it's our understanding that motes can create conditions that are better suited for a variety of different creatures to thrive. In a sense, they take raw elemental energy and convert it into a form that can be used throughout the entire ecosystem.
Sally: But wait, the university almost destroyed such a place? Why would they do that?
Dr. E: Her feathers bristle. Oh, to put in a state-of-the-art space training center there instead. It would have made BVU the only university this side of the planet to offer such a thing. Let's just say I wasn't alone in my opposition. A great many students and faculty fought the short-sidedness of the university's staff. She coughs. I digress. Let's talk about magical creatures again, shall we?
Sally: Uh, yes. Let's. Do species ever compete for space or are they all pretty friendly towards one another?
Dr. E: As long as resources are finite, be it a kind of molecule that they transfix, or habitat space or good cover, there will always be competition. It's like everything else in life. There are some Neopians you really enjoy the company of and others you would push away with an 80-foot poll. If the keep-at-distance Neopians come close, you're going to want to push them out of your living area. After all, only one individual can remain in a niche at a time. Even more so if they eat the exact same thing you do.
Sally: Intriguing! But how about those mutualist species?
Dr. E: Ee motes, with their stochastic nature, actively seek motes that are more harmonious. Zen motes, like the one you saw earlier, tend to be a calming force for surrounding creatures. Likewise, Ee motes are energetic enough to encourage efficient foraging from the usually lackadaisical zen motes. Brought together, both species are more likely to produce buds and succeed.
Sally: Fascinating. I think that's like me and my roommate, Haibara. We're total opposites as well. She's the orderly, calm, five-cups-of-coffee-to-function Neopian and I'm the naturally bubbly, energetic one who is both social and chatty. Together, we're a force to be reckoned with. Science and journalism, woo!
Dr. E: She laughs. Sure sounds it. I know Haibara well, she speaks of you often.
Sally: Really? How cool!
Dr. E: And it's funny that you should mention mutualism in magical creatures. My good friend and colleague, Dr. Zo Ez, just discovered a new type of mote in the deep trenches of the Maraquan Sea. She even painted a depiction of the mote based on their most recent camera footage. I just was given it today and would be honored to share it with your readership, if that's okay.
Sally: Sure! Would Dr. Ez be okay with that?
Dr. E: Let's ask her ourselves! She's two doors down from me. But first… She reaches underneath her desk and removes a painting that is still in bubble wrap. Okay, I'm all set.
Sally: Then let's do it!
We saunter off through the hallway and enter a room that looks like an undersea wonderland. Posters detailing chemical equilibrium in aqueous environments stand over her desk. There are two large tanks filled with Baby Blu, both of which are filled with petpets eying us curiously. Motes twirl about us in the room, humming at different frequencies. A couple of bioluminescent motes stare at us from within the tanks.
Dr. Ez, a black-haired Acara with blue fur, is busily typing a manuscript when we arrive. She is wearing shorts, flip-flops, and a blue "Life is the Bubbles" t-shirt. Her curly hair is cascading down the back of the chair as she sits slouched with her legs outstretched on a stool.
Only when Dr. E taps her shoulder does she look up.
Dr. Zo Ez: Oh! Hey there, Pam. Good to see you. Brought a friend of yours?
Dr. Pamela E: Sure did!
In Dr. E's excitement to show us the room, the bubble-wrapped painting in her paws knocks over a cup of coffee. It falls to the carpeted ground with a bounce, miraculously unscathed.
Dr. Zo Ez: you just broke regulation 502, Pam. You need to pay a fine of five million NP.
The Vandagyre gasps, as do I.
Dr. Zo Ez: ... Just kidding, regulations only go up to 501 right now. Besides, Lulu will be back with my next cup soon.
At that moment, a Lutra bounces past us, a full cup of coffee in its mouth. Amazingly, not a drop is spilled on the way. When the petpet hands over the cup, Dr Ez pats It on the head and hands it a biscuit. Eating the treat in one bite, the petpet squeaks, bounces up and down, and scurries to a petpet bed near Dr. Ez's desk.
Dr. E: Fourth cup today?
Dr. Zo Ez: Seventh. A gal's gotta keep going, especially with this one singing all the time.
As if on cue, the Lutra begins to sing "Grandma got Runover by a Raindorf." Or at least, it sang as well as a Lutra can. The surrounding motes hum merrily, glowing bright greens and reds.
Dr. E: Happy Day of Celebrating?
Dr. Zo Ez: In August.
Sally: I never knew that motes could be so… musical. Or Lutras for that matter.
Dr. Zo Ez: They sure can, especially when your officemate keeps leaving new motes in the room when you're doing field work. Doubly so when they resonate together… for four days straight.
Dr. E: Haha, whoops. And here I thought you liked my weekly deliveries.
Dr. Zo Ez: Not when you're using my lab as storage space every Wednesday afternoon. I'm going to have to fine you.
Dr. E: Four million? Or was it five million NP.
Dr. Zo Ez: Let's bump it up to six for good measure. … But seriously, though, my lab is overrun with motes. Please take some home.
Dr. E: She laughs nervously. Don't you worry, it'll happen soon.
Dr. Zo Ez: Let's hope so. Either that or my Lutra learns more songs.
Three motes hover overhead. Their humming creates a sort of mechanical chord that encourages her coffee Lutra to start singing again.
Sally: That would explain the mote musical. But anyway, Dr. Ez, I was hoping I could ask you a few questions.
Dr. E: She's curious about this. She removes the bubble wrap to reveal a painting.
Motes with a white base, red top, and a smilie face stare back at us. Unlike any of the others that I saw before, this mote is made up of multiple individuals. They all appear to be joined together.
Dr. Zo Ez: The Seafloor Totally Tubular Motes? Sure, I can talk about them. These motes are really chill because they live at the bottom of the Maraquan Sea, so low metabolisms all around. They feed off positive sea energy and glow brighter when the ocean conditions are better.
Sally: And by better, you mean…?
Dr. Zo Ez: Cleaner, or in some cases, more nutrient rich. The deeper you go in the Maraquan Sea, the more dependent life becomes on "marine snow" or decaying matter. This snow brings with it a wealth of nutritious eats, a must when there's no sunlight down that far.
Sally: I see that they all live in close proximity. Is that normal for this species?
Dr. Zo Ez: Oh, yeah. This species pretty much stays where it buds, and these guys are definitely buds for life. And who wouldn't want to stick around the Totally Tubular Motes? They exude positive energy. Other seafloor creatures are drawn to them and can also feel the good vibes.
Sally: So, I take it this species is mutualistic?
Dr. Zo Ez: Obligate mutualist, yes. The motes depend on sulfur-fixing bacteria to provide food and light. In return, the motes offer a safe place to stay. One must have the other or they cannot persist. This is what we've found, and it fascinates us with the species.
Sally: And do you think new discoveries are on the horizon?
Dr. Zo Ez: Of course! There's always more on the horizon. We'll be doing another exploratory mission soon with the Bubble Scope.
Sally: Bubble scope?
Dr. Ez: Think of it like a slow-moving, high-tech video recorder. Because it's usually so dark down there, all kinds of things have been attracted to the light. Our Tubular Mote friends are especially intrigued.
Sally: Wow, I'd love to see your work when it's done. And I'll happily write about your mind-blowing finds.
Dr. Ez: Sure! I bet Pam here will be the first to let you know.
Sally: I excitedly await new discoveries in the world of magical ecology! Unfortunately, I must cut our interview short. I'm off to the lab of yet another famous Seeker and have a 2pmNST appointment with them… but it has been a true pleasure, Dr. Eriopsis. They shake hands. And thank you so much for letting us drop in like this, Dr. Ez.
Dr. E: Oh, the pleasure is all mine!
Dr. Ez: And thank you so much for the invite!
Who knows what exciting things these professors will uncover in the future. Be on the lookout for our next installment of "Science with the Seekers." Until then, adieu, Neopian Times fans!