Category Archives: Ecology

Science Cafe Raleigh: Rain Forests – Going, Going, Gone?

Happy New Year! We are excited to be starting a new year of science cafes. Our January Science Café (description below) will be held on Tuesday 1/18 at Tir Na Nog on South Blount Street. Our speaker for the evening will be Dr. Meg Lowman, Director of the Nature Research Center (a new wing of the Museum of Natural Sciences currently under construction). Dr. Lowman is a world famous canopy researcher. To learn more about her and her work please see the information listed below (be sure to look at her website). We will have a fun and informative discussion about the amazing (and sometimes strange) diversity of life that can be found in the earth’s rainforests as well as how researchers have figured out ways to study sometimes elusive plants and animals. We will talk about the importance of what is being discovered in the rainforests and how these discoveries can affect our way of life. I hope that many of you can come.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

6:30-8:30 p.m. with discussion beginning at 7:00 followed by Q&A
Tir Na Nog, 218 South Blount Street, Raleigh, 833-7795

Every child grows up with a sense of awe about tropical forests — extraordinary creatures including poison dart frogs, sloths, orchids and jaguars representing a veritable treasure-trove of biodiversity. But scientists estimate that more than half of Africa’s rain forests are gone, with at least 40 percent losses in Asia and Latin America and 95 percent in Madagascar. Even with new technologies, measuring tropical deforestation is not easy, and illegal logging is epidemic in many parts of the world. What is the prognosis for the future of tropical rain forests? And how will human beings fare if these vital ecosystems disappear? What essential services do tropical forests provide for the planet, and how can we conserve them for our children?

About our speaker:

Dr. Meg Lowman (www.canopymeg.com) is Director of the Nature Research Center, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and a research professor at NC State University. Over the past three decades, “Canopy Meg” has earned an international reputation as a pioneer in forest canopy ecology, tropical rain forest conservation, and for designing canopy access tools including ropes, hot-air balloons, walkways and construction cranes. Equipped with degrees in biology, ecology and botany, Lowman developed her childhood interest of building tree forts into mapping canopy biodiversity worldwide and spearheading the construction of canopy walkways in tropical forests for conservation. She uses science education to influence government policy and encourage environmental stewardship. Her book, “Life in the Treetops,” earned a cover review in the New York Times Sunday Book Review.

Guest Blog at Scientific American – first guest post: Apple, meet Orange

Building the new science blogging network at Scientific American will take some time. But there are already seven blogs on the site, mostly written by Scientific American editors, writers and correspondents. One blog that is written by others – scientists and bloggers – is the Guest Blog that has been around for several years now.

Starting today, I will be in charge of the Guest Blog, and have invited a number of interesting people to contribute guest posts for it (Interested? Pitch me a story at: Bora@sciam.com).

The first contributor is Dr.Carin Bondar (Twitter) with a post about conservation – the dueling approaches to species preservation: saving one species at a time, or saving entire ecosystems and ecological communities. Carin reviews recent studies from both ‘schools’ and makes her own decision as to which approach makes more sense. Go read it here!

Look Up! The Billion-Bug Highway You Can’t See (video)

How Do Underwater Oil Plumes Form? (video)

BIO101 – Organisms In Time and Space: Ecology

As you may know, I have been teaching BIO101 (and also the BIO102 Lab) to non-traditional students in an adult education program for about twelve years now. Every now and then I muse about it publicly on the blog (see this, this, this, this, this, this and this for a few short posts about various aspects of it – from the use of videos, to the use of a classroom blog, to the importance of Open Access so students can read primary literature). The quality of students in this program has steadily risen over the years, but I am still highly constrained with time: I have eight 4-hour meetings with the students over eight weeks. In this period I have to teach them all of biology they need for their non-science majors, plus leave enough time for each student to give a presentation (on the science of their favourite plant and animal) and for two exams. Thus I have to strip the lectures to the bare bones, and hope that those bare bones are what non-science majors really need to know: concepts rather than factoids, relationship with the rest of their lives rather than relationship with the other sciences. Thus I follow my lectures with videos and classroom discussions, and their homework consists of finding cool biology videos or articles and posting the links on the classroom blog for all to see. A couple of times I used malaria as a thread that connected all the topics – from cell biology to ecology to physiology to evolution. I think that worked well but it is hard to do. They also write a final paper on some aspect of physiology.

Another new development is that the administration has realized that most of the faculty have been with the school for many years. We are experienced, and apparently we know what we are doing. Thus they recently gave us much more freedom to design our own syllabus instead of following a pre-defined one, as long as the ultimate goals of the class remain the same. I am not exactly sure when am I teaching the BIO101 lectures again (late Fall, Spring?) but I want to start rethinking my class early. I am also worried that, since I am not actively doing research in the lab and thus not following the literature as closely, that some of the things I teach are now out-dated. Not that anyone can possibly keep up with all the advances in all the areas of Biology which is so huge, but at least big updates that affect teaching of introductory courses are stuff I need to know.

I need to catch up and upgrade my lecture notes. And what better way than crowdsource! So, over the new few weeks, I will re-post my old lecture notes (note that they are just intros – discussions and videos etc. follow them in the classroom) and will ask you to fact-check me. If I got something wrong or something is out of date, let me know (but don’t push just your own preferred hypothesis if a question is not yet settled – give me the entire controversy explanation instead). If something is glaringly missing, let me know. If something can be said in a nicer language – edit my sentences. If you are aware of cool images, articles, blog-posts, videos, podcasts, visualizations, animations, games, etc. that can be used to explain these basic concepts, let me know. And at the end, once we do this with all the lectures, let’s discuss the overall syllabus – is there a better way to organize all this material for such a fast-paced class.

Today, we try to cover the vast field of ecology in just an hour, thus just a very basic survey of key terms and principles. Again, I do a lot of drawing on the whiteboard in this lecture, but have not reproduce any of that here.

See the previous lectures:

BIO101 – Biology and the Scientific Method
BIO101 – Cell Structure
BIO101 – Protein Synthesis: Transcription and Translation
BIO101 – Cell-Cell Interactions
BIO101 – Cell Division and DNA Replication
BIO101 – From Two Cells To Many: Cell Differentiation and Embryonic Development
BIO101 – From Genes To Traits: How Genotype Affects Phenotype
BIO101 – From Genes To Species: A Primer on Evolution
BIO101 – What Creatures Do: Animal Behavior

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At the Museum: bonobos and bioluminescence

Two great lectures at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences:

1. Museum hosts presentation on ‘Bioluminescence Below the Bahamas’

RALEIGH ― Join Duke University biologist Sonke Johnsen for a detailed look into the world of marine bioluminescence and its use as an adaptation to help organisms hide, hunt and communicate. Johnsen’s multimedia presentation, “Deep Light: Bioluminescence and Vision 2,000 Feet below the Bahamas,” takes place at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences on Thursday, August 12 at 7pm. Free.

Johnsen is associate professor of biology and director of The Johnsen Lab at Duke, which studies bioluminescence ― an organism’s ability to produce its own light ― and other aspects of visual ecology. He recently participated in an inaugural survey of deep-sea floor bioluminescence and continues to collaborate with Edith Widder, bioluminescence expert and a former curator of GLOW: Living Lights, the first-ever museum exhibit to explore the phenomenon of bioluminescence. Now showing at the Museum of Natural Sciences, this exhibit reveals the world of light-producing terrestrial organisms, from fireflies to foxfire fungus, before traveling to the mid-ocean, where an estimated 90 percent of animals produce light. GLOW runs through September 12.

Adult tickets to GLOW are available at a discounted rate on these evenings, with tickets sold from 5 to 6:30pm. For more information, visit www.naturalsciences.org.

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2. Vanessa Woods to discuss “Bonobo Handshake” at Museum of Natural Sciences

In the midst of the war-torn Congo, there exists a peaceful society in which females are in charge, war is nonexistent, and sex is as common and friendly as a handshake. Welcome to the world of bonobos, a rare ape with whom we share 98.7 percent of our DNA. On Thursday, August 19 at 6:30pm, join author and Duke University scientist Vanessa Woods for a detailed discussion of her new book, “Bonobo Handshake,” at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences in downtown Raleigh. Free.

“For thousands of years, we have wondered what makes us human,” says Woods. “To find the answer, we study our closest living relatives, chimpanzees and more recently, bonobos. Neither species is easy to study, but bonobos are particularly difficult, being the world’s most endangered ape in the world’s most dangerous country. But this makes them all the more important, and bonobos could not only unlock the secret of what makes us human, but also teach us how being a little less human could go a long way.” Woods will be signing copies of her book in the Museum Store prior to her lecture.

Woods is an internationally published author and journalist and is the main Australian/ New Zealand feature writer for the Discovery Channel. She graduated with a Masters of Science Communication from the Centre for the Public Awareness of Science at the Australian National University and has written for various publications including BBC Wildlife, New Scientist, and Travel Africa. In 2003, Woods won the Australasian Science award for journalism. In 2007, her children’s book on space was named an Acclaimed Book by the UK Royal Society and shortlisted for the Royal Society’s Junior Science Book Prize.

Deepwater Horizon oil spill interrupted bluefin tuna spawning

According to a new paper showing temporal and spatial patterns of migratory routes and spawning grounds of bluefin tuna, they were in the Gulf of Mexico spawning at the moment the oil well exploded and all that oil started gushing out (and then dispersed with toxic chemicals).
Nobody is fishing there now, and no professional media or amateur reporting or photography are allowed, but I am assuming some of the radiotransmitters in some of the individuals may still be operational and that data from the area, during the spill, will become available in the future.