Wednesday, November 24, 2010

New digs for this blog

Just like our understanding of evolution has continued to explode over the past few years, and the dialog around evolution has changed in some respects in the Central Valley, this blog too has continued to... well, evolve over the past several years. I am gratified to find that this space has attracted a fair number or visitors over the course of its existence. What began as an experiment in teaching evolution, a sandbox even for students, has evolved and matured into a forum for the Consortium for Evolutionary Studies on our campus, and I continue efforts to involve more of my colleagues involved in communicating via this medium. A part of that process, we have to deal with some of the constraints of Blogger, especially in ease of use for busy scientists who don't have a lot of time to learn the nuances of blogging platforms. Therefore we have moved over to Posterous as a much easier platform - what could be easier than email for most anybody, right? - and it is time to retire this blogspot site. Time to moult, as it were, and take on a new skin! And here it is:

Please update your bookmarks/rss feeds to point to the new blog at our own domain:

Visit us there and leave feedback if you have thoughts about what works or doesn't in the new skin of this blog. I will see you all there!


Sunday, August 29, 2010

What would YOU tell the wealthy nations to do to halt biodiversity loss?

All their talk and rhetoric hasn't really worked, say Guillaume Chapron and George Monbiot (an I agree completely):
It's on course to make the farcical climate talks in Copenhagen look like a roaring success. The big international meeting in October which is meant to protect the world's biodiversity is destined to be an even greater failure than last year's attempt to protect the world's atmosphere. Already the UN has conceded that the targets for safeguarding wild species and wild places in 2010 have been missed: comprehensively and tragically.

In 2002, 188 countries launched a global initiative, usually referred to as the 2010 biodiversity target, to achieve by this year a significant reduction in the current rate of biodiversity loss. The plan was widely reported as the beginning of the end of the biodiversity crisis. But in May this year, the Convention on Biological Diversity admitted that it had failed. It appears to have had no appreciable effect on the rate of loss of animals, plants and wild places.

In a few weeks, the same countries will meet in Nagoya, Japan and make a similarly meaningless set of promises. Rather than taking immediate action to address their failures, they will concentrate on producing a revised target for 2020 and a "vision" for 2050, as well as creating further delays by expressing the need for better biodiversity indicators. In many cases there's little need for more research. It's not biodiversity indicators that are in short supply; but any kind of indicator that the member states are willing to act.

A striking example was provided last month by French secretary of state for ecology, Chantal Jouanno. She announced that there would be no further major efforts to restore the population of Pyrenean brown bears, of which fewer than 20 remain. Extensive scientific research shows that this population is not viable. European agreements oblige France to sustain the population. Yet the government knows that the political costs of reintroducing more bears outweigh the costs of inaction. Immediate special interests triumph over the world's natural wonders, even in nations which have the money and the means to protect them.

So, with help from the Guardian, they are collecting suggestions from all of us, to share with the wealthy G20 nations when they meet to discuss biodiversity in October. You still have time, until the end of August, to submit your suggestion. Note, however, that they're not looking for general, vague platitudes about "more education" or "empowerment" or "law enforcement" and the like - the G20 politicians are full of those already! What're being sought, instead, are specific concrete solutions that are backed up by science, are realistically achievable in a reasonable timeframe, and are opposed by political/financial special interests. So what political cost should the governments of wealthy nations be forced to pay (to at least put their money where their mouths are, so to speak) to conserve biodiversity?

I'm working on my own suggestion and will share it here soon.


Sunday, July 11, 2010

A House Wren's unquiet domesticity

We found a nest hole in the side of the cabin we're staying in this weekend at the YMCA Snow Mountain camp in the Rockies of Colorado. The hole turned out to be occupied, unsurprisingly, by House Wrens. I got this series of images in the afternoon - and the birds were not amused! I hope I didn't disturb their domestic life too much in trying to capture these portraits.

Posted via email from a leaf warbler's gleanings


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Evolving Thoughts on Homology

Accompanying the above intriguing illustration, John Wilkins has written a really good essay on the concept of homology, which we are taught (and go on to teach) as a really basic concept in evolution, but has surprising ambiguities and potential circularities (not unlike a few other evolutionary terms I can think of). John very helpfully traces some of the history of the term, and how its application has evolved as we've become better at building and testing phylogenies as hypotheses of evolutionary relationships. I have to agree with him when he says:
The notion of homology is complex, and as we recently saw when I asked about the use in mathematics, it has a slew of other meanings, but the one that seems to me to be consistent across all uses is this: a homology is a mapping or “agreement” of parts of organisms with other parts of organisms. A mapping relation is not a similarity, and it is not the explanation of the relation (such as evolutionary common ancestors, which are proposed to explain the homology). It is an identity relation: this is the same as that. The identity may be an identity of place, of sequence, of developmental process, or just of a shared name, but what it is not is similarity or common ancestry. Similarity may be how we identify homology (and what kinds of similarity depends on what we use), and common ancestry may be how we explain homology, but in both cases homology is the relation itself.
You know you'll be reading the rest of that essay for sure if you are in my class the next time I teach Evolution!


Sunday, June 13, 2010

Just how big are your cells? - an interactive infographic

Hat-tip: @younglandis who tweeted yesterday about this fun interactive illustration.

...and note that Posterous' game attempt at capturing the infographic didn't quite catch all of the interactive elements (try the slider under the picture), so you really should click on the image to visit the original page if you want to see and play with this, and read more about it!

Posted via web from a leaf warbler's gleanings


How I ended up here...


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Biology Overload in the latest Scientia Pro Publica

I know I'm not always diligent about noting blog carnivals here, even when my postings are part of a carnival! Can't promise I'll be consistent about that in the future either. But if you are looking for some good science writing to read this summer, you could do worse than reading the weekly roundup in the Scientia Pro Publica carnival, which I have hosted in the past, and try to contribute to when I can. You'll find this week's edition, which came out on June 7, at The Dichotomous Trekkie 2.0, with an overload of biological posts! What fun! And it even includes my recent rant about evolution not being a ladder. So what are you waiting for? Go visit the carnival now!


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Repeat after me: Evolution is NOT A LADDER and does not lead to any pinnacles!!!!

ResearchBlogging.orgI am more than a little irritated.

This is not how I normally feel after listening to one of my favorite podcastlets "Our Ocean World" broadcast on the local public radio station most mornings.

As a landlubber biologist, I love learning about the fascinating and often bizarre creatures in the ocean, and therefore really enjoy this brief dose of news from the biggest biome on earth. Especially because it typically comes on when I'm dropping my daughter off at school in the mornings, giving us something wonderful to share.

But today's segment (which came on just after I dropped the kiddo off - sorry I was unusually early!) on Tuna, titled Big Fish, Big Sea, really pushed some sensitive buttons. It could be that I had just finished grading finals for my Evolution class, and was particularly touchy about evolutionary misinterpretations. But no, this particular gaffe came from a Stanford Professor of Marine Sciences, no less, and is therefore even less acceptable for being broadcast on the radio!! 

Professor Barbara Block, the tuna expert featured in today's podcast, described these no doubt remarkable fish as being at the top of a bleeping "evolutionary ladder"!! She also said Tuna were "more evolved" than other fish! And that they were on a "pinnacle of evolution"!!!#$*!!!  

More than once! (I checked. I hadn't misheard).

And here I thought we had buried that damned metaphor of evolution being a ladder for good! Heck, I try to bury it ritually for my students every semester in all of my classes, starting with Intro Bio. Yet it keeps rising, like a zombie, even from the mouths of accomplished biologists!! What's it going to take to purge this metaphor entirely from our vocabulary, folks?!

And while on the subject, let's also be clear that no species is "more evolved" than any other. How could they be? If you accept the evidence that we all come from one common ancestor, that the tree of life has one common origin, then every living species has been subjected to the vicissitudes of life on this planet for the same overall length of time, no?! We may have taken different, often surprising and bizarre, twisting branching paths on this journey, but we've all (except those branches that went extinct along the way) traveled the same length of time, have we not? How can any one of us, bacterium to tuna, virus to human to dolphins who say thanks for all the fish, then claim to be "more evolved" than any other species?

Granted there are local peaks and valleys in the fitness landscape for any species, and natural selection may be constantly trying to push us onto the nearest one - but there are no lofty "pinnacles" that we can be proud of conquering! If anything, given the dynamic nature of our world and the new curveballs nature keeps throwing at us, being stuck on any tall pinnacle could lead to the worst sort of evolutionary dead-end. We're probably far better off wandering around local peaks and remaining capable of even drifting across the fitness landscape. Definitely don't want to be stuck on any too tall peak, thank you very much! In fact, as my friend Andrew Jones just reminded meall species evolve to extinction!

Although, now that I think about it, perhaps most other species on this planet, our fellow travelers in the evolutionary journey, are hoping that we humans have reached exactly such a pinnacle, and are, even more hopefully, about to fall off our lofty perch for good. Perhaps from these new ecofriendly smokes.

Meanwhile, repeat after me (especially if you are a biologist):

Evolution, in fact, is best described as a TREE:

And remember, the only thing we are all definitely evolving towards is EXTINCTION!

Thank you!!

Andrew R. Jones (2009). The next mass extinction: Human evolution or human eradication? Journal of Cosmology, 2, 316-333


Sunday, May 30, 2010

Baba Brinkman raps up Geek Week on the Rachel Maddow show!

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

It is so cool to see Baba Brinkman hit the mainstream media now, after wowing so many of us in smaller shows around the world. We were lucky to get him on our campus early in the Darwin Bicentennial year, when he was performing at the Fresno Rogue Festival. Great to see Rachel Maddow putting him on to rap up her first Geek Week!

What next? The Colbert Report, dare one hope? I'd love to see that rap duel, wouldn't you?

Posted via web from a leaf warbler's gleanings


Friday, May 28, 2010

The news is often full of poop, but how often do you see a real poop expert on the news?

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Another reason to love Rachel Maddow - her priceless moments of geek!

Posted via web from a leaf warbler's gleanings


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A 9-year old's lovely doodle of Rainforest Habitat on Google's homepage

Have you seen this wonderful work of art on Google's homepage today? Dare I hope this lovely treatment of the famous Google logo gets at least as much attention as their recent one on Pac-man's 30th anniversary? Perhaps not, despite being far cooler. For the rainforest habitat has been around a lot longer than Pac-man - but we've been gobbling it up almost as fast as he does those pac-dots! It is good to see, however, that at least some 9-year-olds are thinking about the rainforest more than about video games - and gratifying that this design won the top national prize in the 2010 Doodle 4 Google contest! In the International Year of Biodiversity no less.

Posted via web from a leaf warbler's gleanings


Alaotra Grebe: another one (that we know of) bit the dust...

London, England (CNN) -- The Alaotra Grebe, a small diving bird native to Madagascar has been officially classified extinct, according to a leading bird conservation organization.

BirdLife International reported that the species, once found on Lake Alaotra, the largest lake in Madagascar, declined rapidly due to carnivorous fish being introduced to the lake and the use of nylon gill nets by local fishermen.

"No hope now remains for this species. It is another example of how human actions can have unforeseen consequences," Dr Leon Bennun, BirdLife International's director of science, policy and information said in a statement.

And so the bad news continues as we march on, oblivious, right through this Holocene mass extinction, uncaring, unaware of, or unwilling to admit our own culpability. Read the rest of the CNN story and Birdlife's report for more bad news about species on the brink. That we know of.


Friday, May 21, 2010

Twist it, shake it, shake it, shake it, shake it, baby!

ResearchBlogging.orgYou are brightly colored - enough to be considered charismatic even by humans who like to keep you as a pet! You can make fairly loud calls. So how do you communicate with each other? Especially in the dark of night when you are most active? When bats are around listening for sounds to pick up juicy prey like you? Well, so much for the investment in all those bright colors (which may deter visual predators, but not in the dark!) and sounds (which the ladies may like, and we know they like to see you flirt with danger too) - the cost may be even steeper than you think! So what else is there for a little frog do to? Especially if another frog may sneak on to your favorite branch to put the moves on the princesses? There's got to be a better way to talk to each other for routine communication, no?

Well, if you've still got it, you gotta shake it, shake it, shake it, shake it, baby:

Pretty amazing that a common behavior in a species so well known had never been properly described or understood! Until someone thought to turn those darn lights off and let the frogs do their little dance in the dark. Check out the paper that goes with this video from Science Friday. Cool work!


Caldwell, M., Johnston, G., McDaniel, J., & Warkentin, K. (2010). Vibrational Signaling in the Agonistic Interactions of Red-Eyed Treefrogs Current Biology DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2010.03.069

Robertson, J., & Zamudio, K. (2009). Genetic Diversification, Vicariance, and Selection in a Polytypic Frog Journal of Heredity, 100 (6), 715-731 DOI: 10.1093/jhered/esp041


Synthetic life is here? Deal with it.


That was the big story of the week in biology: the creation, in the lab, of a synthetic organism - a radically transgenic (transgenomic?) bacterium that had all its DNA replaced by a chromosome sequenced on a computer! So - not entirely synthetic, but enough where it counts, in its DNA. With a website url embedded within its code, no less! Heck, for all I know, the code for the above video might be embedded in there too! Or, at least, Dr. Venter's own face.

I know this has caused much stir in the media and for a number of people who were apparently not expecting anything like this to happen so soon (and Venter's hubris sure helps fan the flames as you can see in the comments thread responding to the TED video). Well, I think that most people familiar with modern molecular biology knew this was coming. Too soon? I don't know. Hardly surprising though, especially given Venter's record and stated ambitions in this area. I don't know enough about the molecular biology involved to say whether this is as big a breakthrough as is being suggested, but the feat sure seems pretty impressive.

As for what it means - I'll let the moralists on various sides (from the POTUS on down to your corner church and/or eco-anarchist co-op) sort that one out! We know (and have known for some time) that the technology is here, more or less, and now we have this semi-synthetic creature in our midst. Life just gets more exciting, doesn't it?

Venter was also interviewed on Science Friday earlier today, about this work. They don't have the audio up on the archive page for the interview yet, but I suspect they will soon enough, so keep an ear there if you want to hear more about this. And, for the gory details, you probably want to read the actual Science paper as well, right?


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The sloth and the hummingbird: antidotes to human malfeasance in the biosphere! (warning: serious cute overload!)

On days (weeks, really) like these, when the media abounds with bad news about the environment, including fresh videos of the oil continuing to gush out 'neath the ocean in the Gulf of Mexico, which itself may be heading for hypoxia, one desperately needs reminders that we human beings are not only about one constant fuckup after another. That we are, no doubt, more often that not. Fuckups, I mean. But we are also capable of some good, of relating with the environment and wildlife in tender, nurturing ways, of beginning to heal the injuries we have inflicted upon this world and ourselves.

So in that spirit of reconciliation ecology, of wanting to draw upon our innate biophilia and altruism, allow me to share with you a couple of videos of wildlife being rescued. Rest assured that neither video is anywhere near as heavy-handed in conveying the message as I just was. And if it helps - the wildlife being rescued are very very cute ... you've been warned!

First - whatever jackanapes came up with the idea that Sloth was a sin (or whatever jackanapes named these beautiful creatures after a sin) had clearly never experienced anything like this:

I filmed this at the Aviaros del Caribe sloth sanctuary in Costa Rica - the world's only sloth orphanage. Baby 2 and 3 toed sloths, whose mother's have either been run over or zapped by power lines are brought to the sanctuary and looked after by Judy Arroyo. For more sloth photos and vids visit my blog or follow me on twitter @amphib_avenger. For more on the sanctuary go to Music: "Scrapping and Yelling" by Mark Mothersbaugh from "The Royal Tenenbaum's" movie soundtrack.

At the other end of the activity scale, check out this amazing tale of an injured baby Hummingbird rescued by humans - in astonishingly close and active collaboration with the wild mama hummingbird!! Wow!!

[Tip o' the hat to Arvind and Audubon California, both via Facebook]

Posted via web from a leaf warbler's gleanings


Celebrate the end of finals week with Bad Astronomy at the Downing Planetarium this friday!

Join us as we explore the sky at the Downing Planetarium!.

This month, Movie Night at the Central Valley Alliance of Atheists and Skeptics will be held at the Downing Planetarium.

We will be seeing two shows. 

First is Phil Plait’s “Bad Astronomy”, a show that explores and debunks astronomical myths like the moon landing “hoax”, and alien visitors to Earth in UFOs.  Dr. Plait will also explain several astronomical errors found in movies. 

“Bad Astronomy” is based upon the book “Bad Astronomy” also by Phil Plait.  This is an excellent book for any rational thinker to read and understand why some fringe claims about astronomy just don’t make sense.

The second show is called “The Planets”.  This is a tour of the planets of the Solar System, based on the best data astronomers have currently gathered on our neighbors.  Find out how our solar system was formed, learn about hurricanes on other planets.  Also, we will learn about the extrasolar planets, planets that are orbiting other stars.

We will be attending the Friday, May 21st showing, which starts at 7pm.

To join us, you must call the planetarium to reserve your tickets.  Call the planetarium at 559-278-4071.

The Downing Planetarium is located on the California State University, Fresno campus.  The best way to get there is from Cedar and Barstow, drive to Maple and Barstow, and park in the Green parking area.  (Google map of location)  (Campus map for parking).

For more information, see the Downing Planetarium schedule.

We’re looking forward to seeing you there!

Posted via web from a leaf warbler's gleanings


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Holy Kreuzschnabel!! Look at that beak pry open a pine cone!

I just discovered - a bit too late for my Birds and Reptiles class this semester, but I hope students retain enough interest to check this out - the YouTube channel of Cornell's Lab of Ornithology! Some lovely hi-def videos of birds there, including the one above.

These birds remind me of the year and half I spent a decade ago working with (and cleaning the scheisse off of the cages of) these birds' cousins, the Red Crossbills, the favorite Kreuzschnabel of my postdoc mentor Tom Hahn, then in Princeton. We had a whole colony of the Red birds, most of them (when not part of an experiment) up on the roof of Guyot Hall in an outdoor aviary that it was my charge to look after. Busy little birds who constantly needed something to sink their twisted little beaks into and shred to pieces - so we had to keep providing things like cat-scratching boards (cardboard ones from the pet shop) and pieces of wood. What really made them happy was when, around New Year's, Tom and I drove around the upscale suburbs around the Princeton campus picking up discarded Christmas trees to bring back to the aviaries. Oh how the crossbills loved that! Got really excited to have entire conifer trees to play on, and eventually shred to bits over several months - which, of course made my clean-up tasks that much harder! Some of them got excited enough to actually build nests in the trees and even fledge a few young. I wish I'd had a video camera back then, for I could've captured some wonderful acrobatic behaviors. At least I can now watch this Lab of O video and sigh nostalgically... I miss the naughty little beasts!


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Stunning. Evocative. Melancholy. Sheer poetry this, in images drained of color, but full of life.

Hard to choose a favorite among the stunning images in Nick Brandt's gallery! You really must go see them all. But something about this lonely egg, abandoned on the drying earth underneath the grey skies, resonates with my own melancholia right now...

[Hat-tip: drm stream]


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A nerdelicious fun race for my lab-bench bound biologist colleagues...

Quite a nerdy-creative video that, even if its an advert aimed at a narrow demographic!

[Hat-tip: Johannes Manjrekar via Facebook]

Posted via web from a leaf warbler's gleanings


Sunday, May 9, 2010

Leopards test the Wildlife Institute of India's commitment to conservation amid humans!

This rather overwrought article (click on the image/link for a readable e-paper version) points to an interesting problem facing my alma mater in the Himalayan foothills: what to do about a leopard (or several) that have made the WII campus part of their home range over some years, but may be becoming a bit too frequent for some people's comfort? Its an interesting conundrum for an institution whose raison d'etre revolves around figuring out ways for wildlife (especially of the charismatic megafaunal variety) to coexist amid India's thriving human population. While it is interesting to read about the internal debate within WII, I'm disappointed that the report doesn't really address the potential impacts of whatever decision WII makes on ordinary people living around campus - despite the pictures of one such person! For in India the conflict is often sharper between advocates of wildlife conservation and people living in and around wildlife habitats than between wildlife and people! So I'm curious about that aspect of this scenario, and whether the administration of WII is responding to concerns about the leopards potentially threatening children not only on campus but off it too.

And I also wonder if there might not be a technological solution to this - or at least an opportunity to experiment with one. How about putting radio-collars (perhaps GPS enabled) on the cats and setting up an array of receivers across campus so their whereabouts can be monitored whenever on campus? One could take this a step further and link the automated monitoring to a real-time alert system that can tell people (perhaps via SMS on their mobile phones) when and where a leopard is on campus. Would make life easier for the parents if they can pull their kids inside whenever the cats appear, no? All while gathering interesting data on the behavior of the animals in such inhabited areas! Surely the WII has the expertise to do this, and someone is already be on this experimental path?


Friday, May 7, 2010

How the wealth of your neighborhood and the water in your yard affect bird diversity

I wrote the following essay summarizing some early conclusions from the Fresno Bird Count for the April issue of the Yellowbill, the newsletter of Fresno Audubon. My student Brad Schleder presented some of these results as part of his masters thesis exit seminar earlier this week, and we also had a poster at the College of Science & Mathematics research poster symposium earlier today. So I thought I should also share this essay with you here:


The American West faces a water crisis. Drought, urban growth, climate change and the continued demands of agriculture have combined to heighten the competition among water users. In California’s San Joaquin Valley, court-ordered water diversions under the Endangered Species Act have radically decreased water deliveries to many Valley farmers. A recent settlement providing for the restoration of the San Joaquin River and ongoing drought (in a region subject to repeated cycles of drought) have only exacerbated public debate about water and spurred the search for ways to conserve it. Valley farmers are experimenting with dry land farming methods, while valley cities are seeking ways to reduce urban water use. In the Fresno-Clovis Metropolitan Area, the City of Clovis already meters water use (but has relatively low water rates) and the City of Fresno will start metering water in 2013. How does our use of water (amount and method of use) affect other species such as birds that also occupy our urban landscapes? What can we do to improve the environment for ourselves and for sustaining biodiversity in the long run?

The Fresno Bird Count (FBC, was established by my laboratory at Fresno State in spring 2008 to begin long-term monitoring of bird species in the Fresno-Clovis metro area in part to address such questions about human actions and their effects on biodiversity. The FBC was modeled after the Tucson Bird Count which is now in its 10th year, as a citizen science project where volunteer birders from the community collaborate to gather data on bird distribution and abundance using statistically rigorous sampling and standardized census methodologies. As in Tucson, our volunteers count all the birds they can detect while standing at pre-determined fixed locations for 5 minutes each (i.e., a 5-min point count; see the FBC website for details of the protocol). Each point is a randomly selected location within a 1 km X 1 km square cell that is part of a 460 square kilometer (approx. 178 square miles) grid covering most of Fresno-Clovis and some outlying areas. In the first two years of the FBC, we have managed to survey about 180-200 of these points, and are seeking more volunteers to expand our coverage, because the more finely we can cover the highly variable urban landscape, the better our understanding of just what constitutes habitat for birds in the city and how various bird species use the spaces and resources we leave for them.

The FBC started with two broad goals: to keep track of how many birds of which species occur in the area and how their numbers change under ongoing urban growth; and, to provide basic bird data for more detailed studies focused on the connections between what we do in the urban environment and how birds respond to resulting changes in habitats. The first of such studies has just been completed by my graduate student and FBC coordinator Brad Schleder in the form of a Masters thesis. Brad focused on how we water our lawns and yards, and how the resulting residential landscapes attract different kinds of birds. After spending much of last summer driving around the city to various bird count locations to measure aspects of the habitat such as the number of trees, canopy cover, amount and height of grass, and degree of watering, Brad found some interesting patterns that may give pause even to some long-term birdwatchers living in the area. Of course, it may not surprise you to learn that we find more species of birds towards the north and north-west, in a slight trend of increasing diversity as we approach the river. On the other hand, would you have guessed that bird diversity is a good indicator of the wealth of a neighborhood? That indeed seems to be the case: more species of birds are found in wealthier neighborhoods than in poorer ones, and this is a pattern I’ve also found in Phoenix, Arizona! The reason here may have something to do with how people water their household landscapes. Brad found that poorer neighborhoods don’t water their yards quite as much as wealthier ones. This surprised us because, without metering, the cost of water is not a constraint for residents in Fresno - yet we already see a pattern predicted to occur as a result of metering! Perhaps the direct cost of water is not the only thing affecting the habitat in poorer neighborhoods; rather, landscaping one’s yard and maintaining it regularly is a costly enterprise regardless of how much water costs. If anything, the metering of water (if coupled with a rate structure designed to encourage water conservation) will only add to the burden and exacerbate the contrast in landscapes between rich and poor parts of the city! And the birds will likely notice the changes in the urban landscape and respond by changing their residential address too.

These first results from the FBC support a conclusion that is emerging from similar studies in other cities throughout the US: that biodiversity in cities is unevenly distributed, and tends to favor the rich. In other words, in addition to economic hardship, the poor also face an environmental injustice because birds (and other wildlife) will also flock preferentially to the richer neighborhoods where they may find more diverse landscaped yards with plenty of water and food. That may not be good news for Fresno and other valley cities facing tough economic challenges right now, with high levels of unemployment and rising poverty. Yet, there is also an opportunity here for city planners and developers to rethink the pattern of urban growth and plan for amenities such as more public parks and roadside landscaping that will support more biodiversity and provide greater access to nature for those who may need it the most in these troubled times.

Published in the April issue of the Yellowbill.

Posted via web from a leaf warbler's gleanings


Thursday, May 6, 2010

xkcd: Desert Island

Now that's a landlubber's perspective, ain't it?

Posted via web from a leaf warbler's gleanings


You gotta read between the lines in scientific papers to find these!


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

RIP, Devra Kleiman, another sad loss to conservation biology

I just learnt of another sad loss to the field of conservation biology: Dr. Devra Kleiman of the Smithsonian National Zoo. I first heard of Dr. Kleiman when learning about captive breeding as a conservation strategy back at the Wildlife Institute of India some 20 years ago. In fact, if I remember correctly, Dr. AJT Johnsingh, our mentor there, knew her from his postdoctoral stint at the Smithsonian, and had some stories to share. I later had the fortune of meeting her briefly during a conference / visit to the National Zoo when I worked at the Smithsonian's Conservation Research Center for a short while. A remarkable, energetic, inspirational woman who helped establish the field of conservation biology - and was certainly a role model to young female biologists like my wife Kaberi - she also came across as a warm human being.

Here's an obituary from the Washington Post:
Devra G. Kleiman dies at 67; helped create field of conservation biology
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 4, 2010 
In a career spanning more than 40 years, much of it at the National Zoo, Dr. Devra G. Kleiman helped create and define the new field of conservation biology. 

She was perhaps best known for spearheading an unprecedented international effort to save golden lion tamarins -- small, reddish-orange monkeys that live in Brazil's Atlantic coastal forests -- from extinction. 

In the early 1970s, Dr. Kleiman responded to an alarm sounded by Brazilian biologist Adelmar Coimbra Filho. Golden lion tamarins were in trouble; research showed there were only several hundred of the animals remaining in the wild and fewer than 75 in captivity. Dr. Kleiman and Coimbra helped persuade officials at more than a dozen zoos not to sell their golden lion tamarins for profit. Instead, the zoos would lend the animals to one another for breeding. Eventually they gave up title altogether, ceding ownership to the Brazilian government. Dr. Kleiman played monkey matchmaker, using genetic data to determine which animals should mate to create strong offspring. 

Those offspring were reintroduced to Brazil, where Dr. Kleiman and Coimbra helped preserve and restore wide swaths of the animals' habitat. Today, about 1,600 golden lion tamarins live in the wild. Another 500 live in 145 zoos around the world. The species' status has been changed from critically endangered to endangered, and a Brazilian organization that Dr. Kleiman helped found is coordinating efforts to ensure the species' long-term survival. 

Dr. Kleiman's effort was "one of the greatest success stories in the history of modern zoos," said Steven Monfort, director of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. "It was the beginning of this revolution of the role of zoos as conservation organizations, instead of just having a place for exhibiting specimens for people to come look at and enjoy." 

The cooperative model Dr. Kleiman pioneered with the golden lion tamarin project has since been widely adopted as the most effective way to manage the genetics of rare species. It has been crucial to the successful reintroduction to the wild of species including the black-footed ferret and the California condor. 

At the same time that she was working with golden lion tamarins, Dr. Kleiman was making headlines for her efforts to breed the National Zoo's first pair of giant pandas. 
Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing were gifts from China, arriving at the zoo in 1972. Almost no rigorous research had been conducted on pandas and little was known about their behavior. 

Conventional wisdom held that pandas are solitary creatures, so Dr. Kleiman and her colleagues kept Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing apart except for brief annual mating periods. Their enclosure was spartan, a plain yard with one climbing platform. They ate a simple diet of rice gruel and milk. 

The pandas' reproductive results, carefully tracked by the national media, were heartbreaking. Between 1983 and 1989, Ling-Ling became pregnant four times. One baby was stillborn; the others died within hours or days of their birth. 

During the roller coasters of those pregnancies, Dr. Kleiman led a team of scientists who used cameras and trained volunteers to track the animals' behaviors. They wrote some of the first descriptions of pandas' vocalizations, their play, their scent markings and their deportment during mating. They concluded that pandas were social creatures who needed to interact. 

"As I think back to what we didn't know in 1972, it was just about everything," Dr. Kleiman told The Washington Post in 2001. "We were flying blind." 

When the National Zoo's second pair of pandas arrived in 2001, they dined on bamboo, carrots and apples, and they were allowed to play together in a large enclosure studded with sand wallows, ponds and trees. In 2005, the couple successfully produced Tai Shan, the first panda born at the National Zoo to survive longer than a few days. 

"We've gone way beyond where we were," Monfort said, "and Devra set the benchmark." 

'Hooked' on pandas 

Devra Gail Kleiman was born Nov. 15, 1942, in the Bronx, N.Y. She graduated from the University of Chicago in 1964. As an undergraduate, she raised a baby dingo in her apartment one summer and took a part-time job as an assistant on a research project to tame wolves. 

She spent hours in their cages doing crossword puzzles and homework assignments. The experience helped persuade her to forgo a career in medicine and study animal behavior instead. 

She received her doctorate in zoology from the University of London in 1969. After being turned down for one job because "there weren't enough women's toilets," she once said, she became one of the National Zoo's first female scientists in 1972. 

She became head of the Department of Zoological Research in 1979 and the zoo's assistant research director in 1986. She wrote and edited several books, including "Wild Mammals in Captivity," an animal-husbandry handbook and "Lion Tamarins: Biology and Conservation." 

After retiring in 2001, she continued to work on a number of conservation projects and was an adjunct professor of biology at the University of Maryland, a position she had held since 1979. She enjoyed spending time at her vacation home in Chincoteague, Va. 

Her first marriage, to John F. Eisenberg, ended in divorce. 

Survivors include her husband of 22 years, Ian Yeomans of Chevy Chase; three stepdaughters, Elise Edie of Ellensburg, Wash., Joanna Domes of Calgary, Alberta, and Lucy Yeomans of Manchester, England; her mother, Molly Kleiman of Silver Spring; a brother; and four grandchildren. 

When the first pandas arrived at the National Zoo, Dr. Kleiman told The Post in 2001, she was uninterested in studying them. "I thought it was too political and too dominated by public relations," she said. "But I started sneaking in and doing observations on them early in the morning. I got hooked."


The Jane Goodall of Ants: Mark Moffet on the real illegal immigrant threat to the US and other ant adventures

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Mark Moffett
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorFox News

If you enjoyed that, you might also want to catch the following videos of Moffett's two earlier visits to the Colbert Nation:

On why the Chinese might get along well with ants:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Mark Moffett
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorFox News

and selling Stephen Colbert on the charm of frogs:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Mark Moffett
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorFox News

Posted via web from a leaf warbler's gleanings


Saturday, May 1, 2010

Hunting Wolves, Saving Wolves from Now (which couldn't save itself on PBS)


The above report is another reason why I am saddened tonight because the excellent PBS newsmagazine show "Now" has folded its tent after 8 years of bringing us stories like this one. I started watching Now right from its first episode 8 years ago, marking the return of Bill Moyers as well as responsible, intelligent, mature, and truly hard-hitting journalism, to American television. Coming in the midst of the Dubya presidency, it was such a breath of fresh air - even when it was depressing as hell by pointing out the hell being wrought on earth. The show made enough people in power uncomfortable enough that Moyers got pushed out (until he was able to come back with his Journal) and the show was cut down to half its original length. But it continued to do a remarkable job of giving us a window into important issues in the world with David Brancaccio at the helm. And didn't hesitate to criticize those in power, even after presidential power changed hands in this country - as you can see in the above report from a couple of months ago.

One can only hope that whatever new shows are replacing Now and Bill Moyers' Journal (which also aired its last episode tonight), have the clear perspective and the honest drive to keep holding the powerful to account for what they are doing to the powerless; and keep holding up the mirror to all of us so we can see what is being done by us, or in our name, in this global world.

Meanwhile, we have the complete archives of both shows on their PBS websites!! I will keep drawing upon it from time to time, I'm sure, to remind myself of some of the important issues of our times that keep getting short shrift in the rest of the mainstream media, and are too often brushed under the carpet amid the press of more imminent crises, or the myriad distractions of global consumerism.


Sunday, April 25, 2010

Snow cones and slurpees in Yosemite! But do we need more winter tourists too?

Another cool video in the Yosemite Nature Notes series, highlighting an interesting wintertime phenomenon. As the rangers note in the video, not many people know about this interesting business of - and perhaps this video will encourage more people to go check it out, especially in cold wet springs like this one. While I laud (and share) the rangers' and this film's creator's desire to share more of these natural wonders with people - and they sure do want me to go check these things out - I am also conflicted about whether more tourists is what Yosemite needs! Winter is perhaps one time of year when this most heavily visited of parks gets a chance to catch a breath and recover a bit from the summer crush of touring humanity! Do we want to reduce that period of rest too? But, if we don't share these natural wonders with the people, will the people support protecting fragile places where frazil ice can still form such beautiful icy lava flows? Therein lie both the genius and the dilemma of National Parks, don't they?

Hat-tip: YosemiteSteve

Posted via web from a leaf warbler's gleanings


Saturday, April 24, 2010

How's this for 3 animals in one pic? Sea lions @FresnoZoo #wildfresno


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Earth Day Celebration at Fresno State

Earth Day Celebration April 22

Earth Day Celebration April 22

Event Date:

April 22nd

Earth Day Celebration April 22

40th Anniversary
Fresno State Earth Day 2010 Celebration
April 22, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Sustainability Fair and Panel Discussions

Sustainability Fair: Fresno State Peace Garden
What: Exhibits with information, resources, demonstrations related to sustainability and green living
Where: Fresno State’s Peace Garden adjacent to Henry Madden Library
When: 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Panel Discussions: Madden Library Auditorium #2206
What: discussion, debates, Q&A about important sustainability topics to our region and planet

11 a.m. – 12 noon   
Jesse Morrow Mountain: Which Priorities Should Prevail?
Moderator: Peter McDonald Dean, Henry Madden Library.
Panelists: Audrey Osborne, Traditional Choinumni Tribal Council, and Robert Takacs, Friends of Jesse Morrow Mine.

12-1 p.m.     
Urban Planning & Transportation: Managing Change
Moderator: Andrew Jones Fresno State Sociology Dept & Sustainability Subcommittee.
Panelists: Kristine Cai, Fresno COG; Derya Ozgoc-Caglar, Fresno State Geography Dept.; Eric Fredericks, California High Speed Rail Authority; John Dugan, Director of Planning and Development Department, City of Fresno; and Rollie Smith, Sustainable Communities, Housing and Urban Development.

1-2 p.m. 
Climate Change: Mitigation & Adaptation for Fresno
Moderator: Peter Van de Water Fresno State Earth & Environmental Science Dept.
Panelists: Donald Hunsaker, Director Fresno State Institute of Climate, Change Oceans, & Atmosphere; Tom Cotter, Co-founder Fresno Green; Joseph Oldham, City of Fresno Sustainability Manager.

2-3 p.m. 
Water – The Lifeblood of the Community
Moderator: Lanny Larson, Fresno State University Communications
Panelists:Nora Laikam, City of Fresno Water Conservation Supervisor, and Calliope Correia, Fresno State Horticulture Nursery Technician.

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Yes, Fresno State is celebrating the 40th anniversary of Earth Day with its second Sustainability Fair! As you can see above, panel discussions will hit several hot-button environmental issues both local and global in scope. There will also be several exhibits/tables (download a flyer for more information) where campus and off campus groups will share information relevant to local and global environmental issues - and I'll be there sharing info about the Fresno Bird Count and Fresno Audubon. So come by if you are on campus around the middle of the day tomorrow. We'll be at the Peace Garden - unless the wet weather continues, in which case the fair moves indoors to within the library.

(And don't ask why none of the panels mention a certain urban ecologist on this campus who happens to be studying urban water use...)

Posted via web from a leaf warbler's gleanings


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Whoa!! Cool video of meteorite seen over Midwestern US skies last night

That bright, eh?! Brilliant - but probably not big enough to cause much damage, nor be detected for any kind of advance warning. Must've been pretty cool for those who saw it!

Posted via web from a leaf warbler's gleanings


Friday, April 9, 2010

Robert Full: Learning from the gecko's tail

And that is but a taste of what we will get this afternoon in our department colloquium here at Fresno State, for Dr. Full is on campus and will be speaking shortly. I will try to record audio for potential podcast.

Here's the flyer for the event:

Posted via web from a leaf warbler's gleanings


Sunday, April 4, 2010

Science vs Pseudoscience at Valley Cafe Sci tomorrow night

Folks in the Fresno area: join us tomorrow night at Lucy's Lair (see our website for details) for the April meeting of the Central Valley Cafe Scientifique when Physicist Ray Hall will guide is through the philosophical conundrum of telling good (but fringe) science apart from crackpot pseudoscience! Promises to be a fun evening, no?

Posted via web from a leaf warbler's gleanings


Friday, April 2, 2010

Spring Break enthusiasm by career stage

Glad to be in that last category! But it's Friday and I'm wondering: where did spring break go?!

[Hat-tip: Drug Monkey]

Posted via web from a leaf warbler's gleanings


Monday, March 22, 2010

Building a Future as Green as the Past - a podcast with Dr. Michael Rosenzweig

For those of you who missed Prof. Rosenzweig's talk on Reconciliation Ecology here in Fresno last week, I am working on posting an audio recording on the Darwin's Bulldogs podcast soon. Meanwhile, here is a shorter version of his ideas in the form of an interview podcast from the University of Arizona, with accompanying slides, many of which we saw in the talk last week. Enjoy the interview, and share your thoughts.

Posted via email from a leaf warbler's gleanings


Why are there so many bird species in the Himalayas?

This week, the CSU-Fresno Consortium for Evolutionary Studies brings you another public lecture in our Evolutionary Biology Lecture Series. On the evening of Thursday, March 25, 2010, join us at the Satellite Student Union on campus to hear Prof. Trevor Price of the University of Chicago tell us about his work on the origin, distribution, and maintenance of high bird species diversity in the Himalaya. The public talk starts at 7:30 PM, and you can download the flyer for the talk below. On the following afternoon, Dr. Price will give us another talk in the Biology department colloquium series.

I will try to share podcasts of both the talks - probably over spring break which starts next week. I still have the last few talks recorded that I mean to podcast as well. In my vast spare time...

Posted via email from a leaf warbler's gleanings



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