Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Monday, March 22, 2010
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.
Yet, I can't help but be amused (and, alternately, infuriated) that all the chest beating around here is done by people who merely have to turn the faucet to get as much water as they want to waste at home without even having to think about paying for it - because in cities like Fresno located in this semi-arid area, we do not even have water meters!!! And people here are up in arms about the very idea of installing meters, and paying for water based on how much we use!!
How will they cope, I wonder, if water supply was rationed and the faucets only ran twice a day, and we had to have our own individual drums and tanks to store water at home? Yet even that, which was how things were when I grew up on the outskirts of Bombay, was a comfortable existence for us, and we seldom felt any shortage of water.
What of the millions around the world who daily share this woman's long march just to get enough water for sustenance? Not to mention those who may not even find a potful of water at the end of that mirage rainbow...
On this World Water Day, watch this film, walk virtually along with this woman (after setting your drink aside) on her daily trek for water. Then tell me - and yourself (not her, for she lives it) - what a real water crisis might be like! Think then of how we may still have enough time to solve our little water problems in this land of plenty.
[Hat-tip: Arati Rao via Facebook]
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.
Saturday, March 20, 2010
Friday, March 19, 2010
A friend texted earlier this evening to alert me that Jane Goodall would be on PBS tonight! Bill Moyers hosts this wide ranging interview with Jane Goodall which first aired on his show last November, and was rebroadcast on PBS tonight. Its amazing how much energy / spirit this lady has, having led such a remarkable life. Here's the entire interview, in two parts, followed by a short piece about her Roots and Shoots program. May she help you out of your depression, induced by the state of conservation or otherwise!
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Thursday, March 11, 2010
This is from last night's Colbert Report where physicist and blogger Sean Carroll's new book "From Eternity to Here" presumably got the Colbert Bump. On his blog today, Carroll also offers some insights into how smart and professional Colbert and his team are in putting together the comedy show! That show continues to impress (along with the other guy who would be on afterwards in that other universe), especially with its science coverage. And I thought Dr. Carroll did very well last night, despite being caught off-guard and forced to use the jargony word entropy - the interview came off rather well organized.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Why yes, we have a Jellyfish mass occurrence... well... occurring on the campus of Fresno State this friday afternoon! Well, ok - I'm not talking about some biblical flood in the valley (its been a wet winter, sure, but not that wet!) or that long anticipated Big One, the earthquake that cleaves coastal California off and converts all our homes here in the valley into beachfront property! No not that - that's not happening this friday (as far as I know). But the jellies will be here in spirit and data form rather than physically present, as we get a seminar from Dr. Michael Dawson of UC Merced just up the road from us. Should be a fun, fascinating talk - here's the relevant info, and you can click on the title below to read the abstract and get further details:
Phylogeny and Ecology of Jellyfish (Scyphozoa) Mass Occurrences
Friday, March 12, 2010
Science II, Room 109
And afterwards, you might ask Dr. Dawson what a marine biologist like him is doing in the Central Valley of California... do they know something we don't?
Not the greatest of photos, but not bad for one of my very first pictures of this bird (I think, anyway). I caught this bit of action yesterday at the Sierra Foothill Conservancy's McKenzie Table Mountain Preserve, where they will be hosting an open house this Saturday, March 13th. If you live in the Fresno area, and haven't discovered this beautiful little valley, I urge you to go there on Saturday, enjoy the birds (we saw quite a few apart from this quail, including two Bald Eagles yesterday) and the wildflowers, and consider becoming a member of the Conservancy to help them protect more such habitats in this area.
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
California State University, Fresno Consortium for Evolutionary Studies, Tri Beta Biology Honors Club, and the Department of Biology invite you to a special public lecture on March 16, 2010, at 7:30 PM in McLane Hall, room 121, as part of our ongoing Evolutionary Biology Lecture Series.
Eminent evolutionary ecologist Prof. Michael Rosenzweig is renowned for his contributions to the theoretical and empirical foundations of evolutionary ecology. He founded and continues to edit the academic journal Evolutionary Ecology Research. He is the author of a several books including "Species Diversity in Space and Time", and the popular "Win-Win Ecology" where he lays out his perspective on conserving biodiversity in places where we humans live and work, not just in remote protected areas. This approach, which he called Reconciliation Ecology, draws upon principles of evolutionary ecology in an interdisciplinary framework to develop new solutions to reconcile human development with biodiversity conservation on our planet.
Given the recent spate of depressing news about conservation in the US (about which I have recently complained, nay ranted right here on this very blog) it is my pleasure to invite you to this talk about reconciliation ecology, which is sharply relevant right now. And since this is a public lecture, please feel free to share this announcement, and bring bring your friends and family along too!
Here's the abstract of his talk, and you can download the flyer via the link below:
Life is in peril. A mass extinction threatens to take more than 90% of the world's species. Evolution will not be able to replace these species, neither in kind nor in number. Our religious and ethical responsibilty to protect our world is challenged as never before.
But there is good news: we can prevent this mass extinction with a method called Reconciliation Ecology. Reconciliation Ecology means working out ways for us to have our land and share it too.
Reconciliation Ecology is not a pipe dream. It is widely practiced all over the world. And it is successful. Reconciliation ecology puts nature back into the everyday lives of people, surrounding us with living wonders we usually associate with a vacation in a National Park. It is not expensive and it redesigns our own habitats so that we can keep them, keep living in them, keep using them for our needs, keep earning profits in them... while at the very same time making them havens for wild species of plants and animals.
The new habitats we engineer to satisfy both our desires and the needs of nature will not resemble those of a thousand years ago. This will surely put new evolutionary pressures on the species we harbor. They will change in ways we are only beginning to study. But surely it is better to meet them halfway, better to give them a chance to adapt to us, than to let them vanish utterly and leave our grandchildren with an impoverished world that bears evidence that we did not choose to fulfill our responsibilities.
Monday, March 8, 2010
Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
This story merely supports Hiaasen's contention that he doesn't go out of his way to invent his seemingly wacky stories, but merely plucks them off the pages of the newspapers he's also been reporting for over the past few decades. The manner in which United States Sugar (no doubt with the help of politicians in its pockets) manipulated the deal from the start, to bilk the public coffers of hundreds of millions of dollars in exchange for overvalued, degraded (i.e., canker-infested orange groves), and disjunct chunks of land that are probably impossible to restore to anything resembling good habitat, follows all the bad-guys elements of a classic Hiaasen novel.
Hence the burning question: where is the real life Skink?
How much more do people like Hiaasen need to write / cry themselves hoarse before we do something about the beleagured environment of Florida? I have to admire his spirit and sense of humor though, for he's kept churning out those stories, real and fanciful, to keep us environmentalists enthralled. Having discovered his writings through a (ecoterrorist-commie-leaning) friend in my first year in grad school in the US, I have often found escape and refuge in his novels, even while doing field work in India where too abound equally venal businessmen and politicians destroying precious forests and other habitats. Sacrificing it all at the altar of progress, no less.
Which is why I am glad that Hiaasen has recently taken to writing his stories for a younger audience, allowing me to introduce his ouvre to my 9-year-old bookworm of a budding ecowarrior daughter. For with her, I am right now rediscovering the joy of pure Hiaasen in Scat, his latest novel for young readers. Hiaasen must've realized that (as many of us in conservation education say) you have to catch them young! And may the young become inspired to stop such travesties from being perpetrated against their natural inheritance!
Meanwhile, I'm going to wash the foul taste out of my mouth, the bile surging up on account of this article, and go back to reading Scat, and try to catch some sleep as well in the wicked night. And dream of Skink and Twilly Spree cooking up some madcap scheme to stop this particular nightmare of "development"...
The waterfall toad in Venezuela -- a creature the size of a postage stamp -- can't hop more than a few inches, which should make it easy bait for predators.
To adapt, however, it developed feet with opposable "fingers" that enable it to escape harm in an amazing way: From its perch high above the rainforest floor, it hurls itself headlong into the air and grabs onto a branch on the way down, sometimes hanging on by one leg.
This is just one of the fascinating critters featured in Life, the Discovery Channel's follow-up to its wildly popular Planet Earth series.
Sign up to host a WildLIFE house party today and we'll send you a free 40-minute sneak-peek DVD of the Life series to screen and talk about with your guests.
Sounds intriguing, right? Color me as mildly curious, since I wasn't too impressed by Planet Earth - yes, yes, sure, it had lots of pretty footage, displayed breathlessly with a touch of ADHD, but not enough of the good stuff, the exciting biology, the - you know - science! Not to mention the American version where Discovery Channel felt (very oddly) compelled to dub over replace the voice of original British narrator David Attenborough with Sigourney Weaver's narration instead. Huh? Were American audiences really going to have trouble understanding that classic venerable British voice of wildlife documentaries??!! Bizarre indeed are the workings of the marketing geniuses at these television networks.
But surely there is no limit to the depths these wildlife media guys will plumb to milk this planet's biodiversity for all its worth, because the very next sentence in the above email went:
Narrated by Oprah Winfrey, Life marvels at how our planet's wildlife have adapted in stunning and amazing ways. However, the growing threat of climate change is too big of a challenge for them to face on their own; we now need to help them survive.Say whaaaa...??!!
Oprah frakking Winfrey is narrating Life?
And she's going to exhort us to help life survive the challenge of climate change? Oh I forgot - she has the secret solution after all! So she might well be sharing the secret with all of life, telling said life that if it wants to survive, if it really wants to make it through these challenging times, it really must believe in itself and think itself free of these problems! And presto - their (and our) troubles will be over! Right?!
Heck, why don't we all just rely upon that "law of attraction", the secret, to dig ourselves out of the megaextinction we've engendered on this planet, with our over-consuming, fantasy-loving but reality-avoiding ways, of forking over billions of dollars to go sigh over the destruction of some fictional planet's unrealistic ecosystems even as we continue to torch our own home, the one and only pale blue dot that we know is capable of harboring life? All it takes to save biodiversity is for us all to just think the thought! And watch the diversity of life in pretty moving pictures on our ever bigger HD (and soon, 3-D) idiot boxes even as our suburban homes continue to mow down that very diversity of life we're celebrating - on TV!!
So, dear Sierra Club, I must regretfully decline your invitation because, noble as your intentions undoubtedly are (and nobler still I'm sure are Ms. Winfrey's), I can't quite bring myself to be party to (let alone host a party for) promoting a series about the diversity of life on this planet narrated by someone so profoundly anti-scientific, someone who's made a fortune peddling such destructive self-help pap to the miserable masses!! Sorry, but no, thanks.
I'd much rather dig up the old Attenborough classics that fired up my own imagination in my wayward youth, The Living Planet or Life on Earth (incidentally, the latter remains unavailable on DVD in the US; so why don't you bring that classic back, Discovery?), than watch more of this "wildlife porn". (Although, as a good biologist, I may find it hard to resist some good wildlife porn...)
Sunday, March 7, 2010
With tonight's Oscar awards perhaps enjoying even stronger "green" cred thanks to the juggernaut of Avatar leading the nominees' pack, let's see how well you do on the above quiz then (click on this link to see the whole quiz; pardon how its getting chopped off here).
And if you think all those movies filmed in National Parks aren't exciting enough, brace yourself for this action thriller, now playing at a National Park near you:
Saturday, March 6, 2010
If you prefer to read the story rather than listen to it aloud, here's the transcript via npr.org.
Courtesy of Lillian Fritz-Laylan
Naegleria gruberi grows a pair of flagella when under stress. But unlike a sperm tail, it puts these appendages out front, and swims by breast stroke. The organism is stained to emphasize its anatomy.
paper in the current issue of Cell, Naegleria gruberi turns out to have almost 16000 protein-coding genes, which is over two-thirds of what you and I have! A single celled organism with that many genes - no wonder it can transform itself so radically.
Here's an image from the paper illustrating that transformation, which takes a mere 90 minutes or so (far cooler special effects at half the duration of Avatar, if you ask me!):
Is it just me, or does that upper image, of the amoeboid form, remind you of someone? And... I just realized... that someone also has two apparent flagellae at the top of his head, which unfurl during times of stress!! What better proof do you want of our shared ancestry with Naegleria, eh? No? Oh, what - you mean citing widely published and viewed cartoons is not good enough evidence for you (even though that is a standard of evidence good enough for a third of the good people of Texas)? You want all the boring science-y stuff instead? Well, go read the paper then, which the journal Cell has graciously made freely available!
The paper (luckily for you) turns out to be far from boring. It is indeed quite fascinating because, apart from presenting the complete genome sequence of this remarkable free-living protist, Fritz-Laylan et al also describe several genetic modules for aerobic and anaerobic metabolism (for these guys can do both), amoeboid motility, and a number of other structural and functional necessities of the ecologically diverse lifestyles common to their clade. Further, comparisons with genomes of other protists allow them to predict which genes might have been present in the genome of the common ancestor to all eukaryotes. As the first representative of a fifth (out of 6) major clade of eukaryotes whose genomes have been sequenced thus far, Naegleria holds great promise of generating fresh insights into the early evolution and diversificatiion of eukaryotes. While their lineage diverged from the one we hail from about, oh, a billion or so years ago, understanding their genome brings us closer to understanding and reconstructing the genome of our shared ancestors, those early free-living eukaryotes that gave rise to us both. For it turns out that they contain over 4000 protein families that are similar to ones we have, and therefore were likely found in that common ancestor! That ancestor was presumably also quite versatile and equipped with a set of flexible modules to deal with the diverse environments of that time. And that remarkable flexibility probably underlies the extraordinary diversity of organisms that subsequently evolved from that ancestor. How fascinating and wonderful is that! (Even if some of us later lost the ability to transform ourselves and float away when under stress!)
Friday, March 5, 2010
This decision has, understandably ruffled some feathers and I'm sure you'll find much more in-depth commentary and analysis elsewhere in the wildlife conservation blogosphere over the coming days. For instance, on the one hand, here's Audubon's attempt at a positive spin about how this means working more closely with state and private agencies to improve habitat and conservation planning; and on the other is this grouse from the Center for Biological Diversity, which was one of the petitioners forcing the USFWS to list the species on behalf of its particularly threatened Mono Basin population.
Being more of a distant sympathizer of the Grouse with little first hand knowledge, I won't attempt to offer any detailed response to what the USFWS decided today. I do, however, want to point to that touch of cognitive dissonance I mentioned earlier, as seen in the rest of the USFWS' press release. Remember they said that listing the Greater Sage Grouse was "precluded by the need to address higher priority species first." Oh... so you mean you are going to focus your limited resources on something even more endangered? OK, we can live with that, we are used to being asked to prioritize and compromise. We are grateful that you are at least adding this species to the candidate list, with hope of increased protection when you have more money on hand. Now would you mind telling us what those other species are that have higher priority, so we can try to help with them as well? Lets read the rest of the press release, shall we? Go ahead, read it again! What you'll find is no mention of another higher priority species (the Gunnison Sage Grouse is mentioned, but it isn't even under consideration for listing yet) - but repeated references instead to "new conventional and renewable energy projects"! Here's the Interior Secy himself:
“The sage grouse’s decline reflects the extent to which open land in the West has been developed in the last century,” said Salazar. “This development has provided important benefits, but we must find common-sense ways of protecting, restoring, and reconnecting the Western lands that are most important to the species’ survival while responsibly developing much-needed energy resources."In other words, continued oil exploration and new so-called alternative energy projects - all part of the ever expanding western development package responsible for endangering the Grouse (Salazar agrees) - get higher priority than the bird, which must hang its fate on our ability to "responsibly develop" those energy resources that the Grouse has unfortunately evolved to live on top of!
While you ponder that, and pause to appreciate how much change this green administration has brought to the way business is now done, let me share this video about the grouse:
Thursday, March 4, 2010
Faculty 2010 Action Item
Colleagues,Many of you are aware that our advocacy efforts by CSU Faculty last fall resulted in Governor Schwarzenegger's proposal to restore $305 million to the CSU budget next year. While that was a significant victory, we must now make sure that our legislators know that supporting that proposal is critical to the CSU, our students, and our state. To that end, I am hoping that you will take a moment to send your legislators an email asking them to support restoring funding to public higher education in this year's budget.The Chairs of the 23 Academic and Faculty Senates of the CSU system are participating in San Francisco State's initiative to get word to our legislators. By following the link below, you can instantly send your representatives a pre-drafted letter or you can write something more tailored to your individual experience.Urgent Message to LegislatorsThe link will work for faculty on and off campus, so feel free to forward it to faculty on other campuses. I am hopeful that this effort will make this week's advocacy activities resonante even more strongly with our elected officials.
Dr. Michael Botwin
Chair, Academic Senate
Professor & Chair, Dept. of Psychology
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
This aired earlier today on KSEE24, Fresno's NBC affiliate station. I didn't get to see it live on the telly when it aired, because I was actually in the studio watching it being recorded, having driven there in my parental role accompanying said young artist, Sanzari Aranyak (and listen to how she says her name!)! Our first time inside a TV studio was fun, first watching the weather guy applying makeup (definitely much more on his face than Sanzari's) while awaiting his cue, and then doing his green screen bit - very slick. And then a full three-and-a-half minutes devoted to the story we were part of, the fundraiser for the Youth Orchestras of Fresno for which Sanzari and a number of local artists have painted violins. Julia Copeland, the Excecutive Director of YOOF, had picked Sanzari to accompany her as the young representative of the violin artists on what we had thought might be a 30-second sound-bite clip on the news. Despite being not quite prepared to actually be part of the interview, our little artist pulled off her first TV appearance quite smoothly under what would have been trying circumstances for her parents! No stage fright with this one... but then again she is a veteran of the stage having performed in a variety of shows since she was 5 - i.e., for half her lifetime!
So do forgive this proud dad's bloggy indulgence as I share our girl's moment in the spotlight!
Tomorrow is the statewide day of action to protest against what is happening to higher education in California these days. I just found this quite good advert from our campus rallying people to join the action tomorrow. Won't you join us?
(and in this instance, I'll overlook the egregious, but all too common in the US, misspelling of GANDHI which made me cringe while watching this clip! Really - what's so hard about that simple name that Americans can't ever seem to get it right??)
Monday, March 1, 2010
Are you a young person with a passion for wildlife? Do you want to use your energy and skills to make a difference to biodiversity conservation in India? The Ravi Sankaran Fellowship Program can help. This Program has been set up in memory of the late Dr. Ravi Sankaran who followed up his detailed field studies of wild species with innovative projects to conserve their populations.
The Program funds three major activities:
What it covers: Fellowship recipients will receive a stipend, travel funds and an amount covering course fees (where relevant). Fellows may also be granted an additional amount towards project expenses, subject to a maximum of Rs 200,000 per year (most grants of this nature will be under Rs 100,000 per year).
- A Master's degree at a university abroad
- An internship with an organisation abroad
- A short conservation research or implementation project within India (in a Small Grants program)
Selection: Each activity is intended to have an explicit conservation focus, with an emphasis on clear on-ground conservation benefits. Successful applicants will ordinarily hold a Bachelor's degree (in any discipline) and be below the age of 30 on the date of the application deadline.
To apply, you must prepare a statement of purpose, a strong justification of how your receiving this fellowship would benefit conservation in India, and (for Small Grants applicants) a project proposal with budget. Click here to apply, and for more details.
Last date for applications: 15 April 2010
And I hope it doesn't seem crass to add that I would be honored to have a Ravi Sankaran Fellow as a student in my lab at the California State University in Fresno.
May an energetic new generation of field biologists follow in Ravi's footsteps.