Category Archives: Environment

Meetings I’d like to go to….Part V

Genetic Manipulation of Pest Species: Ecological and Social Challenges:

In the past 10 years major advances have been made in our ability to build transgenic pest strains that are conditionally sterile, harbor selfish genetic elements, and express anti-pathogen genes. Strategies are being developed that involve release into the environment of transgenic pest strains with such characteristics. These releases could provide more environmentally benign pest management and save endangered species, but steps must be taken to insure that this is the case and that there are no significant health or environmental risks associated with releases. Our conference will foster discussion of risks and benefits of these technologies among scientists, policy makers, and citizens.

March 4-6, 2009
North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC
This is very soon – I’ll try to go to some of it if I can….

Carnival of the Arid – call for submissions

Did you know that the largest desert on Earth is Antarctica? And the second largest is Arctic? And only then comes Sahara!
Well, I knew that because Hal Heathwole taught a Desert Ecology course that many of my buddies in grad school took. But if you don’t believe me, check out the Wikipedia page about deserts.
And then, don’t stop at that. Do you have a blog? If not, start one. If yes, sit down and write a post about a desert. Then send it to the very first edition of the Carnival of the Arid:

Submissions should have something to do with a desert somewhere in the world. (If you’re not sure whether your work is desert-related, check out this definition at Wikipedia, and if you’re still not sure, send it in anyway.) Submissions can be scientific in nature, or history, or travelog. Images are welcome, photographic or otherwise. Discussions of culture and politics are welcome if they’re desert-related. The one restriction, other than geographical, is that — at least when I’m compiling it — paeans to destroying the desert probably won’t make it. (Developers and ORVers take note.) Paeans to preserving or protecting the desert are fine, as are alerts of current pressing issues.

If you are not sure about participating in a carnival, read this first. Then tune in on Saturday for the session Blog carnivals: why you should participate at ScienceOnline’09 and you may change your mind.

Fighting against Light Pollution with Tourism

Every now and then I mention light pollution on this blog, usually from a biologist’s perspective. But here is another perspective – using “dark sky” as a tourist attraction – a place where one can actually see the stars:

Nonetheless, Galloway Forest Park contains the darkest skies in Europe, and Steve Owens, co-coordinator of the IYA plans in the UK, is determined to gain recognition from the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) as a lasting legacy for the 2009 celebrations.
The certification process is challenging. According to the Guardian, “to earn dark sky park status, officials in Galloway will submit digital photographs of the night sky taken through a fisheye lens. Their application must be supported by readings from light meters at different points in the park, and a list of measures that are being taken within the forest to prevent lights in and around the handful of farm buildings from spilling upwards into the sky and ruining the view.”

Coral disease outbreaks and warming waters

The next Sigma Xi Pizza Lunch — noon, Wednesday, Dec. 17 — is a chance to learn more about climate change’s expected environmental toll. UNC-Chapel Hill marine biologist and ecologist John Bruno will discuss recent research on links between coral disease outbreaks and warming waters.
The Pizza Lunch speaker series is free and open to science journalists and science communicators of all stripes. Feel free to forward this invitation to anyone you would like to see included. RSVPs are required (so we can get a reliable slice count) to
Directions to Sigma XI:

Elephants in zoos

A recent survey of Asian elephants in European zoos showed that their lifespan is much, much shorter than for elephants in the wild. Ed and Brian go into details of this survey.
The survey does not look at African elephants, nor at North American zoos – in both cases I feel that the picture looks much better, if nothing else because North American zoos tend to be newer, not located in the middle of a big city, and thus more spacious.
In the comments on Ed’s post, I said: “Many elephants in zoos are kept in enclosures that are too small for them. This is why more and more zoos are shutting down their elephant exhibits and sending their elephants to a couple of zoos (mostly in the southern USA, like the one in Asheboro NC where the bloggers met a couple of months ago) which have large expanses of land for elephants and are specifically geared for keeping these animals in captivity, breeding them and taking care of them properly. This recent trend may be the cause of the recent slight improvement in the lifespan numbers you mention – the numbers are averages of many zoos. I am assuming that as more and more zoos abandon keeping elephants, and send them to those few zoos that can keep them, the statistics will improve more. Will they ever match the lifespans in the wild is an open question at this time.”
Keep in mind that here I was talking about African elephants in the North American zoos, the population that was not the target of the published study. We don’t know what the numbers are for these elephants (or do we? – anyone knows?).
Related recent elephant news.

The Oceans’ Shifting Balance

In yesterday’s New York Times:

Scientists have understood ocean acidification for a long time. But what they are learning now is how quickly it is increasing, in step with increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide. New studies show that if carbon dioxide emissions continue at current rates, shells and corals could begin to dissolve — especially in the southern oceans — within 30 years. Observations from many places, including the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, suggest that ocean acidification is proceeding much faster than anyone had thought.

Hotspots, a new PBS movie

Starting this month, a new PBS documentary-three years in the making-will change the way Americans see life on Earth. Scientists the world over now agree that Earth is experiencing runaway mass extinction of life across virtually all ecosystems.
The bottom line? Life on Earth is dying off, fast. The good news? People everywhere are waking up and doing something about it.
Far from being just another nature film with awe-inspiring aerials (although it sports some), HOTSPOTS takes American television audiences to the front lines of some of the most far-flung places on Earth. Viewers are given a first-hand look at a global movement of local initiatives to stop Earth’s 6th mass extinction dead in its tracks and bring our biosphere back from the brink an ecological bankruptcy that would know no bailout.
Dr. Tobias, the film’s producer and director, nails it when he says that “mass extinction is the mother of all issues” and that “there is a direct connection between our dual economic and ecological crises.” Far from pessimistic, HOTSPOTS profiles pioneers of a new kind, unsung heroes around the world who are working to save Earth’s last life banks from complete collapse.
Dr. Russell Mittermeier, president of Conservation International and the film’s host, is available by phone, often from the frontlines of a biodiversity hotspot. Dr. Michael Tobias, president of Dancing Star Foundation, a global ecologist with over 100 films and 35 books to his credit, is available in Los Angeles. Both are ready to share the latest news on biodiversity loss and protection, and each has an epic eye-witness perspective to share on mass extinction-why we need to act now and the unprecedented opportunity that this challenge gives us to get it right for generations to come.
HOTSPOTS will air on PBS affiliates throughout December and run well into 2009. A companion DVD is also available from the PBS online store and Thank you for considering coverage or passing this along to someone who might. I’ve included our new release below for your reference.
In the mean time, I invite you to watch the trailer.

Birds and Canada’s Tar Sands: Why America’s Number 1 Source of Oil is Removing Millions of Birds

Millions of birds could die from oilsands development: report
Report Finds Millions of Birds will be Lost from Tar Sands Development

Now we know where Lorax is lurking

Macedonians plant six million trees in single day:

Thousands of Macedonians took to the hills and forests on Wednesday to plant six million trees in a single day as part of a mass reforestation drive in the Balkan country.
The main aim of the campaign was to replant Macedonia’s forests after extensive wild fires over the past two summers, and organizers trumpeted the scheme’s environmental benefits at a time of global warming.
“Our goal is to make Macedonia “greener” and make people more aware of the needs of this planet,” said Macedonian opera singer Boris Trajanov, who initiated the project.
Thousands of people were bused to the planting sites, including more than 1,000 soldiers who planted some 200,000 seedlings at 14 sites.
“If Macedonia, a country of two million people, can plant six million trees, we can only imagine how many trees can be planted in other, bigger countries,” he said.

It happens, sometimes….

Politicians persuaded to save Canada boreal forest:

Politicians actually listened when experts told them to protect Canada’s boreal forest, a potent weapon against global warming, and the plan for this vast green area could work on some of the world’s other vital places, scientists told Reuters.
Jeremy Kerr, a biogeographer at the University of Ottawa, said he and other scientists were surprised and delighted that Canadian politicians have been persuaded by science.

More info…

Light Pollution

There is a nice article in this month’s National Geographic about Light Pollution. Unlike most popular articles on the topic which focus on the visibility of stars – an aesthetic problem – this article focuses on the effect of continuous light on animals and humans:

We’ve lit up the night as if it were an unoccupied country, when nothing could be further from the truth. Among mammals alone, the number of nocturnal species is astonishing. Light is a powerful biological force, and on many species it acts as a magnet, a process being studied by researchers such as Travis Longcore and Catherine Rich, co-founders of the Los Angeles-based Urban Wildlands Group. The effect is so powerful that scientists speak of songbirds and seabirds being “captured” by searchlights on land or by the light from gas flares on marine oil platforms, circling and circling in the thousands until they drop. Migrating at night, birds are apt to collide with brightly lit tall buildings; immature birds on their first journey suffer disproportionately.
Insects, of course, cluster around streetlights, and feeding at those insect clusters is now ingrained in the lives of many bat species. In some Swiss valleys the European lesser horseshoe bat began to vanish after streetlights were installed, perhaps because those valleys were suddenly filled with light-feeding pipistrelle bats. Other nocturnal mammals–including desert rodents, fruit bats, opossums, and badgers–forage more cautiously under the permanent full moon of light pollution because they’ve become easier targets for predators.
Some birds–blackbirds and nightingales, among others–sing at unnatural hours in the presence of artificial light. Scientists have determined that long artificial days–and artificially short nights–induce early breeding in a wide range of birds. And because a longer day allows for longer feeding, it can also affect migration schedules. One population of Bewick’s swans wintering in England put on fat more rapidly than usual, priming them to begin their Siberian migration early. The problem, of course, is that migration, like most other aspects of bird behavior, is a precisely timed biological behavior. Leaving early may mean arriving too soon for nesting conditions to be right.
Nesting sea turtles, which show a natural predisposition for dark beaches, find fewer and fewer of them to nest on. Their hatchlings, which gravitate toward the brighter, more reflective sea horizon, find themselves confused by artificial lighting behind the beach. In Florida alone, hatchling losses number in the hundreds of thousands every year. Frogs and toads living near brightly lit highways suffer nocturnal light levels that are as much as a million times brighter than normal, throwing nearly every aspect of their behavior out of joint, including their nighttime breeding choruses.

Read the whole thing

The very first LEED Platinum hotel in the USA….

…is right here in NC, an hour from here in Greensboro – the Proximity Hotel. The ceremony where the LEED Platinum designation was awarded was held today.

Climate Change and the Neglected Majority

The next Sigma Xi lunch pizza in RTP will be noon MONDAY, Nov. 17. Come hear Rob Dunn, assistant professor of zoology at NC State, talk about “Climate Change and the Neglected Majority.” Dunn, among other things, is interested in insects and how changes in their distribution affect ecosystems.
Sigma Xi’s Pizza Lunch speaker series is free and open to science journalists and science communicators of all stripes (feel free to forward this message to anyone you would like to be included). RSVPs are required to

27 Best Deep-Sea Species, take two

The list is now final. Here are the top 13:
#13 Deep-sea corals
#12: Yeti Crab
#11 Venus’s Flower Basket
#10: Echinothuriid Sea Urchins
#9: Bathynomus, the GIANT ISOPOD!!!!
#8 Red Lure Jellyfish
#7 Predatory Tunicates
#6: Giant Sea Spiders
#5 Barreleye Fish
#4 Gold-Footed or Scaly Foot Snail
#3 Flesh Eating Sponges
#2: Bone-Devouring Zombie Worms from Hell
#1 Vampire Squid

27 Best Deep-Sea Species

About half have already been posted:
#27: Brachiopods
#26: Pig Butt Worm
#25: Crawling Crinoids
#24: Tube Worms
#23: Dumbo Octopus
#22: Xenophyophores
#21: Phronima
#20: Swimming Sea Cucumbers
#19: Black Devil Anglerfish
#18: Venus Fly-trap Anemone
#17: Tripod fish, Bathypterois
#16: Chaunax, the red-eyed gaper
#15: Spookfish, Rhinochimaera pacifica
#14: Alviniconcha, the Hairy Vent Snail
Keep checking for others….

Thomas Friedman lecture at Duke University


Monday, Sept. 22
5:30 – 7:00 PM
Lecture: “Hot, Flat and Crowded”
New York Times columnist and Pulitzer-Prize winning author Thomas Friedman will discuss his new book on the technology needed to address the energy and climate crisis and how America can be a leader in the “Green Revolution.”
Information: Karen Kemp 919-613-7394
Page Auditorium, Duke

IBM Selective typewriters!

For a longer interview on the same topic, listen to this podcast.

Ecuador Constitution Would Grant Inalienable Rights To Nature


No other country has gone as far as Ecuador in proposing to give trees their day in court, but it certainly is not alone in its recalibration of natural rights. Religious leaders, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Dalai Lama and the Archbishop of Constantinople, have declared that caring for the environment is a spiritual duty. And earlier this year, the Catholic Church updated its list of deadly sins to include polluting the environment.
Ecuador is codifying this shift in sensibility. In some ways, this makes sense for a country whose cultural identity is almost indistinguishable from its regional geography – the Galapagos, the Amazon, the Sierra. How this new area of constitutional law will work, however, is another question. We aren’t ready to endorse such a step at home, or even abroad. But it’s intriguing. We’ll be watching Ecuador’s example.

Eoin O’Carroll:

Ecuador’s proposed constitution includes an article that grants nature the right to “exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution” and will grant legal standing to any person to defend those rights in court.
Voters will get to decide on Sept. 28 whether to adopt the new constitution, which would allow the president to run for reelection, to dissolve Congress, and to exert great control over the country’s central bank. According to Reuters, 56 percent of Ecuadorans approve of the proposed document.


In a choice of phrase that would be almost unthinkable in the Untied States, the first article states that nature has the right to maintain “its processes in evolution.” While it’s possible to read that use of the word “evolution” to mean simply “change” and not to refer to the transformation of species through Darwinian processes, the very presence of the word would be too controversial to survive in this country. But in Catholic Ecuador, things are different.
This is one of the most unambiguous extensions of rights to a nonhuman entity that any country has attempted in modern times. In the United States, corporations acquired individual rights over a century ago almost by accident. Laws in Western countries against cruelty to animals regularly dance around the issue of whether this constitutes rights. Indigenous populations often exercise rights as groups that are separate from their rights as individuals. And Fascist countries tried to reverse the whole Western trend of individual rights by reasserting the superiority of the rights of the nation and state over the individual. But this is something new. The Ecuadoran move to encode the rights of nature in the constitution goes beyond anything yet attempted. It might prove to be a dead letter in practice, but it is definitely a precedent to watch.


iNaturalist rocks!

Thanks Bill for drawing my attention to iNaturalist which has the makings of an awesome site!
What is it?
It is essentially a Google Map where people can add pins every time they see an interesting critter: a plant, fungus, animal, etc. What is recorded is geographical coordinates and time when it was posted.
Moreover, people can link from the pins to pictures of the sighted critters if they upload them on Flickr (nice way to interlink existing social networking sites instead of reinventing the wheel). And they can put additional information, e.g., description of the habitat where they saw the creature. They can try to identify it and others can chime in agreeing or disagreeing on the ID. One can also view maps in various ways – by time, by broader groups (e.g., insects, birds…), or by the degree of agreement people have about the ID.
The site has, apparently, just started, thus the number of people and the number of sightings is still relatively small and limited to mainly a couple of geographic locations (mostly California and Washington state).
But, imagine a couple of years from now, with millions of people pinning millions of sightings, providing additional information and then having the community agree on the ID? How about ecologists putting in all their field survey data (at least after publication if not before)? How about everyone who participates in the Christmas bird hunt? What an incredible database that will be! Something that one can search with machines, build and test models, and use the results to test ideas about, for instance, effects of weather events (hurricanes, fires, floods, El Nino, etc.) or broader weather changes (e.g., Global Warming).
In order for this database to become useful, I hope that the developers, as soon as possible, make sure it is possible for all the info to be machine searchable. And also to provide, perhaps, various fields that will lure people to put in more information. Right now, there is a date when the pin is posted, but the date of actual sighting is much more important. Exact latitude and longitude. Perhaps altitude. Perhaps depth for aquatic organisms. Exact time of day of the sighting. Description of the habitat. Number of individuals. Measurements of different kinds (one often cannot infer from pictures if the critter is 3cm or 30cm long, for instance). Behavioral observations. And of course the ID.
Such a database would be biased of course. People will tend to record when they see something unusual, or cool, or charismatic megafauna, rather than grass or field of corn or a bunch of squirrels in a tree. Also, more critters will be found in urban areas, on farms, in parks and by the roadsides than in places where one needs climbing (or diving) gear, or an hour of work with a machete in order to get to the habitat. But ecological models using the database could be made to account for these biases anyway.
In any case, I urge you to bookmark this site, and to use it. And let’s see how it shapes up over time.

Will the rich save the planet?

Save the planet? Buy it:

Millionaires are purchasing entire ecosystems around the world and turning them into conservation areas. Their goal? To stop environmental catastrophe.

But will they know how to do it well? Will they inject some of their own incorrect ideas into their projects? Who will they listen to when designing these? Will their kids continue?

Re-framing ‘Save The Planet’?

Interesting idea:

“Save It” Global Warming message by 10 yr old from 1skycampaign on Vimeo.
[Via – read the post as well]

Science Cafe: Monster Storms – Hurricanes in North Carolina

Science Communicators of North Carolina:

Tuesday, August 19
6:30-8:30 p.m.
Science Cafe: Monster Storms – Hurricanes in North Carolina
Dr. Ryan Boyles, State Climatologist and Director of the State Climate Office at NC State University with Dr. Anantha Aiyyer, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Marine, Earth, Atmospheric Sciences at NC State.
Tir Na Nog 218 South Blount Street, Raleigh, (919) 833-7795

Global Warming, Media and Politics

Robert Grumbine has a series of posts with thoughts about climate change and what a non-expert can do to get properly informed:
Climate is a messy business:

Climate certainly is a messy business. One of the things that makes it interesting to those of us who work on it is precisely that. Wherever you look, you find something that affects climate, regardless of whether you look at permafrost, sea ice, forests, farms, rivers, factories, sunspots, volcanoes, dust, glaciers, …
So certainly we have a complicated science and certainly few people are going to understand enough of it to argue the finer points. This is true within the science as well, as few who study volcanoes and their climate effects are going to be able to argue the finer points about the role of sea ice in climate, or vice versa.
What does an honest and interested person do then? Two things as I see it. First, not all the science involved is difficult. For those parts of the science, learn the science. Anybody who can get through normal life, cook a recipe, balance a checkbook, etc., can understand the basics. One source is Jan Schloerer’s summary at Jan was not a climate scientist, but, as I said, you don’t need to be one to understand the basics. One thing he did do (see his acknowledgements, for instance) is check with people who were to ensure that he’d gotten the science right (or at least correct given the limits of writing a general audience description). I’ll come back to basics in a minute.
Second, for things that aren’t elementary, start looking to expert opinion. No different than if your car is acting up and you can’t figure out why, or you’ve got something like a cold but it isn’t going away like one should. You go find an auto mechanic or doctor and use their expertise. If your concern is, instead, about climate, then find some climate scientists. While there aren’t that many (even counting worldwide) they do exist. And it’s not that hard to find their professional understanding. You’ll see it more directly in journals like Science and Nature than Scientific American or Discover. But both can be gotten fairly easily, and both include summaries of the science which are written for laymen.

Science not politics:

Many people have vested interests relating to climate change and thoughts about what, if anything, to do about it. That does produce politics, in that groups of people with interests act politically.
But the science is the science, and respects no party, no nation, no religion, etc.
This does make for the problem that groups with interests other than explaining and discussing the best science also establish web sites, write editorials, produce shows, etc. to propagandize their views, distorting and lying about the science along the way. So if you’re interested in the science, you have to work harder to find it than in something which doesn’t scare people. You also have to work harder to disentangle the parts of an article that are science from those which are opinion, wishful thinking, and such.
One thing which I think is helpful in deciding about sources is to, first, hold your nose about their political viewpoints. This can be hard when the politics are greatly different from yours, but bear with it. As you read through, look for scientific claims, or claims which the author thinks are scientific. As you find them, go hit the literature on the topic and see if the author has represented the point correctly. It may sound like a lot of work, but in practice, most web sites which are more concerned about their politics than the science display this fairly quickly by lies and distortions, and some are at an extremely basic level. Basic enough that you can check the truth of it by looking at a textbook from 30 years ago (before the topic was getting nearly as much press, but well after the scientific basics were understood). If not an outright lie, very often what you’ll see is a quote selected from a scientific article and removed from its context. Once you find the context, you see that the original author’s intent was quite different than the bit quoted.

Climate confusion:

Agreed about the media thing. It’s one of the things which irritates the scientists who are trying to communicate accurate, careful, correct information. People hear wild claims in the media, and then when we discuss what we really know and how well, we don’t get believed (since we’re not as extreme as the media reports, it’s no story). (‘we’ by the way doesn’t exactly include me. I haven’t talked to the media for a long time, and it wasn’t about this. Still, I do know folks who get quoted.)
One thing for you to do, with the 27,000 on either side of you, is to start looking at what they’re scientists of. It turns out that the 27k saying that climate is changing and part of the reason is human activity are climate scientists, while the 27k disagreeing are doctors, chemists, nuclear physicists, … But do the checking yourself. There’s a petition, for instance, with over 17,000 signers, but very few of them are in climate sciences (but check me on that). If your mechanic says your car needs a new belt, as do the several other mechanics you take the car to, while a bunch of doctors you know say that it doesn’t, do you get the belt or not? I get the belt. Being knowledgeable (about something) isn’t sufficient; you have to be knowledgeable about the thing at hand.


Yes, I am one of many SciBlings and other bloggers who got offered to pre-screen Randy Olson’s new movie “Sizzle” (check the Front Page of for links to all the others). I was reluctant at first, but in the end I gave in and agreed to preview a copy. Why was I reluctant? As a scientist, I need to start my piece with a bunch of neatly organized caveats, so here are the reasons why I thought I would not be a good person to review the movie:
– I am just not a good movie critic. Of the thousands of movies I have seen in my life, I disliked perhaps three. I am terribly uncritical of movies in general. When I go to the theater, I go with a blank mind, no expectations and, just like any Average Joe, I sit back with a bag of popcorn and ask the Director “Entertain me”. And I am usually quite entertained. I do not have the willpower to watch a movie critically – I just go for the ride. I want to enjoy myself, so I do.
– Ïn the past couple of years (and this may have to do with my internet “addiction”) I have found it increasingly more difficult to focus. It is hard to read a book – I need to deliberately remove myself from the vicinity of the computer for this task, so I mostly manage to read books on airplanes and at the pool. The same with scientific papers – I find it hard to focus and read the thing from beginning to end unless I print it out and take it somewhere away from the lure of the Web. It has come to the point that I have the same problem with movies. Sometimes kids drag me to the theater, but if my wife gets something Netflixed, I usually watch a few seconds and leave the room. A person who has the requisite training and the official license to diagnose people, unofficially suggested I would need Ritalin to go through a book, and he knows me pretty well.
– I am not a climate scientist, but I am a scientist and think like one. I am not the intended audience for this movie. Am I able to watch it through the eyes of an Average Joe?
– I am firmly in the camp of Global Warming believers. But it is not because I would know how to make a climate model. Or because I studied the issue deeply. It is because people I trust say so. Good science bloggers (and a couple of good journalists) explained the models in ways I can understand. They explained the issues in ways I can understand. But most importantly, I believe it because of people who say GW is not a problem – their backgrounds, their corporate and political ties and their sources of income make me deeply mistrustful of them. In a way, my view of GW is political: I see who the people on the two sides are, see how nicely the two sides divide between the people who genuinely care and have no reason to lie, and the people whose financial and political interests led them to lie on many other issues before, and the conclusion is clear.
– I have zero background or even context to watch this in. Nothing to compare. I never saw The Incovenient Truth. I never saw Al Gore’s slideshow presentation. I never saw Randy’s other movie The Flock Of Dodos. I never saw Borat (though I saw a couple of older Michael Moore’s documentaries). I never read a book that is specifically about Climate. The only related thing I saw was that action movie in which GW arrives in hours and traps some kids in a library in the frozen NYC (which I, of course, enjoyed, as I always do, despite of obvious scientific flaws). So, my mind is less prepared for this than either scientists or the Average Joes.
– I am weary of the Framing Wars in the blogosphere and I am afraid that a bunch of blog reviews of the movie will start off another round. This time, I am not sure if I want to participate…
– I am such a stupid Luddite! Knowing that my DVD player can’t do anything with a CD-ROM, I unthinkingly assumed that the reverse is also true, i.e., that my computer would not know what to do with a DVD. So, this stupidity resolved, Sizzle was the very first movie that I ever watched on my computer. I usually watch movies with a bowl of popcorn and a glass of wine, in a comfortable chair or bed, like most people will watch it. But this time I watches it crouched over my laptop, with my earphones on, the way only geeks will see it. I do not know if that is good or bad.
So, I got the DVD and watched the whole thing in one sitting. Normally, I would have quit after the first few minutes, but I persisted because a) I promised to do it, b) I heard that the second half is better than first, and c) because I could not believe that Randy would really be that bad, so I wanted to see more, to see how I was played by Randy in the beginning. It appeared too bad to be genuinely bad – there must have been a catch!
So I put myself into my typical inert film-watching state of mind: my idiotically zen-like, blank-slate, “entertain me”, uncritical, unscientific, impressionistic mode. And through the first half of the movie I was frustrated, frustrated, frustrated, frustrated, frustrated, frustrated!
The first half is so over-the-top awkward. There are totally shallow gay and Black stereotypes. Randy looks and acts like a doofoos and a jerk. The critique of the Star-Obsessed movie-making culture was painful, especially since I had my own experiences with it: younger and more “have-something-to-prove” the movie-makers, more shallow, self-centered, ignorant and arrogant they are. But they needed horses (and people who can ride them, in costumes) and they paid well, so we did try to survive their torture.
For the scientists, the first half (heck, the whole movie) is frustrating because there is very little data and very little explanation of the science of climate change. For the politically minded, like me, the first half is frustrating because it looks like a typically “balanced” He-said-she-said piece, where both sides are given equal time and equal merit. Heck, if anything, the Bad Guys were given more time – there are interviews in there with six sweet-talking GW deniers whose political and financial ties are not put up front for all to see, versus only two climate scientists and one environmentalist spokesperson, none of whom was as eloquent as the deniers. Randy’s occasional angry assertions that denialists are lying are weak and off-putting and make you like the denialists better, especially since the “Average Joe” – Marion, the cameraman – is cool and hip and easy to identify with and yet he swallows all the denialist crap bait, hook and sinker.
I hope people do not get up and leave during the first half.
Because it is subtle. And the second half shows how. The whole movie has to be seen to the end.
The first half is frustrating to us because it shows us our own view in the mirror. Many of us in the sciences, or in the “reality based community”, will find it uneasy and uncomfortable to see that view, but many of us are just like Randy: too serious, too controlling, blind and deaf to the “regular” people’s ways of looking at the world, and overconfident that “truth will set you free”. Yes, it is a caricature, but not too far from the reality of how many of us try to communicate to people who do not think like us.
When we try to explain something and the person we talk to does not believe us, despite of all our years of study, we get frustrated and try to persuade them the same way we try to persuade our scientific peers: by throwing more data at them. But they are not our scientific peers – the data do not hold such a large sway on them. You need to persuade them to believe you, not to understand the graphs. And that is where the professional PR hacks do better – they do the PR tricks: they smile, and bribe, and compliment, and talk like “regular folks” and appeal to emotion. And it works. We know it works. I believe in GW because people who study it persuaded me to believe them, not because I understand their science, or even have any interest in the details of their data. They earned my trust in other ways, and the opponents earned my distrust in other ways. Even for me, a scientist, data had no effect on my current belief – it is the way two sides present the data, or manipulate the data, and explain “what it really means” that one side earned my trust.
And that is exactly what is shown in the second half of the movie. Randy’s mom, and his crew (mostly the sound man, until then pretty silent, even refusing to talk) pretty much sit Randy down and give him a lesson. Now we see some other, previously unseen snippets from the interviews: how well the climate scientists explain stuff when asked by laymen in regular language. And how sleazy the denialists are in their sweet-talking, but can be derailed by a straightforward, direct question.
We are shown a simple graphic of how the six denialists disagree with each other. Oooh!
Then we see two superb examples of scientists who are great communicators, chatting and bantering, at ease with answering questions from skeptical lay audience, putting it all very plainly yet very effectively. While watching the polar bears play. Just before going to New Orleans to see the devastation still there two years after Katrina, and what people who live there have to say.
Every sympathy for the denialist side you could have gathered in the first half disappears after this. No need to show any data, to present any facts, to get angry in the face when screaming that the denialists are lying. You clearly see who is honest and who is not. Who is compassionate and who is a sleazebag. You easily choose who to trust and who not. Without any additional information, you grasp that GW is real, is man-made and should be fixed by us, humans, and soon.
Then you realize that the frustrating over-the-topness of the first half is subtle and there on purpose, to give us contrast, to show us how we keep trying to do it wrong, and then how to do it right.
I noticed how many times I laughed during the second, “serious” half of the movie. I was overjoyed. And I never even chuckled during the first, “comedic” half. The joke was on me. Us.
That is powerful.

Info about the way OA benefits conservation is itself not OA

How free access internet resources benefit biodiversity and conservation research: Trinidad and Tobago’s endemic plants and their conservation status:

Botanists have been urged to help assess the conservation status of all known plant species. For resource-poor and biodiversity-rich countries such assessments are scarce because of a lack of, and access to, information. However, the wide range of biodiversity and geographical resources that are now freely available on the internet, together with local herbarium data, can provide sufficient information to assess the conservation status of plants. Such resources were used to review the vascular plant species endemic to Trinidad and Tobago and to assess their conservation status. Fifty-nine species were found to be endemic, much lower than previously stated. Using the IUCN Red List criteria 18 endemic species were assessed as Critically Endangered, 16 as Endangered, 15 as Vulnerable, three as Near Threatened, and three as Data Deficient (i.e. insufficient data are available to assess their conservation status). Although such rapid assessments cannot replace in depth research, they provide essential baseline information to target research and conservation priorities and identify specific conservation actions.

Kevin Zelnio:

In a paper just out in the conservation journal Oryx, Van Den Eynden and colleagues discuss how they evaluated plant endemism, conservation status and reserve effectiveness utilizing only freely available online resources from the internet and local Herbaria. There were several conclusions drawn about plant conservation, but here is a tidbit about how free access to information helped in assessing conservation status.

“Research institutes that use information technology to catalogue and distribute information online promote the advancement of knowledge at a global scale. Using such free-access online resources, and advice offered freely by taxonomy experts, a review of the endemic vascular plant species of Trinidad and Tobago and an assessment of their conservation status was carried out in a relatively short time and without significant cost. This in turn has been made freely available online (Van den Eynden, 2006). Such rapid evaluation of conservation status cannot replace the need for in depth field-based monitoring and assessment but it provides valuable baseline information for the identification and targeting of specific conservation and research needs. The methods used can be applied by most countries for initial assessments of plant extinction risks. Lack of resources or research data is no longer an argument not to do so.”

Free information, it werks bitchez.
(Unfortunately their paper was NOT freely accessible, the irony of it all…)

Using DNA barcoding to identify illegal bushmeat jerky trade

This is very cool – African Bushmeat Expedition is a project which takes high school students to Africa where they both learn the techniques and at the same time do something very useful – track the appearance of wild animal meat in the market:

Although illegal wildlife poaching is conducted worldwide, the impact in Africa has been devastating. Unsustainable commercial hunting for bushmeat will inevitably lead to species extinction. In turn, localized species extinction impacts the health of native ecosystems. Marketing of illegal bushmeat can also have serious ramifications because pathogens present in the meat may be transmitted, through ingestion, to the human population. The DNA barcoding technique implemented by High Tech High students will provide a useful tool for environmental impact studies by allowing scientists and environmental groups to trace illegal bushmeat back to its localized animal populations.

What is it all about?

In 2005, Jay Vavra of High Tech High in San Diego and Oliver Ryder of the San Diego Zoological Society collaborated to create a conservation forensics course, instructing HTH students on species identification via DNA barcoding. Students studied African bushmeat trade and focused on identification of simulated bushmeat samples, using jerky from a range of species for the process. Advanced studies included experimental methods of DNA extraction and amplification as well as alternative means of DNA preservation for shipment of DNA from Africa. The next step in the study is establishing partnerships and education programs at Mweka College and other sites by bringing students to East Africa to build this novel conservation education program in Africa and to disseminate instructional material in the United States.

The expedition just ended and the participants blogged the expedition and their experiences – check out the blog here.

The assembly was greatly interested in and impressed with our work, and the meeting was a great success. It was fantastic to bring together all that we had learned in the classroom the past few years and in the field the past few weeks.

Next Generation Energy

There is a new (temporary) blog on – Next Generation Energy:

For the next three months, Seed editors and a hand-picked team of guest bloggers will delve into energy policies of all kinds–from carbon capture to windmills.
Every Wednesday, we’ll post a new topic or question about alternative energy on the blog. In the days following, our expert guess bloggers will post their answers to the question, and respond to questions and comments from readers.
So without further ado, here’s our first week’s question:
Our oil supplies are down. And with rising concerns of global food supplies, the loudly touted ethanol now seems to be a no-go, too. So, in the coming years, what do you think will become the world’s most viable alternative energy solution?

You can get acquainted with the bloggers here. Join the conversation.


There is a huge forest fire raging in Eastern North Carolina, unfortunately affecting the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. The smoke has now moved more than 100 miles to the west, which means right here. It’s been stinking of smoke all day, getting worse and worse as time went on. And it appears it will not get any better soon.

Belgrade Is The World

There were quite a lot of events and actions in Belgrade for the Earth Day last week. I came in on that day so I did not have time to see anything. But I loved the balloon they placed in the center of the Slavija square: it was a globe with recognizable outlines of the continents. But the parts of the world were labeled with the names of main streets, parts and neighborhoods of Belgrade (with some effort to match “characters” of the places):
The balloon was supposed to be set free on Earth Day, but, just as I was speaking at the Pediatric Center, a huge storm started outside and broke the balloon lose:
[Pictures stolen from Ana]

Earth Hour

Tomorrow, March 29th, 2008 at 8pm local time, switch off all the lights for an hour! Join the millions participating in Earth Hour (of course there is a Facebook group, full of information).
Apart from the obvious idea of saving energy, it is important to also remember that light pollution has strong negative effects on a variety of organisms, from insects, to migrating birds, to hatchling turtles.The energy saving of one hour may not be much, but the political effect of the effort is worth it.

But, do elephants like to eat my hostas?

The wilding of the American West is definitely a controversial idea. Josh Donlan provides links to the details of the proposal and asks the readers to do a quick poll about it – go do it!

Evil urban environmentalists don’t need to be evil, just smart

Common-sense environmentalism

I like to consider myself an environmentalist, but I almost never call myself one. Mainly because I really don’t want to be associated with a lot of the people who do.
Because environmentalists are usually right about the facts of the issues they attempt to confront: global warming is a reality, the rape of the world’s forests is a disaster in the making, corporate pollution is poisoning us, and the extinction of animal species is both an ecological and a human disaster. On the science and on most policy issues, the environmentalists are right.
But on the human front … they leave a lot to be desired. And this in turn has a lot to do with why their rightness fails to translate into effective action.

Another Story about Dick

Dave’s work was embraced by the locals because his research and interpretive skills gave them a new and broader respect and reverence for a place they already loved. Though he could easily has been the very kind of evil urban environmentalist that rural towns dread, he proved that this antagonism isn’t inevitable. Dave didn’t come on like an outsider coming in to show them a better way. His approach was more like that of a young, bookish pastor who made a permanent commitment to the community, and chose the place to be his own home. His job was to win hearts and minds for the preservation of the lake — and he understood that the first piece of that task was winning over the souls of Lee Vining and Mono County.

Congratulations to the good people of Greensboro

Greensboro is the only North Carolina town on the ‘Popular Science’ list of the America’s 50 Greenest Cities. We still have a lot of work ahead of us until we catch up with the West Coast.

Food and Guilt – questions about some extraordinary claims

There is a lot of stuff one hears about food, sustainability, environment, etc., and it is sometimes hard to figure out what is true and what is not, what is based on science and what is emotion-based mythology.
For instance, some things I have heard over the years and have no means to evaluate if they are even close to plausible:
Claim #1: if we used every square inch of arable or potentially arable land, clearing the rainforest, turning deserts into fields, removing cities, malls and highways, killing all the animals, destroying all natural ecosystems, moving all humans to the Moon and planting all of the Earth’s landmass (except, perhaps Antarctica and Mt.Everest), there would still not be enough grain, fruits and vegetables to feed the entire current human population. True or False? Source?
Claim #2: if we used all the available technology to maximize the production of fish, shellfish, sea-weed, etc., the entire production on the oceans would still not be able to feed the entire current human population. True or False? Source?
Claim #3: if all of the suitable (and unsuitable but convertable, e.g,. cities, deserts) land was converted into small farms where chickens really freely roam and peck around the yard, there would not be enough chicken meat to feed the entire current human population. True or False? Source?
I guess if any or all of those are even close to true, the idea is that we have to trade-off and compromise: we cannot eat just plants, or just seafood, or just free-range chicken, but have to combine all (plus farm-raised animals of several species raised as humanely as possible, plus a little bit of game meat) of these in some way that can feed all of us without destroying the environment.
So, anyone know any answers, or at even educated guesses as to the veracity of any of the three above claims?

Food and Guilt

…from different points of view:
Anne-Marie: Culinary revelation
Mark Powell: Saving the ocean with guilt or desire? and Does the sustainable seafood movement rely on guilt? (blogfish poll)
Miriam Goldstein: Guilty as charged
Amanda Marcotte: Save your soul with recycling

The Island Project

As I promised the other day, I went to Carrboro Century Center this afternoon (right after meeting with Anton around the corner) to see the Island Projects designed by the Chapel Hill High School students of Rob Greenberg.
I did not see all of them – they were doing this in “shifts” throughout the afternoon and I could only stay for an hour – but I saw several of the projects and talked to a number of students (and to Rob himself). I have to say I was really, truly impressed with their work, as well as with their enthusiasm as they explained the details of their projects to me and other visitors. They really did their homework!
Their assignment was to design an island – this means inventing an island that does not really exist but is very geologically similar to the islands that truly exist in the same geographical location. They had to do the research on this – what kind of soil is there, what are the sources of water, energy, what kind of climate is there throughout the year, etc.
Then, they had to design a human habitation on the island in such a way as to leave the least intrusive environmental foot-stamp, i.e., to make the island economy as self-sustained and energy-independent as possible. Not surprisingly, most of the students picked the tropics, for two obvious reasons: lots of sunshine (so they could load their buildings with solar panels and have no expenditure on heating) and the possibility of (eco)tourism as a source of island income.
Some of the groups also had some wind-power sources, though they readily admitted this was supplemental as there is not going to be much wind on such islands except during typhoon seasons (during which they hope the wind-turbines will not get broken).
One group located their island in the Ryukyu archipelago south of Japan and nicely incorporated Buddhist and Shinto religion and martial arts into their tourist offerings, paying attention to the local culture (karate was invented there).
In order to keep the environmental stamp low, the off-season population has to bee quite small, e.g., 500-1000 people, doubling or tripling when the tourists are on the island as well. The food production was probably the most difficult obstacle for them, with only some of the islands having fertile enough soil for tilling instead of letting it just grow a forest.
I have to admit I gave several groups a “third degree”, but they handled it quite well. I would start by asking about the size of the island. The smallest I saw was only about 3 miles in diameter. The largest was about 14 miles from tip to tip of a horseshoe shape. This was my starting point for the questioning about transportation (especially for the tourists): a tiny island can be walked, but what about a bigger island? Bicycles, monorail and electrical cars/buses were the most frequent solutions they offered. But then, the next question: where does the electricity for electric buses come from? Sun and wind, mostly, as well as some garbage incineration.
Interestingly, not a single group thought of horses as a means of transportation for tourists! No pony-crazed kids in that bunch, I guess. Horses may not be good for the smallest of these islands, but for bigger ones they would be an excellent alternative. Bikes need pre-built bike-trails. Horses beat their own trails in a matter of a few months (and those trails are smart, as horses will find the most efficient ways to negotiate the landscape). Trail-ride horses need very little in terms of space and food. Most people who see horses only on TV have this idea that horses need vast expanses of space to run around and enormous quantities of food. But a horse that works several hours a day carrying tourists around (walk, occasional slow trot) prefers to sleep in a stall – protected from heat, insects, snakes, predators, and bullying by other horses. A few small paddocks can be rotated in the off-season. Such a horse also needs only some grass, hay and a handful of grain (which can be raised by using horse droppings as a fertilizer and horsepower for ploughing) – this is not a racehorse or an Olympic showjumper with huge energy requirements – trail riding takes surprisingly little effort from the horses and overfeeding them (which some people do) makes them nervous, dangerous and unhappy. And those super-modern tourists who are afraid of horses can use golf-carts, I guess, and stick to the less wild parts of the island.
I know it is impossible for the school to organize such a trip for all the students, but perhaps they can, on their own, make an appointment to visit the Smart House at Duke and get additional ideas about the ways to make buildings environmentally friendly and energy-efficient.
In any case, I was really impressed by the students and the quality of their work. They have learned a lot about the way to do research, about the Earth, and about the trade-offs one needs to deal with when designing environmentally friendly human habitats – something that, I hope, many of them will bring to their lives and careers later on. Kudos to their teacher, Rob Greenberg, for pulling this off – what a great example of science education that is really meaningful for the students’ lives.
I hope that some of their projects will be made available online as well, so other teachers around the world can use Rob’s experience and replicate this in some manner in the future.
Some pictures under the fold…

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Military Sonar Testing

Obligatory Readings of the Day: Jennifer Ouelette and Chris Clarke explain everything you need to know.

The Island Project

I mentioned before that Carrboro Citizen is my favourite newspaper, the only one I read in hardcopy. Perhaps I like it because it is hyperlocal. Perhaps that is why I have this mindset that those who live in Carrboro already read it and those who don’t will have no interest. So, I rarely blog about their articles. But sometimes something jumps at me as worthy of mention as interesting to anyone anywhere. This week’s edition has one such article – School project an atypical lesson in problem solving – which describes a science project led by Chapel Hill High School Earth and environmental science teacher Rob Greenberg:

The assignment was to pick a location anywhere in the world and create an ancient island there — during pre-human times. The location would predicate the topography, climate and ecology of the island, which would all be included in a map and key the students were to draw of the island they would name.
The second part of the assignment was to draw a map of the island today, including infrastructure designed to leave the smallest footprint, paying attention to all elements of human existence, including dealing with their water, energy and waste requirements within a 10-square-mile area with a population of 1,000 to 2,000. They were also to design a community building — be it a school or recreation or town center.

You can see more details of the project on Greenberg’s website and if you are in the area, please come to the Carrboro Century Center from 2 to 6 p.m. this Sunday to see what the students have done.
What a great way to teach creative thinking and problem solving!

Now We Are Six*

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed Research

Is there any kid who does not love giraffes? They are just so amazing: tall, leggy, fast and graceful, with prehensile tongues and a need to go through complex calistehnics in order to drink. The favourites at zoos, in natural history museums and on TV nature shows.
Giraffes were also important players in the history of evolutionary thought and I bet you have all seen, and heard the criticisms of, the iconic comparison between Lamarck’s and Darwin’s notions of evolution using a comic strip featuring giraffes and how they got their long necks.
Giraffes sleep very little and mostly standing on their feet. They give birth while standing, with no apparent ill consequences to the newborn which, after falling from such a great height, gets up on its feet and is ready to walk and run with the herd within minutes.
Like almost any other mammalian species, a giraffe can sometimes be born albino, but in this case only the yellow background is white, while the brown splotches remain (similar to the “tuxedo” mutation in quail) suggesting that just one of the multiple “color” genes is malfunctioning.
The behavioral (sexual selection) hypothesis that the length of the giraffes’ necks has something to do with male-male fighting, co-called “necking”, is apparently going out of favor, while more ecological hypotheses are gaining in acceptance (again – this appears to be cyclical).
But, one thing that you think when you think of giraffes is the giraffe, i.e., one thing, one species. There have been inklings recently that this thinking may change, finally culminating in a very interesting paper published yesterday in Journal of Biology (free pdf of the paper is available):

A central question in the evolutionary diversification of large, widespread, mobile mammals is how substantial differentiation can arise, particularly in the absence of topographic or habitat barriers to dispersal. All extant giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis) are currently considered to represent a single species classified into multiple subspecies. However, geographic variation in traits such as pelage pattern is clearly evident across the range in sub-Saharan Africa and abrupt transition zones
between different pelage types are typically not associated with extrinsic barriers to gene flow, suggesting reproductive isolation.
By analyzing mitochondrial DNA sequences and nuclear microsatellite loci, we show that there are at least six genealogically distinct lineages of giraffe in Africa, with little evidence of interbreeding between them. Some of these lineages appear to be maintained in the absence of contemporary barriers to gene flow, possibly by differences in reproductive timing or pelage-based assortative mating, suggesting that populations usually recognized as subspecies have a long history of reproductive isolation. Further, five of the six putative lineages also contain genetically discrete populations, yielding at least 11 genetically distinct populations.
Such extreme genetic subdivision within a large vertebrate with high dispersal capabilities is unprecedented and exceeds that of any other large African mammal. Our results have significant implications for giraffe conservation, and imply separate in situ and ex situ management, not only of pelage morphs, but also of local populations.

In other words, there appear to be more than one species of giraffes currently living in Africa – probably six species, and perhaps as many as eleven. And while the individuals of different giraffe species readily mate in captivity, it seems not to happen out in the wild.
Furthermore, two of those six new species belong to very small and shrinking populations. If the finding of this paper is accepted by the scientific community and the six populations receive official recognition as six species, this will turn the two smallest populations into endangered species, worthy of our protection.
An anonymous commenter on Grrrl’s blog has a great idea and I think we should start a contest: make a picture of Noah’s Ark with SIX pairs of giraffes towering over all the other pairs of animals instead of just one pair. Feel free to make it a LOLgiraffe picture. Post the links in the comments here or on Grrrl’s post and we’ll highlight them and pronounce the winners after the holidays.
* Apologies to A.A.Milne

Presidential Candidates on the Environment

The League of Conservation Voters has issued a comparison of all the Presidential candidates of both parties on the topic of conservation and global warming. Look at the Chart and watch the Video. Then decide.

Ten Years Since The Kyoto Agreement….

Indy has the entire issue devoted to the topic of Global Warming, with some excellent articles:
10 years after Kyoto: You’re getting warmer by Bill McKibben
10 years after Kyoto: Winners and losers by Sena Christian
James Hansen won’t be quiet by Lisa Sorg
Ryan Boyles, state climatologist by Matt Saldana
Energy interests fund Duke University’s research on climate change policy by Matt Saldana
State senator parades dubious ‘global warming experts’ before commission by Mosi Secret

Roo to Moo turns Goo into Poo – is that Woo?

Eco-friendly kangaroo farts could help global warming: scientists:

Australian scientists are trying to give kangaroo-style stomachs to cattle and sheep in a bid to cut the emission of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming, researchers say.
Thanks to special bacteria in their stomachs, kangaroo flatulence contains no methane and scientists want to transfer that bacteria to cattle and sheep who emit large quantities of the harmful gas.

And if we give cows jumping beans and jumping genes along kangaroo bacteria, perhaps they’ll really start jumping over the moon….

Chris Clarke on Joshua Trees

Chris Clarke is writing a book on Joshua trees. This requires money and Chris does not have enough. I know I want to read the book when it comes out. This is what blog-friends are for: donate now.

How It All Ends

New on….

…the computers and the Web:
If you are not clear about the difference between the Net (aka Internet), the Web (aka World Wide Web) and the Graph (aka Social Graph), then this post is a must read (via Ed). He explains much more clearly what I had in mind before, e.g., here.
In order to use the Net, the Web and the Graph, you do need some kind of a machine, perhaps a computer, and Greg Laden puts together a dream (or nighthmare) setup for you!
Speaking of dream computers, I could not resist… as you may have seen before, Professor Steve Steve and I got to play with the XO laptop back at Scifoo and, after he nagged me and nagged me and nagged me, I finally succumbed and bought one (which means that another one will go to a poor child somewhere in the developing world – something you should consider doing yourself, but have to think fast as there are only four days left! Update: just saw that it was extended to December 31st…). I am sure that OLPC is inundated with orders and it will take weeks for the laptop to arrive, but once it does, my wife, both of my kids and myself (and Prof. Steve Steve, of course) will give it a test run and I will let you know what we collectively think about it.
Speaking of laptops for kids, why not ask the kids how they would like to see them designed? That is what Amy did (she sometimes comes to my office to get coffee) and you can see the results here (hat-tip: Anton). Pets, Harry Potter trivia, weird games and really weird games….
…North Carolina animals:
Carnivore Preservation Trust has a great website, but most importantly, they now have a brand new IT system that connects it to researchers and veterinarians around the world. The Trust is just minutes away from where I live, but until recently, one could not just show up and go inside (they have tours now, but you have to call in advance, etc.). So, either you knew someone there who can let you in, or you volunteer for a day (or regularly) fixing cages, feeding the animals, etc. I have not been yet, but I will find some time to go soon.
The special exhibit, Dinosaurs: Ancient Fossils, New Discoveries is now open at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh.
The students at the Asheboro Zoo School are spending three days a week cleaning and taking care of 150 Puerto Rican crested toads that were supposed to be euthanized, but due to the effort by veterinarians and students will probably make it.
This is how animals at the NC Zoo are fed:

More on the Tasmanian Devil cancer

As we are trying to help gather some funding to help the Tasmanian Devil from extinction due to the nasty infectious cancer, I thought it would be of interest to you to read more about it in this article: To Lose Both Would Look Like Carelessness: Tasmanian Devil Facial Tumour Disease to which I was alerted by a secret fan:

This paper uses the Tasmanian devil facial tumour disease (DFTD) as a case study of the wider issue of how to manage an emerging disease threat that poses a serious conservation threat: how should you proceed when you know very little? This is a question common to many ecological problems; all environmental management operates in the face of uncertainty. If actions are postponed until higher-quality information is available, then it is likely that substantial costs will be incurred. Further, with emerging diseases or invasive species in general, it is likely that control will become more difficult or indeed impossible once the agent becomes established. Rapid action is therefore essential but will inevitably be based on incomplete knowledge.


Taz needs your help

Tasmanian Devils are suffering from a strange form of cancer, one that is infectious, i.e., it can be transmitted from one animal to another through contact.
The disease is devastating the population of this already endangered species and if some cure is not found quickly, the species will go extinct. Thus, the research and conversation work is needed in these six areas:

1. Investigating the tumour and its chromosomes, looking for clues to resistance
2.Keeping some area or areas of Tasmania free from the disease i.e. wild management
3.Maintaining backup captive populations of devils in Tasmania as ‘insurance’
4.Developing a diagnostic test for the disease
5.Developing a vaccine against the disease
6.Monitoring changes in populations affected by the disease

There is, however, not sufficient funding for all of this. But, we can all help – you can now donate funds to the University of Tasmania research and conservation effort and help save Taz from extinction.

Now is time for us to help

Cyclone Sidr has hit Bangladesh. The number of casualties, though not as large as predicted, is still large and growing. More importantly, millions of people are displaced and have lost the sources of their livelihoods. The best way to help is to send money.
Red Cross/Red Crescent is probably in the best position to help fast. Or you may choose some other organization. Track the relief effort on the ReliefWeb. And donate today.

Polar Bears Debate Climate Change Causes

Maybe that’s why we always wear our hats…

How Global Warming Disrupts Biological Communities – a Chronobiological Perspective

Clocks, Migration and the Effects of Global WarmingSince today is the Blog Action Day and I am swamped at work, I decided to republish one of my old posts concerning the environment (under the fold).

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