Category Archives: Evolution

#2012SVP – what do Vertebrate Paleontologists talk about?

If you are not a vertebrate paleontologist, or play one on TV, what do you think vertebrate paleontologists do?

If you were a kid who knew all dinosaur names, but now only remember that period occasionally when paleontology appears in the media, what would you expect you’d hear if you suddenly appeared at the annual meeting of the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology?

You may have missed it, but I was there, so I will tell you. I am not that different from most of you. Childhood fascination with dinosaurs, graduate studies in physiology and behavior of perfectly living animals, a brief burst of intense study during one semester taking ‘Dinosaur Osteology’ course with Dale Russell, followed by getting my paleo news from media and blogs.

My colleage Kate Wong will cover several stories from the meeting (here is the first) and we’ll have some syndications from Nature (here’s the first)

My assignment? “Blog it!”, said the Editor-In-Chief.

Big Questions

If your paleo diet depends entirely on mainstream media, you may be excused if you think that all paleontologists do is dig fossils and announce discoveries of new species. Sure, a few new fossils were presented at the meeting, and they were interesting. But that was not the centerpiece of the meeting, or topic of most conversations. It is not what you find any more, but what you do with what you find once you found it. Digging it up is just the first step, the interesting science happens later.

If you have not paid attention lately, you may think that some old questions and controversies are still around and unresolved. For example, “were dinosaurs warm-blooded?”. That is a poorly worded question, and it was answered, with some reframing of the question, a decade ago. “Warm-blooded” probably does not mean what you think it means (that would be “endothermic”), but today’s researchers are working out the details of thermoregulation mechanisms, not re-fighting the old wars of decades past.

Likewise, “did birds evolve out of dinosaurs?” has been answered more than a decade or so ago. And the answer is: birds are dinosaurs, the only surviving, living dinosaur lineage. Much more interesting is the current work on details of the origin of flight and feathers.

So, what are the current big questions (and methodological approaches)?

How the animals of the past evolved, developed, looked, lived, made a living, behaved, and died? What information can we extract out of fossils beyond “it belonged to species X”?. And new, often hi-tech approaches are now all the rage.

First, there is math. Lots of math. Math used to analyze taphonomy and what one can infer from the exact position of fossils at the site where they died. Math used to calculate lift and drag and other forces required for powered flight or gliding. Math for computer analysis of evolutionary relationships.

Then, there are machines. Machines that grind teeth against each other to mimic chewing, to see how different kinds of chewing affect the tooth wear, thus enabling us to learn more about the diet of extinct animals. Machines that plop claws into mud to analyze how track fossils are shaped. Different kinds of microscopes that can be used to analyze fine structures of bones, teeth and egg-shells. X-rays, and CAT-scans, and high-speed video. And of course, computers.

Molecular techniques. Combining genetic and anatomical data to build better phylogenetic trees. Using molecular techniques to see if we can find DNA or proteins in dinosaur fossils. A poster from Mary Schweitzer’s group suggests that melanosomes – intercellular packets of pigments we are now using to figure out colors of fossil feathers – may not be melanosomes, after all, but remnants of bacterial films aggregated on the surfaces of feathers.

Eggs. Lots of work on eggs, embryos and development. Especially interesting, to me, was the work by MSU students whose China Paleontology Expedition was documented on our Expeditions blog, using microscopy to explore fine structure of egg shells, then using that structure to figure out relationships between different kinds of extinct animals, including dinosaurs, turtles, etc., and learning some new things about evolution of eggs.

Comparative studies in living animals. And not just dissection of an ostrich (although that, too). Dissections of many species (and individuals) to study the variability, relationship between anatomy and function, between anatomy and ecology, and between anatomy and behavior. There is no such thing as a “model animal” when one studies evolution – good inference from fossils requires understanding of anatomy in a wide variety of related organisms.

If you want to figure out from fossil record if extinct horse species at a particular locality were under strong or weak selection for a particular level of performance, you compare the anatomies of a bunch of tightly selected modern horses (eventers) and a bunch of protected, semi-wild horses where selection is now relaxed (mustangs).

If you want to know if ichtyosaurs bit or sucked their prey, you observe and dissect a lot of aquatic organisms that do one or the other and make a comparison. Ichtyosaurs did not suck, some turtles do:

If you want to know how extinct reptiles, mosasaurs and dinosaurs moved, you put a bunch of different species of alligators and crocodyles in a tunnel, motivate them to run as fast as they can, film them and analyze the videos:

And if you are interested in origin and evolution of flight, you take an X-ray video of a guinea fowl during flight, then scare it to force it to turn in mid-air. And you discover stuff about anatomy and function of living birds that it never occurred to zoologists, veterinarians or poultry scientists to ask, yet it may be useful knowledge to them as well:

Species.

I was pleasantly surprised by how evenly different groups of animals were represented. I expected much more primates, especially those fossils interesting for human evolution, but there were not that many talks and posters about them – I guess those folks go to their own meetings.

While there was a lot of dinosaur stuff – and yes, that is very exciting! – they did not dominate the meeting nearly as much as I expected. There was a lot of work on birds, mammals, extinct and living reptiles, including aquatic and flying reptiles, some work on amphibians, and quite a lot on fish.

Perhaps it is only my own biased perception, but it seemed to me that fish people are somewhat a world of their own – unless it’s an absolutely terrifying shark or bone-plated fish with enormous jaws, I did not detect much interest in fish work by researchers who study more terrestrial organisms. Which is a pity – I saw some interesting posters about fish. Or, if we think phylogenetically, everyone was interested in fish:

People.

One of the beauties of paleontology is that the rewards are mainly intrinsic. It is hard to find a job, and if you snag one, it’s unlikely to be at Harvard. No matter how much of a superstar you become, you cannot just hire an army of students, postdocs and technicians to do the work for you while you sit in the office writing grant proposals or travel around the world giving talks – you still have to go out in the field, suffer the heat and dust, and wield the hammer, then come back to the lab and do some manual work yourself. You can become famous, but are unlikely to get rich. No patents, no Nobel Prizes. And importantly, the findings are unlikely to directly affect lives or livelihoods of millions of people (as in medicine, for example), which allows one to follow one’s curiosities wherever they may lead.

Thus, paleontologists are a really fun bunch to be around. They are not secretive about their work, instead they want to tell you everything about it. No fear of scooping, as this is a small, tightly knit community where everyone knows what the others are doing, where they are digging, etc. I asked a bunch of people “Where will this work be published?” and in nine out of ten cases the answer was PLOS ONE (and in one case “PLOS ONE, or perhaps PeerJ”). Only once I heard “so, so sorry, but this will be behind a paywall, ugh”. Openess rules.

Controversies are big and loud, people disagree, but in the end everyone’s a friend, have beer together at the end of the day, and let the scientific process work its charm and come up with the resolution in the end. Was Torosaurus a species or just a juvenile Triceratops? They can argue in a really heated way, yet in the end they are not enemies, they do not hate each other.

I am not much of a star-seeker or fanboy. And I did not really have much to ask of the big stars of the field. I think, in any field, the most interesting work is done by junior researchers and students, and what they say (and the enthusiasm by which they say it) may be more revealing about the future of a field. Which is why I focused on the posters.

Yes, I did see a bunch of talks (and it seems all the talks of greatest interest to me were happening simultaneously on the last afternoon of the event, on Saturday). But I went to see the posters every day during lunch break when the posters are already up, but people are not there yet. I checked out every single poster, in order to get a feel for the field as a whole. Then I would focus on, and completely read, 4-5 posters each day. In the afternoon, when the poster sessions starts, I homed in on those 4-5 posters and talked to the authors, asked more questions. A number of those posters will end up here on our site, written by authors on the Guest Blog, over the next several weeks and months.

One more observation. It appeared to me that the sex-ratio of the meeting was roughly fifty-fifty. But the age distribution was different between the sexes. Males were of all ages. Most veterans are male. Females were mostly younger, usually students. As I have not been to a SPV meeting before and cannot observe trends over time – this is just a snap-shot – I cannot make a good explanation for this. It can mean two things. First, a traditionally male-dominated field is getting a healthy influx of women, and what we see if a transitional period toward equity. Second possibility, there are always young women entering the field, but they exit from the leaky pipeline around the postdoc/job transition, leaving only men to achive seniority in the field. Perhaps long-time members of the society can chime in, in the comments, about this.

Media.

Twitterfall in the hallway
Twitterfall in the hallway

I attended the ‘Paleontology and the Media’ workshop on the first day. Dana Ehret explained how to work with a PIO to craft a good press release. Matt Kaplan gave good advice on how to work with a journalist. And Brian Switek explained the ways researchers can now bypass the PIO and the journalist, and communicate directly to the audience via blogs and social media.

Apart from Matt Kaplan, Brian Switek, Kate Wong, Michael Balter and myself, I am not sure if there were any other representatives of the traditional media at the event. Thus Brian’s advice appears to be most important: not so much about bypassing traditional media, but getting your work out in the vacuum where there is no media. Which is why I wish more people attended the workshop to hear what Brian had to say.

In 2012, the notion that shameless self-promotion is a dirty word is anachronistic, dangerously so.

The number of paleontology bloggers and twitterers is pretty small – though a great bunch!

#2012SVP tweetup

#2012SVP tweetup

Being active on Twitter certainly has some advantages:

But what I was most careful about was always asking people what is and what is not OK for me to blog about. There is still so much misunderstanding about the way publishing works these days, and especially about the notorious Ingelfinger Rule (see this Embargo Watch post specifically about SPV policy, and Tony’s post about the utter illogic of not making the meeting’s abstracts public, which is also why I cannot link to individual abstracts in this and future posts). People don’t seem to understand it, and assume much harsher rule than it really is. Much of the communication stuff they are afraid of doing is actually perfectly acceptable (and not considered as “prior publication”) by the major publishers like Nature, Science and PLOS.

Society meetings used to be semi-private events. They certainly felt private. A bunch of friends and colleagues get together, exchange data, results, ideas, have a beer and assume nobody else will know anything about it. If there is media at the event, it is carefully corralled away and spoon-fed information under harsh embargo rules.

But today, meetings are truly public events. When the means of production of media change hands, and is now cheap and easy to own by anyone, there is no such thing as media any more. Everyone is potentially “the media”. Researchers are now their own media. Thus, the media cannot be controlled. Thus, the researchers (and scientific publishers) need to adapt to the new world.

Reminder: “to publish” means “make public”.

No, your paper in a journal is not the only “publication” of your work.

If you give a talk or poster, that’s a publication. If you tweet or blog about your work, it’s publication. If others livetweet your talk, it’s publication. If others discuss your work on their blogs, it’s publication. When your paper appears in a journal (typeset and formatted in traditional ways to appeal to traditionalists), that is also publication, one snapshot of it. Media and blog coverage of your paper is publication. TV and radio appearances are publication. Your own blog post detailing the background information and context of your research is also publication. People who tweet out links to your blog post are also publishing it. Every blog post and comment in the back-and-forth you may have with colleagues on blogs (or social media, from Twitter to Facebook to Google Plus) about your work is an item of publication. Your next paper is also a part of the publication cycle of your previous paper (unless you suddenly switch your research interests from Hadrosaurs to particle physics).

Just like science, publishing is not a singular event – one piece, one date, one time. It is a continuous work and continuous conversation. It is not a single paper-bound broadcast by just one lab. It is a discussion between a number of players, continuously, in various venues, and in different forms and formats. My bugging SVP (several tweets, a blog post, an email, and saying it out loud during the media workshop, especially about the availability of free wifi as an essential element of a modern conference) are not bugging, not angry criticism – they are intended to help the society move faster into modern media times. Those things help publication, in all of the forms I noted above – researchers’ presentations, livetweeting/blogging, traditional media coverage, everything. And publishers are quickly adapting to the new world as well, gradually diminishing the scope of Ingelfinger Rule, hopefully to abandon it entirely in the near future. And as a result, science will do better. Don’t we all want that?

#2012SVP – Society of Vertebrate Paleontology

I am at the 72nd annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology in Raleigh, NC, this week.

My colleague Kate Wong will be covering the most interesting presentations from the meeting on the Observations blog, while I will do more impressionistic stuff here later in the week.

The Twitter hashtag is #2012SVP if you want to follow in real time (I livetweeted a couple of sessions today and will do more later).

So far it’s great fun. Bumped into some old friends, and finally met some online friends in the real world. There is some fascinating research going on.

It is unfortunate that SVP did not push harder on the Raleigh Convention Center to allow them to bring in an external company to provide and boost wifi. No convention center has wifi with sufficient bandwidth for hundreds of people simultaneously tweeting, blogging, filing stories, uploading videos etc. And wifi has to be free at meetings – that is an essential requirement, just like having coffee at all times (you do not expect to have to pay extra for soap, hot water and towels once you paid for your hotel room, right?). The lack of free wifi (and really, is anyone in 2012 actually going to pay for it, especially when knowing it is crappy?) is probably the reason why most people just gave up, and only a few of us are bravely tweeting from our iPhones tapping into Raleigh’s free downtown wifi and 4G.

More tomorrow…

Charlotte’s Web: what was she smoking?

“Don’t touch those webs!”

Me and an enormous spider, at the Natural History Museum in Berlin, 2008.

A couple of decades ago, my wife and I worked on a horse farm where everyone was explicitly instructed not to ever clean the cobwebs inside the barn. Sure, the owners themselves would occasionally, very carefully, almost surgically, remove a few targeted old cobwebs here and there, but the majority of the webs remained up at all times. Explanation? Spiders don’t bother anyone, while flies and mosquitoes bother both horses and humans.

On the other hand, for balance, there is an old Serbian proverb that goes like this: “If there were no wind, spiderwebs would cover the sky”

I assume this is said every time someone complains about the strong eastern wind, Koshava, that sweeps through the country in autumn.

And this situation – spiderwebs covering the sky – is something that happens in Mark Twain’s story Some Learned Fables, For Good Old Boys And Girls, featuring Herr Spider as one of its key characters. I read Twain’s short stories over and over again as a kid. Still love them.

Why are we so enchanted by spiders, in real life, in mythology, and in popular culture? I certainly am, always was.

There were Little Miss Moffet, and Itsy Bitsy Spider.

As a little kid, I watched, and was greatly impressed by the old film Tarantula. Later I could not help myself – just had to watch Eight Legged Freaks and Arachnophobia. And yes, Spiderman, despite its scientific…er, bloopers.

Of course I knew about Arachne and the beautiful myth of the origins of the callipygous Shenora Spider (does such a species even exist in reality?).

And then there are spiders in literature. I was scared by the Spider-Man in John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids. I fought the giant spiders of Mirkwood when I played The Hobbit computer game on Sinclair ZX Spectrum back in 1981 or so, after I have already read the book both in Serbian language and the original English. There was Shelob in Lord of the Rings, and Aragog in Harry Potter.

And of course, the best spider in all of history – Charlotte!

Charlotte. She could write.

Today is the 60th anniversary of the first publication of Charlotte’s Web, the beautiful, haunting story of a talking pig and a writing spider.

Interestingly, growing up in Yugoslavia the first 25 years of my life, I have not heard of Charlotte’s Web until I came to the States. But then I had kids. And kids loved to watch the movie over and over again. So I read the book.

And to this day, occasionally, spontaneously, I start singing “Isn’t it great that I articulate!” An important and heart-felt sentiment for a writer for whom words are toys.

Then I received in the mail (but am yet to read it, I promise I will), Michael Sims‘ book The Story of Charlotte’s Web, a biography of E.B.White and the story of the making of the book.

But not everything is fiction and myth. I am a scientist at heart. Each one of those invented characters always made me want to learn more about the real creatures.

Orb weaver (Argiope sp.) Members of this genus are found all around the world and spin large webs that often contain striking designs. Charlotte’s Web author E.B. White, who consulted with a Museum curator while writing the classic children’s book, named the main character Charlotte A. Cavatica after a common orb weaver, Araneus cavaticus. © AMNHR. Mickens

Orb weaver (Argiope sp.) Members of this genus are found all around the world and spin large webs that often contain striking designs. Charlotte’s Web author E.B. White, who consulted with a Museum curator while writing the classic children’s book, named the main character Charlotte A. Cavatica after a common orb weaver, Araneus cavaticus. © AMNHR. Mickens

A couple of months ago, I went to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City (thanks for the tickets, you know who!) to see their new exhibitSpiders Live. Yes, “Live” is a good description – there are plenty of living specimens in there, many quite fascinating.

As usually happens in museum exhibits, there was plenty to learn about what we know. Anatomy, physiology, ecology, evolution, geography, behavior. Sure, there were a couple of non-spiders there, like scorpions, but it was clearly explained exactly why they are not spiders and how they are related.

One could see a short video showing how Gladiator spider catches its prey by throwing a carefully counstructed web trap on it, like this:

And they mentioned the Bolas spider which catches its prey by lassoing it in with its bolas-like ball of silk:

Interesting – to me at least, as a chronobiologist – is that the Bolas spider uses its circadian clock for an interesting function – it produces different blends of chemicals in its pheromone at different times of night (pdf) to coincide with different times when two different species of moths are flying around, each species attracted to a specific mix of aromatic chemicals.

But beyond learning facts, I was also looking at the ways the exhibit tries to include the scientific process – how we know what we know about spiders? I was looking for, perhaps, descriptions of ingenious experiments on the courtship signaling in wolf spiders, or the research on unique social, colonial spiders. Nope.

There was a part, at the end, which described how scientists collect spiders in the field, how they catch them, preserve them and label them.

And then I saw what I was really looking for. Yes! They did it! The exhibit had a really nice description of my favorite spider research ever! And there it was, The Charlotte’s Web connection, and my own personal connection! I talked about it at the last #TriSciTweetup at the NC Museum of Natural Science in Raleigh NC, for the inaugural Lightning Talks with Brian Malow on Thursdays at the Daily Planet Cafe:

Back in 1948., zoologist H. M. Peters was studying how spiders spin webs. He was getting tired as he had to do all of his research late at night, when spiders spin their webs. So, he asked his friend Peter Witt, a pharmacologist, if there is anything that he could give to spiders that would make them spin during the day. Peter suggested amphetamines. It did not work. Spiders kept weaving at night. But, oh my, their webs looked crazy! They were like impressionist art!

Argiope spider web This real argiope spider web has been colored and preserved. Its most striking feature, an ‘X’ running through it, is something of a mystery. Many spiders embellish their webs with these designs, called stabilimenta, but the reason is unknown. Scientists think stabilimenta may attract insects by reflecting light, warn birds away, or camouflage the spider from predators. © AMNHD. Finnin

Argiope spider web. This real argiope spider web has been colored and preserved. Its most striking feature, an ‘X’ running through it, is something of a mystery. Many spiders embellish their webs with these designs, called stabilimenta, but the reason is unknown. Scientists think stabilimenta may attract insects by reflecting light, warn birds away, or camouflage the spider from predators. © AMNHD. Finnin

Peter Witt was an amazing person, a wonderful man. I had the fortune to meet him once, in 1998, just a couple of weeks before he died. He was the Head of the institute for brain and behavior at Dorothea Dix hospital in Raleigh, now unfortunately closed.

Intrigued by the results his friend Peters got when giving spiders amphetamines, he turned his own research into that direction, using spider webs as windows into the way different chemicals affected the nervous system. Some of those were pharmaceuticals of the day. Others were drugs found relatively easily on street corners back in the 1950s and 1960s. Both were of interest to science, of course, for different reasons.

Different drugs had different effects on the shapes of the web. In high doses, almost every drug resulted in highly irregular webs. But at carefully chosen lower doses, there were some interesting differences. For example, under the influence of caffeine, the webs were vertically shorter but horizontally wider, as spiders made larger angles between the radial spokes of the web.

The most striking was the effect of LSD-25. Yes, LSD. This is the only drug which resulted in webs being more carefully weaved and more perfect than the controls.

Charlotte? Is that you?

Many years later, I was teaching a lab at NCSU in animal physiology. Part of the lab was a project, done by students under my supervision. Some students did projects on humans – each other. But the other half used animals. Invertebrates, as there was no time to get an IACUC (institutional animal care and use committee) approval for use of vertebrates (that is a long and difficult process).

A spider web on pervitine

A spider web on pervitine

One of my students decided to use Peter Witt’s experimental protocol, applying a chemical that he never used way back then – serotonin. Result? Spiders made decent webs, but they took about twice as much time to make them. They went slow about it. They made perhaps half of the twists of the spiral before deciding that was the end, leaving about twice as much space between the loops of the spiral.

Spider brains are large and complicated. They are so large they can’t even fill just the head, a part of them fills the thorax. Of course, spider brains are difficult to study. Not to mention that we do not have a spider genome sequenced yet so we do not have the tools to monitor what is happening in a spider brain. Thus, this line of research has been largely abandoned.

But it was not all in vain. Apart from being able to categorize substances along the lines of their effects on spider webs (often corresponding to their effects on human brains), this method now has a place in agriculture. Placing a few spiders in a field or orchard overnight and taking a look at the webs in the morning can tell the researcher if there are pesticides there, and perhaps which class of pesticide if not the exact kind.

Perhaps there is something in the air that can induce a spider to write “Terrific” and I’d love to know how it does that.

Stumped by bed nets, mosquitoes turn midnight snack into breakfast

Anopheles mosquito (unknown source)

Anopheles mosquito (unknown source)

One of the most effective methods for the control of spread of malaria is the use of bed nets infused with insecticides. Most species of mosquitoes (the Anopheles genus) that carry the malarial parasite (Plasmodium falciparum) are considered to be strictly nocturnal – they are active only during the night.

Thus, sleeping under the net provides protection against getting bitten by the insect vectors of the disease. The net does it in two ways – by providing a mechanical barrier between the mosquito and the human, and by killing mosquitoes that get in contact with the infused insecticide.

As we have learned many times, often the hard way, evolution tends to find a way around such tricks. A number of Anopheles species or local populations have evolved resistance to pyrethroid insecticides usually used in the nets. Yet, the mechanical protection of the net should still be effective, right?

Not so fast! A new study published in September 21 in the Journal of Infectious Diseases documents a behavioral change in a local mosquito population that effectively works around the safety protection of bed nets. What do they do that’s new? They changed the time of day when they bite!

Malaria-carrying mosquitoes are thought to all be strictly nocturnal. Recently, this dogma has started to be questioned, mainly because the rates of malaria did not significantly diminish in areas where bed nets have been implemented. Perhaps they fly and bite during the day, yet nobody bothered to test that hypothesis yet? A previous study noticed a shift in timing of activity and biting from middle of the night into early night. This study was quite systematic – repeating the experiment in two locations in Benin at three time-points: before, during and after the full implementation of bed nets in both locations.

Chronogram of the experiment. Translation for humans: 'chronogram' is an "aren't we sophisticated in our clever use of silly, opaque, uneccessary jargon" version of 'timeline'.

Chronogram of the experiment. Translation for humans: 'chronogram' is an "aren't we sophisticated in our clever use of silly, opaque, uneccessary jargon" version of 'timeline'.

What did they do? They collected mosquitoes in large numbers and recorded the time of day they caught mosquitos. In addition, they used morphology to identify the genus, and PCR to identify the species. Every single mosquito was Anopheles funestus. They tested the caught mosquitoes for pyrethrin resistance and did not detect any – every single mosquito died. Thus all the changes were strictly behavioral.

How did they collect them? They placed humans in strategic places as living targets. It looks pretty much like this video, except they actually captured the insects into vials, then transferred them into small bags:

During the period of just a few years as the bed nets got implemented in the two villages, local mosquitoes dramatically shifted the timing of activity. Instead of 2 or 3am, they now predominantly bit humans around 5am:

Shift in timing in mosquito activity in two locations over three sampling periods.

Shift in timing in mosquito activity in two locations over three sampling periods.

What does that mean?

First, we don’t know yet if this was an evolutionary (i.e., genetic) change or a purely behavioral change. It is possible that there was quite a lot of genetic variation in timing of activity in the population a few years ago and that the bed nets provided a selective regimen that skewed the population to consist mainly of late night and dawn-active individuals. It is also possible that there is sufficient behavioral plasticity in the mosquito allowing it to learn the new best time of day to go out foraging. I’d love to see the mosquitoes placed in isolation chambers to monitor purely genetic patterns of circadian rhythms of activity.

But let’s think more in ecological terms. There are several players here: the Plasmodium parasite, the Anopheles vector, the human host, and predators that eat mosquitoes, notably bats. I have written at length about this a few years ago. Here’s a simple schematic of how the system works when undisturbed:

A crude schematic of possible timing of activity in this ecological system

A crude schematic of possible timing of activity in this ecological system

If the mosquito shifts to almost dawn, what happens?

First, the humans are up and about, outside of nets, readily available to bite. If the humans are healthy but mosquitos are carriers, this is a good way to transmit malaria to them.

But the humans who are sick, the sources of malaria, are still not available. At the times when they undergo “quaternary fevers”, which are the times when malarial parasites are present in their blood (I explained this in great detail before), they are safely hidden by the nets in the middle of the night and they are not bitten by late-biting mosquitos.

Second, a mosquito that bites a human around dawn is much more likely to get detected by that human and be swiftly turned into a small, bloody mush.

Third, while a mosquito that flies around dawn may be able to avoid some of the bats (though not all of them – many bats hunt until the break of dawn), they are now increasingly vulnerable to other predators – frogs, lizards and birds – that tend to hunt at dawn.

As it often happens, there are pros and cons when it comes to evolving new adaptations. The bed nets are now selecting for new adaptations in mosquitoes. It is hard to predict what will be the pros and cons of those adaptations for human health, or the pros and cons of those adaptations for mosquitoes and their survival, or pros and cons of these adaptations to insects’ predators. Future research on this will be both very interesting to watch and very useful for control of malaria.

Reference:

Nicolas Moiroux, Marinely B. Gomez, Cédric Pennetier, Emmanuel Elanga, Armel Djènontin, Fabrice Chandre, Innocent Djègbé, Hélène Guis and Vincent Corbel, Changes in Anopheles funestus Biting Behavior Following Universal Coverage of Long-Lasting Insecticidal Nets in Benin, J Infect Dis.(2012) doi: 10.1093/infdis/jis565

Tigers take to the night – for peaceful coexistence with humans

In an ideal ecosystem, each species has its own niche – a different “job description”: what it does, what it eats, where it sleeps, and more.

But world is often not an ideal place. In many instances, two species may live in the same spot, yet overlap in some of their roles or needs. They may both compete for the same tree-holes or caves for dwelling, or they may eat the same food. It is not necessary for the two species to be aggressive toward each other, but it is likely that one of the species will be more efficient in gaining the resource than the other.

What is the “loser” to do?

Schematic of possible human+tiger distribution in the Chitan National Park in Nepal

One solution is to move elsewhere. This is called spatial displacement or spatial niche partitioning in ecological jargon. For example, the less competitive species can move some miles down the road, where the more efficient competitor does not live. The place may not be as good – less food and shelter, for example, but it is good enough for individuals to survive and breed, and for the population to persist for a long period of time.

Perhaps the only place to go is up – up the slope of the mountain to higher elevation. There may be stronger winds, colder winters, less vegetation to hide in from predators, and less food, but again, it may be good enough for the population to survive. If this persists for a substantial amount of time, natural selection has the opportunity to introduce new adaptations for the new environment, even to the point of evolving a new species, sufficiently different from other populations of the same species that remains in other places.

In some cases, there is nowhere to go. The two species may inhabit an island. This is often the way an invasive species drives a local island species to extinction. Or you may remember the high school experiment in which you placed colonies of two bacterial species in a petri dish, watching as one colony uses the food better, grows faster, and finally completely kills off the other species.

If there is nowhere to go in space, there is a possibility to go somewhere in time. This is called temporal displacement or temporal niche partitioning. The two species remain in the same place, but divvy up the day (or year). The more efficient (or aggressive) species keeps doing what it’s always been doing. But the less efficient species embarks on a new time regime.

There have been a number of observed instances of this. The best documented one is the case of two closely related species of spiny mice inhabiting the “Evolution Canyon” in Israel. The common spiny mouse (A. cahirinus) is, like most rodents, night-active (nocturnal). The other species, the golden spiny mouse (A. russatus) is actively foraging during the day (diurnal), which is unusual for a rodent. When brought into the laboratory and isolated, monitoring of the circadian rhythms of activity showed that both species are inherently nocturnal. The golden spiny mouse forages during the day as a purely behavioral adaptation – its genetics drives it to eat at night, but its environment (including the presence of smells of the other species) dictates eating during the day.

Furthermore, as this situation has persisted for long periods of time, the golden spiny mice have evolved changes in their eyes, adapting them better for a diurnal mode of life. The genes and developmental pathways underlying the development of the eyes apparently contained more useful variation that natural selection could act upon than the underlying biological clock which is still “stuck” in its ancestral condition. This is not optimal – it would be presumably be better if all of the animal’s biochemical, metabolic, physiological and behavioral functions switched to the daytime regimen, but it is also obviously “good enough” for the species to survive and thrive.

Tiger caught on a camera trap in Nepal. Photo: Government of Nepal.

Tiger caught on a camera trap in Nepal. Photo: Government of Nepal.

Today, a new paper in Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences (not online yet – PNAS is legendary for being late at actually publishing their papers at the time embargo lifts, but check the link later) introduces another interesting example of temporal niche partitioning – and this time it is relevant both for conservation purposes and for human safety.

Researchers from Nepal, in collaboration with Neil Carter and colleagues at the Michigan State University, East Lansing, observed that Chitan National Park in Nepal, one of the 28 world’s tiger reserves large enough to support 25 or more breeding females, has a healthy population of tigers. Yet, the Park is also full of humans, and the interactions between humans and tigers are relatively rare.

Their hypothesis was that tigers and humans may use the space of the large park differently, each species limiting its activities to particular areas of the park. Humans in the park include  locals who forage, hunt and collect wood in the park, a growing number of tourists, and the military units which traverse the park in jeeps to ensure safety and prevent poaching. The two species compete for some of the same resources – mainly space, but to some extent also food. The two species are also afraid of each other and would tend to avoid meeting each other if possible.

To test this, the researchers installed motion-sensitive cameras inside the park as well as just outside of it. What they discovered was that the two species completely overlapped in space, using the same roads and trails. But, humans remained strictly diurnal animals, confounding their activities to the daylight hours and generally avoiding the darkness. On the other hand, tigers, which are normally day-active animals, switched to the night. They triggered the same cameras in the same places, but mainly at times when humans were not around – during the night.

While being interesting in its own right, as well as a potential model for future research, this study also has practical consequences. It shows that temporal niche partitioning is a strategy that can be employed by tigers, at least as a “good enough” strategy that can allow the tiger population to survive and thrive over long periods of time. This means that humans and tigers can coexist and use exactly the same spaces. The finding makes it easier to politically “sell”, set up, fund and run protection areas for tigers as there may be no need to displace the resident humans as long as there is sufficient guard against poaching.

 

Reference:

Neil H. Carter, Binoj K. Shrestha, Jhamak B. Karki, Narendra Man Babu Pradhan and Jianguo Liu. Coexistence between wildlife and humans at fine spatial scales, PNAS, September 4, 2012

The Scienceblogging Weekly (August 26th, 2012)

The week was too busy to finish this on Friday. Then on Saturday the news broke that Neil Armstrong died – something I wanted to highlight as a special topic – so I decided to wait another day and give people a chance to wrote posts and articles about Neil. So, with a delay, the weekly linkfest is here!

 

Blog of the Week:

We are all in the gutter is a an astronomy and astrophysics group blog. The title of the blog comes from the quote “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” from Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde. Emma, Niall, Rita and Stuart are astronomers, astrophysicists, star-gazers and space geeks at various career stages, having fun with their blog, exploring the universe from every angle they can possibly think of.

 

Top 10:

Unless They’re Zombies, Fossils Don’t Live by Brian Switek:

I hate the phrase “living fossil.” The term should be eradicated from the vocabulary of science writers, and anyone who employs it should be promptly encased in Carbonite. “Missing link” is the only slogan that pisses me off more. My acute allergic reaction to the idiom may be a little overwrought, I admit. But, to me, “living fossil” is nonsense that obscures more than it elucidates. Take the coelacanth, for example….

Hyenas Eschew Lent, Chew Donkeys Instead by Anne-Marie Hodge:

Anyone who has ever attended a holiday parade or gone on a summer vacation knows that cultures tend to create their own seasonal patterns. In much of Western culture, December is a time of much celebrating and feasting, while similarly wintry January is relatively dreary and dull (after New Year’s celebrations subside). This raises a question: how do the behaviors and culture of a society affect the animals that depend upon that society’s garbage for their food? The progressive encroachment of human settlements into the habitats of wild animals has opened opportunities for animals to avail themselves of human refuse. A raccoon in North America is likely to find a juicy watermelon rind in July and leftover turkey remains in November. Perhaps equally enticing for a roving dumpster-diver, but by no means nutritionally equivalent….

Why Is the Night Sky Turning Red? by Amy Shira Teitel:

The idea of a red sky at night used to invoke beautiful images of vibrant sunsets, the product of warm sunlight bathing the sky near the horizon. The adage of “red sky at night, sailor’s delight” refers to a calm night ahead; a red sunset suggests a high-pressure system in the west is bringing calm weather. But red skies at night have taken on a new meaning in recent decades. As outdoor lighting become increasingly prominent, our night skies are gradually turning from black to red….

When will we find life in space? by Phil Plait:

One of the reasons I love astronomy is that it doesn’t flinch from the big questions. And one of the biggest is: are we alone? Another reason I love astronomy: it has a good shot at answering this question…

Paleo-politics: The really long view by Will Femia:

…..The other explanation is that the Cretaceous ended when, 65 million years ago, an asteroid (or asteroids) slammed into the earth, right across the future-Gulf of Mexico at the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula. Not only did the impact and resulting fallout from that asteroid kill the dinosaurs, it also wiped out huge quantities of marine life, including many of the “tiny marine plankton with carbonate skeletons” (I’m guessing some version of Coccolithophore? Anyone?) that would become the rich soil that slaves would farm on land their ancestors would inhabit in voting districts that would favor Democratic candidates around the turn of the second millennium of the Common Era……

What the Dark Knight knows about holding our urban lives together by Scott Huler:

There’s a lot not to love about The Dark Knight Rises, the crazyish new chapter in the latest Batman cycle: a series of actions and explosions so unconnected that they make a Rorschach test look like a syllogism by comparison; Marion Cotillard’s death scene, which lacked only her eyes rolling up and her tongue lolling sideways from her mouth to equal those put on by toddlers on playgrounds; and Christian Bale’s Batman growl — close your eyes and you think Cookie Monster is saving Gotham City….One thing the movie got right, though, is its focus on the infrastructure systems that serve as the beating and vulnerable heart of our urban existence. Every major plot point directly relates to the built environment and the networks that make every element of our lives possible….

Science For Princesses by Janet Stemwedel:

I have always known that I loved science, that delicious alliance of imagination and methodical testing that could help you figure out something about how a piece of the world worked. However, being born at the tail-end of the 1960s, I grew up in a culture that wanted me to know that girls were not supposed to like science. In fact, between toy commercials and TV shows, teachers and peers, I got the message pretty quickly that science is not something for girls. Rather, girls should turn their attention to more important matters . . . like being properly feminine. There was a way that girls were supposed to be—neat and tidy and pretty and pink and quiet and well-behaved. I was not any of those things. I didn’t want to be any of those things. I didn’t know how to be any of those things. And, as far as I could tell, trying to be those things was not going to help me get my hands on the science-y stuff that I wanted. So what was the point?….

How to Annoy E.O. Wilson by Michelle Nijhuis:

…….During a panel at the Aspen Environment Forum in Colorado, as she describes here, Emma piqued Wilson with her talk of making more nature — of expanding our definition of the natural world to include places humans have invaded, altered, and restored. Spending billions trying to return coastal areas like the Everglades to pre-Columbian “purity,” she added, is a lost cause. Better to invest in upslope reserves, and perhaps even learn to admire the tenacity of invasive species…..

Father’s age dictates rate of new mutations by Virginia Hughes:

With every passing year, men are increasingly likely to transmit new mutations to their children, according to the largest study yet of the so-called paternal age effect, published yesterday in Nature. The findings could help explain why older men are more likely to have a child with autism or schizophrenia than are younger men, the researchers say….

I Am Science…and a Nerd by Craig McClain:

I am a nerd. I was a nerd. I will be a nerd. Perhaps in kindergarten I wasn’t, where nerdom had difficulty establishing itself among the simple lessons of the alphabet, counting, and colors. In kindergarten, we are more or less the same in deficiencies and achievements. But after that, I am pretty confident my geek flag flew. I cannot remember ever being a bad student. Repeated straight A’s and the honor role defined me….

 

Special topic 1: Neil Armstrong

Neil Armstrong’s message to the future by Amy Shira Teitel

Neil Armstrong: Ace Engineer and Hotshot Test Pilot by Amy Shira Teitel

Neil Armstrong’s legacy went to waste but a new space race is on the cards by Alok Jha

Neil Armstrong: 1930 – 2012 by Phil Plait

Pow! ZOOM! To the Moon! by Phil Plait

Debunking myths about Neil Armstrong by James Oberg

Rocks remember, and so do we by Ethan Siegel

What Neil Armstrong Knew Is What We Never Will by Charles P. Pierce

Keep in mind as you put together your Neil Armstrong packages tonight… by Charles Apple

The Man and the Moon by Anthony Lane

As We Say Goodbye to Neil Armstrong, Should We Also Let Go of Our Space Fantasies? by John Horgan

For Neil Armstrong, the First Moon Walker, It Was All about Landing the Eagle by Andrew Chaikin

Neil Armstrong by Babbage

Neil Armstrong Talks About The First Moon Walk by Robert Krulwich

Neil Armstrong by Neil Gaiman

Neil Armstrong’s Last Interview by Jeff Marlow

RIP Neil Armstrong, star of the first big story of my news career by Steve Buttry

The Cold War Push Behind Neil Armstrong’s ‘One Small Step’ by Andrew C. Revkin

Rest in Peace, Neil Armstrong by Matthew Francis

 

Special topic 2: rape and pregnancy

Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) serves on House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology by David Kroll

Here is Some Legitimate Science on Pregnancy and Rape and What Do You Do When There is No Best Dataset? A follow-up on pregnancy and rape statistics by Kate Clancy

The sperm don’t care how they got there, Rep. Akin by Emily Willingham

Sure, women cannot get pregnant from rape. Also, all mean people are ugly and puppies are immortal. by Melanie Tannenbaum

Legitimate rape, seminal priming, and preeclampsia by Jon Wilkins

Unfamiliar sperm, Tibetans, and cheese: Why evolutionary biology doesn’t excuse Todd Akin by Jeremy Yoder

What people who talk about “legitimate rape” really mean by Naomi McAuliffe

Todd Akin and the Anti-Science House Science Committee by Brandon Keim

‘Legitimate rape’ – a medieval medical concept by Vanessa Heggie

Backstory: the reporter who interviewed Akin by Mike Hoyt

A letter to Paul Ryan about forcible rape by Dr. Jen Gunter

Pregnancy Flowchart by Adam Weinstein

Hard words: Do we know what we’re talking about when we talk about rape? by Kathryn Blaze Carlson

The Crackpot Caucus by Timothy Egan

Why Sex Education Helps End Rape by Erica Grigg

Akin breakin’ science by Phil Plait

It’s trigger warning week by Laurie Penny

Rape exceptions aren’t legitimate by Irin Carmon

Where Akin got the idea that rape victims rarely get pregnant by Tim Townsend and Blythe Bernhard

An Open Letter to Rep. Akin From a Woman Who Got Pregnant From Rape by Shauna Prewitt

Todd Akin’s Abortion Position Reflects GOP Platform by Laura Bassett

Conservative Media Dismiss Akin “Rape” Comments As “Dumb,” But Rhetoric Is Reflected In GOP Policies by MIKE BURNS & SOLANGE UWIMANA

The Problem With Men Explaining Things by Rebecca Solnit

Todd Akin and the Right’s False Fact Machine by Josh Barro

Words and deeds by David Wescott

Rep. Todd Akin’s statements have a familiar ring to them… by Sassquach

Legitimate takedown: Todd Akin meets the women of the Internet by Virginia Heffernan

A Canard That Will Not Die: ‘Legitimate Rape’ Doesn’t Cause Pregnancy by Garance Franke-Ruta

The Official Guide to Legitimate Rape by Katie J.M. Baker

Todd Akin’s “Legitimate Rape” Comment Was Not a Misstatement. It Was a Worldview. by Laura Helmuth

Rep. Todd Akin’s Rape Remark At Odds With Science Of Pregnancy by Jeanna Bryner

What Does Todd Akin Think “Legitimate Rape” Is? by Amy Davidson

 

Special topic 3: superbug at NIH

The “NIH Superbug”: This Is Happening Every Day by Maryn McKenna

Genome detectives unravel spread of stealthy bacteria in a hospital by Ed Yong

Not a failure, a lesson. The NIH Clinical Center KPC Outbreak by Eli Perencevich

The NIH Superbug Story—a Missing Piece by Judy Stone

Hunting a Superbug by Deborah Blum

‘Superbug’ stalked NIH hospital last year, killing six by Brian Vastag

NIH should have notified it of superbug outbreak, Montgomery County official says by Brian Vastag

Like a Game of Clue, Genomics Tracks Outbreak, Revealing Evolution in Action by Ricki Lewis

Genome Detectives Solve a Hospital’s Deadly Outbreak by Gina Kolata

Govt. Gene Sleuths Stop Superbug That Killed 6 by The Associated Press

 

Best Images:

Drake equation: How many alien civilizations exist? by IIBStudio

Sunday Morning Anole Cartoon: When Lizard Biologists Compete by Rich Glor

If you were to summarise the world into 100 people, how would the population turn out? by Charlie Hilton

Conventional Wisdom by Randy Yeip

Are those pictures of Mars from the Curiosity rover? by Is Twitter Wrong?

Miss Insomnia Tulip’s Anatomical Macaroons by AnatomyUK

Votive Ear by Jai Virdi

Glow-in-the-dark cockroaches look like Jawas by Jess Zimmerman

London Zoo animal audit – in pictures by The Guardian

Animals in the News by Alan Taylor

 

Best Videos:

How Did Apollo-era Astronauts Sleep in Space? and Learning to Land on the Moon by Amy Shira Teitel

Amazing Color Differences In Lizard Populations Separated By Little Distance by Jonathan Losos

Can dinosaurs still be badass with feathers? by Charlie Jane Anders

Camera shutter speed synchronized with helicopter blade frequency by whataboutlarry1

Why Insect Wings Don’t Fracture by Sid Perkins

The High-Resolution Life of a Neuron by Brandon Keim

Curiosity Drops in on Mars in High-Res by JPLnews

Doodling in Math Class: Connecting Dots by Vi Hart

Jessica Wise: How fiction can change reality by TEDEducation

Learning By Play by Nadja Popovich

 

Science:

Three Ways of Looking at the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by Miriam Goldstein

Thomas Kuhn: the man who changed the way the world looked at science by John Naughton

Kuhn the Irrationalist by Peter Coles

A brief history on how I became an Animal Behaviourist… by Kate Mornement

How Domed Dinosaurs Grew Up by Brian Switek

Microbes manipulate your mind by Mo Costandi

Kissing bug – the real vampire of Latin America by Samantha Price

Is solidarity a thing of the past? by Kurt Cobb

No, immunology should get the same scrutiny as psychiatry. And vice versa. by Tim Skellet

So, you’ve dropped a vial or lost a sample box in your liquid nitrogen container…now what? by Brian Krueger

Breeder by Melissa Wilson-Sayres

‘Beam Us Up, Mr. Scott!’: Why Misquotations Catch On by Maria Konnikova

Superbug Summer Books: EXPERIMENT ELEVEN by Maryn McKenna

Chemical Free Dirt (for the Fairytale Garden) and Smoked Out and No, no. Not Nicholas Kristof on Chemicals Again by Deborah Blum

Why are languages so different—and disorderly? by Philip Ball

Aphids, carotenoids and photosynthesis by Ian Le Guillou

Do Be a Dick (sometimes): Emotions and Skeptics by Ashley F. Miller

Tesla’s Revenge: Filmmakers Kickstart Electrifying Docudrama About Cult Genius by Hugh Hart

The neurology of Psalm 137 by Vaughan Bell

Book review: Connectome by Sebastian Seung by Moheb Costandi

TGIPF: Penis in My Head by Christie Aschwanden

First US stem cell trial for autistic children launches today by Kathleen Raven

Stem cell clinical trial for autism: proceed with caution by Emily Willingham

Is a trial of stem cell therapy in autism scientifically and ethically justified? by Orac

Would Rachel Carson Embrace ‘Frankenfoods’? – This Scientist Believes ‘Yes’ by Pamela Ronald

Debunking the Hunter-Gatherer Workout by Herman Pontzer

Morality and Basketball by Sean Carroll

Republican spending plan casts shadow on science by Amy Maxmen

Making Liquor Recommendations by Dr24hours

Richard Dawkins in Playboy by Faye Flam

Amateur Scientists Discover Asian Needle Ant Has Expanded its Range by Thousands of Miles, Unnoticed by Rob Dunn

Dogs Chasing Their Tails Are Akin to Humans With OCD and Celebrating 1,447 Years of the Loch Ness Monster and Go to Sleep, All-Nighter Cram Fests Don’t Work and Want to Avoid a Mid-Life Crisis? Get Friends and Crafty Bonobo Shows Humans Aren’t the Only Stone Tool-Makers by Rachel Nuwer

Asperger’s Doesn’t Make You an Asshole by Heina

Bodies in art, art in bodies by John Hawks

NASA’s Amazing Gliding Gemini Capsules by Amy Shira Teitel

Can Identical Twins Get Away With Murder? by Brian Palmer

What can survive on Mars? by Steven A. Edwards

How to Learn a Language Nobody Speaks and Lance Armstrong Surrenders Against Doping Charges and Will be Banned for Life by Rose Eveleth

Rockstars, Ethograms and Behavior (Problems) by Julie Hecht

Planetary alignment pyramid scheme by Phil Plait

We Can Save the World by Eating Bugs and Drinking Urine by Erin Biba

Clothes Make the Man—Literally and The Neuroscience of Optimism by Jordan Gaines

Wasps Follow Order of Succession When Queen Dies and The Shambulance: Zero-Calorie Noodles? by Elizabeth Preston

Friday Weird Science: This quail has a cloth fetish by Scicurious

Vowel Movement: How Americans near the Great Lakes are radically changing the sound of English. by Rob Mifsud

How to Teach a Horse the Rules of the Road by Miriam Kramer

Remnants of a stellar suicide pact and The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Scientific Talk by Matthew Francis

Helium-Breathing Gibbons Sing Like Human Sopranos by Tanya Lewis

Siberian Princess reveals her 2,500 year old tattoos by The Siberian Times reporter

The birthplace of English? by Tim De Chant

Anti-Terrorism Campaigns and the Criminalization of Public Non-Conformity by Gwen Sharp

Hormones Explain Why Girls Like Dolls & Boys Like Trucks by Natalie Wolchover

The Nature of Consciousness: How the Internet Could Learn to Feel by Steve Paulson

New Morbid Terminology: Coffin Birth by Katy Meyers

Are You a Hero or a Bystander? by Sue Shellenbarger

Invasive species provide important lessons for surviving climate change and New species of barbet discovered in Peru by GrrlScientist

Just how big were dinosaurs? by Dave Hone

How Plantain Trees Could Become an Energy Source by Rhitu Chatterjee

Night Thoughts of a Classical Physicist by Ann Finkbeiner

WWWTP? Time’s Aspirin Structure Causes Headache by See Arr Oh

Candidates clam up on climate by Curtis Brainard

Overlooked and Underfoot: Sidewalk Cleaning in New York City by Ashley Taylor

Spawning coral monitored for effects of climate change by Melissa Gaskill

10 Myths About Space Travel That Make Science Fiction Better by Charlie Jane Anders

Goo-eating snakes and the eggs that evade them by Andrew Durso

Bonobo Stone Tales: The Making Of A Story by Charles Choi

Replacement Parts and Newly discovered rat that can’t gnaw or chew by Ed Yong

Artist Patricia Olynyk inspired by light pollution by Casey Rentz

Scoop: A preview of Romney’s energy plan by Philip Bump

Neuroscience: Solving The Hard-On Problem by Neuroskeptic

Every Step You Take by Wendy Lovelady

Fighting the stereotype that math is only for boys by Patricia Valoy

The Wall Street Journal Does It Again: Another Whopper Of A Lie On Climate Science by Dana Nucitelli

It’s all about objective multiples… by Mia Cobb

Medieval Women as Physicians by Tracy Barrett

Was Vincent van Gogh Color Blind? It Sure Looks Like It by Colin Schultz

Ego v. Efficiency at the U.S. National Science Board by Jeffrey Mervis

The Science of Bad Neuroscience by Neurobonkers

Social Position Drives Gene Regulation of the Immune System by Daniel Lende

Q&A: Alexandra Cousteau by Emily Fisher

The evolutionary history of dragons, illustrated by a scientist by Annalee Newitz

Egg-ceptionally Bad by Cassandra Willyard

The Free Will Confusion (1): On “My Brain Made Me Do It!” by Stephan Schleim

Should we teach algebra? by Paul Raeburn

The Rats of War: Konrad Lorenz and the Anthropic Shift by Liam Heneghan

Why College Binge Drinkers Are Happier, Have High Status by Maia Szalavitz

How many species are there? by Zen Faulkes

 

Media, Publishing, Technology and Society:

How to Succeed in Journalism when You Can’t Afford an Internship by Alexandra Kimball

Who are the offline-academics? by Katie Wheat

Sick of Impact Factors: Coda by Stephen Curry

Taking the Impact Factor seriously is similar to taking creationism, homeopathy or divining seriously by Bjoern Brembs

There are cons to open acces? Really? by Bjoern Brembs

“You’re not entitled to your own facts” vs. That’s your opinion. Kiss my ad. by Jay Rosen

Twitter rewrites the script for political conventions by Martha T. Moore

Barbara Mack: best media lawyer I ever worked with by Steve Buttry

Ask A Writer: “How Do I Write What The Audience Wants To Read?” by Chuck Wendig

The End of My Writing Career / Author Sharon Potts by Clay Stafford

Research As You Go by Steven Johnson

The ridiculous SVP embargo is back again by Ross Mounce

Intellectual power and responsibility in an age of superstars by Daniel W. Drezner

Coming in the side door: The value of homepages is shifting from traffic-driver to brand by Adrienne LaFrance

Google Hiring Data Reveals Two Things Women Can Do To Get Hired And Promoted More by Nicholas Carlson

A Day In My Life As A Freelance Science Writer by Charles Choi

Turn Off the Phone (and the Tension) by Jenna Wortham

Adulthood, Delayed: What Has the Recession Done to Millennials? by Derek Thompson

Why Are Young People Ditching Cars for Smartphones? by Jordan Weissmann

The Cheapest Generation by Derek Thompson and Jordan Weissmann

How Wikipedia Manages Sources for Breaking News by Heather Ford

Ex-NPR Hill reporter: Lied to daily by Patrick Gavin

Report: Social network demographics in 2012 by Pingdom

6 questions journalists should be able to answer before pitching a story by Tom Huang

Plagiarism, defamation and the power of hyperlinks and The billion-dollar question: What is journalism for? and Why it’s better for fact-checking to be done in public by Mathew Ingram

Rutgers Professor’s Research Shows Social Network Sites Foster Close and Diverse Connections by Lisa Intrabartola

Don’t blame Twitter when journos tweet stupid things; blame stupidity by Steve Buttry

How long-form journalism is getting ‘a new lease of life’ in the digital world by Rachel McAthy

Why fact-checking matters by Emily Willingham

Rotary Dial by Ftrain

The closing of American academia by Sarah Kendzior

Be More Productive. Take Time Off. by Jason Fried

Journalist Of The Day: SciAm’s Bora Zivkovic talks about the evolution of social by Chao Li

 

Blogs of the Week so far:

May 11, 2012: Academic Panhandling
May 18, 2012: Anole Annals
May 25th, 2012: Better Posters
June 1st, 2012: Vintage Space
June 8th, 2012: Tanya Khovanova’s Math Blog
June 15th, 2012: Russlings
June 22nd, 2012: Parasite of the Day
June 29th, 2012: March of the Fossil Penguins
July 6th, 2012: Musings of a Dinosaur
July 13th, 2012: Contagions
July 21th, 2012: Life is short, but snakes are long
July 27th, 2012: Science Decoded
August 11th, 2012: Powered By Osteons
August 18th, 2012: Do you believe in dog?

The Scienceblogging Weekly (August 18th, 2012)

Blog of the Week:

Do you believe in dog? is a brand new blog. It is written by two dog researchers, one in New York City, the other in Yarra Valley just outside of Melbourne, Australia. Julie Hecht you may already know from her wonderful blog Dog Spies, her writing in The Bark, or her research which we covered here at SciAm. She studies (and teaches about) dog cognition. Mia Cobb, the Australian, did her research in animal behavior on birds and ants, but now works on issues of dog shelters, welfare and performance science of working dogs. What is the coolest thing about the blog is that the two of them write for each other, addressing each other in each post, thus teaching and learning from each other in a dialogue to which we are all invited to participate in and contribute.

 

Top 10:

Tales from the OR by Summer Ash:

WARNING: This post contains my blood and guts, literally. If you’re squeamish, I recommend skipping this one. What follows is my journey through the operating room at Columbia-Presbyterian on July 18, 2012. Apologies, but I couldn’t help starting off with yet another pop culture reference (this time from Wes Anderson’s Rushmore)….

An example of why it is important to distinguish evolution as fact, theory, and path. by T. Ryan Gregory:

I, and others, have pointed out that there are three aspects of evolution: evolution as fact, evolution as theory, and evolution as path. Evolution as fact refers to the historical reality that species are related through common ancestry. This is supported by a massive amount of evidence from a wide array of independent sources. Evolution as theory refers to the proposed explanations for how “descent with modification” occurs — mutation, natural selection, genetic drift, etc. Evolution as path refers to the actual patterns that have occurred during the history of life, such as when certain events (e.g., branching points, extinctions, etc.) took place, how lineages are related, when and how many times certain traits evolved, and such. The important point is that these three components are largely independent…

The Childhood Aquatic by John Romano:

There is a structurally integral part of my psyche that is the keystone to my existence. I am not sure how it was placed in such a vital position, but it seems this part of me is embedded in my DNA. Something that I can never remember being without. The absolute and total fascination with the natural world….

Abraham Lincoln and The Embalmer by Romeo Vitelli:

The assassination of Abraham Lincoln on April 15, 1865 shocked a nation still recovering from four years of bloody civil war. Along with the hunt for his killers and the uncovering of the assassination plot against the President and several other members of his administration, there was also the logistic nightmare of his funeral and the need to transport the President’s body by train from Washington D.C. to his final resting place in Springfield, Illinois. Since the funeral train would retrace the route that Lincoln had traveled to Washington following his election, the body would be viewed by millions of mourners along the way during the numerous planned stops. All of which raised the question of how to keep the body preserved long enough to reach its destination. Considering the fact that funeral embalming was a relatively new development at that time, some very special arrangements needed to be made…

Inspiration from bassist Victor Wooten shows me a new way to deal with my “child-as-scientist” frustrations by Marie-Claire Shanahan:

I have a confession to make: I cringe a little every time I see a school science or science outreach program justified by saying something like, “Young children are natural scientists, truly curious about the world” (That particular quote is from the Delaware Museum of Natural History). I feel like a curmudgeon about it because it often comes with really good intentions to get students actively involved in doing science (something I definitely support)….

How a Tick Bite Made Me Allergic to Meat by Helen Chappell:

The last time I ate a hamburger, I spent the night in the emergency room. There wasn’t anything wrong with the hamburger itself—aside from being a bit overdone—but it sent me into anaphylactic shock. It wasn’t always this way…

Are wolves really all that? by DeLene Beeland:

Have conservation scientists become carried away, touting the ecological benefits of wolves where there are perhaps — dare I say it? — not as many as we believe there to be? Perhaps some people in the media, and even some in science, have gotten carried away with the ecological changes that wolves are actually capable of mediating, says globally-renowned wolf biologist L. David Mech in his most recent paper “Is science in danger of sanctifying the wolf?” …

Losing One’s Head: A Frustrating Search for the ‘Truth’ about Decapitation by Lindsey Fitzharris:

If you ever find yourself in a pub with me, chances are that at some point, the conversation will turn to death. Not just death, but the terrifying and horrible ways people have succumbed to it in the past. I have often heard a story retold about a man who attended the execution of his friend during the French Revolution. Seconds after the guillotine fell, the man retrieved the severed head and asked it a series of questions in order to determine whether or not it was possible to retain consciousness after decapitation. Through a system of blinking, the victim allegedly communicated his message back to his friend. The ending to this story changes according to the whims of the narrator… or perhaps the number of drinks he or she has consumed by that time. I wondered: was this the 18th-century equivalent to an urban legend? Or could there, in fact, be a degree of truth in this ghastly tale?….

A Dirty, Deadly Bite by Brian Switek:

Dragons aren’t real. At least, the fire-breathing wyverns and coiling wyrms of medieval lore aren’t. Those reptilian menaces were products of superstition and pre-scientific ideas about prehistoric creatures. They were ugly amalgamations inspired by our fears and actual fossil remains of long-extinct mammals and dinosaurs. But in the early 20th century, reporters excitedly relayed the discovery of what quickly became known as the Komodo dragon – ten foot long lizards that had coexisted with humans on South Pacific islands for thousands of years, but had only just been recognized by western science….

The Itsy Bitsy Drummer by Helen Shen:

Rrrr… RRR… Thack! Thack! Thrusting his front legs skyward, the male jumping spider shakes his rear end to send thumps, scrapes, and buzzes through the ground. He’s playing for a female’s attention, dazzling her eight eyes with semaphore while drumming out seductive seismic signals. A few missteps could turn the spider’s performance into a dinner show—with the star as the main dish. The ferocious female demands precise choreography, set to a groovy beat that UC Berkeley behavioral ecologist Damian Elias is working to decipher….


Best Images:

On Cephalopods and Science Fiction by Jen Richards

Beautiful periodic table from LIFE magazine’s 1949 special on the atom by Frank Swain

Curiosity’s photos (cartoon) by Viktor Poór

A bacterium on a diatom on an amphipod on a frog on a bump on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea!<!–

The Spider Wars by bonybones

UNDERCOVER by Jun Takahashi

The Olympics Are Over and Here Are the Best Infographics by Rose Eveleth

They fell out of the sky! by Bill Harding

Elgar’s Explosion by Eva Amsen

Teaching history by Zach Weinersmith

Old Friends by Beatrice the Biologist

Tasting the rainbow: The ants whose multi-coloured abdomens show exactly what they’ve been eating by Mohamed Babu

Anole Raids A Hummingbird Feeder by Karen Morris

Unicorn Blood Parasite by The-Episiarch

Cures of all Kinds by Jai Virdi

 

Best Videos:

The GMO Song: “OMG GMOs!” by Andrew Bean, David Holmes, Sharon Shattuck, and Krishnan Vasudevan

Do watch this – probably the best ever debris flow video, from Austria last week by Dave Petley

Tricky Mister! Indirect Sperm Transfer in Primitive Hexapods by The Bug Chicks

Helmet Cam Strapped to Hunting Falcon Captures “Birds-Eye-View” Footage by Michael Zhang

Seat vibration test: oscillate the human by Marc Abrahams

Lice on a Bird: Convergent Evolution in action! by Bug Girl

 

Science:

Where Fire Meets the Sea by Tanya Lewis

Curiosity Landing: What’s With All the Peanuts? and Apollo’s Youthful Glow and The Soviets’ First Space ‘Rendezvous’ by Amy Shira Teitel

The benefits of seeing a “challenge” where others see a “threat.” and Why do swimmers hate Lane 8? and The psychology of doping accusations: Which athletes raise the most suspicion? by Melanie Tannenbaum

Could you be an Olympic athlete? by Catherine de Lange

Mysterious Tides: Toxic blooms of marine algae are getting worse, and some think we’re to blame. by Marissa Fessenden

Astrobiology: Worth It? by GunnarDW

Olympics Physics: The Long Jump and Linear Regression by Rhett Allain

Diseases That Just Won’t Quit by Tim Wall

Think Like a Doctor: A Peculiar Heartbeat Solved! by Lisa Sanders

The Bullying Culture of Medical School by Pauline Chen

Two Tales of Symbiosis by Elio Schaechter

Where the Minutes Are Longer: The Weird Science of Telling Time on Mars by Rebecca J. Rosen

Stop Calling Sherlock a Sociopath! Thanks, a Psychologist. by Maria Konnikova

Why cocaine users should learn Bayes’ Theorem by Precocity

Science on crack, 2: Walter White & cooking crystal meth by Puff the Mutant Dragon

We live in a geocentric world! by Thony C.

Murder by Physics by Matthew Francis

In Vietnamese community, treating taboos on cancer by Erin Loury

Years After Slash and Burn, Brazil Haunted by ‘Black Carbon’ and Science Takes Fat Out Of Chocolate, Replaces It With Fruit and Defending a Sanctuary With Paint and Song by Rachel Nuwer

Why We Need Ecological Medicine by Rob Dunn

Is PTSD A Product of War, or Of Our Times? by David Dobbs

A very modern trauma by Vaughan Bell

Curious about Curiosity: the Science Lab on Mars (Part I) and Search for Water (Part II) and Life on Mars (Part III) by Claire.W

Popping up trouble with butter and Alzheimer’s by biochembelle

A New Species Discovered … On Flickr by Adam Cole

Cells = drugs = government regulation? by Ada Ao

On the loss of a mentor: Al Malkinson, lung cancer researcher, scholar, gentleman by David Kroll

The Hidden Power of Whale Poop by Brandon Keim

What do you do when you’re sick? by Jai Virdi

Choice of Wood in Cremation Pyres by Katy Meyers

Food and trust of science and Does a Ph.D. train you to head a lab? by Zen Faulkes

Africa Grows Too Hot to Grow Chocolate by Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato

Community health workers help HIV patient change attitude, life by Helen Shen

Hyenas Show It’s Better to Be Creative than Try, Try Again and Close Look at Bison DNA Reveals Our Dirty Fingerprints by Elizabeth Preston

CDC: Pretty Much Everyone Is Fat by Maryn McKenna

Why did people start mummifying their dead in the driest place on Earth? by Ed Yong

Found in translation: where do cures come from? by Jenny Rohn

Mouse Eyes Come With Built-In Bird Detectors by Sophie Bushwick

Atop Everest, two Sherpas and a watchmaker forged a friendship that changed their lives by Samantha Larson

Here’s an Omical Tale: Scientists Discover Spreading Suffix by Robert Lee Hotz

Flavors of Uncertainty: The Difference between Denial and Debate by Wendee Holtcamp

Tracks of an Oak Killer by Erin Loury

What is fair in the Olympics? Is sex a special case? and What is DNA? by Genegeek

That Eternal Question by Nicholas Suntzeff

Choosing the Paths Less Traveled? There’s an App for That by Henry Grabar

“Canopy” Meg Lowman (forest ecologist) – podcast by Samantha Larson

Scientific reproducibility, for fun and profit by John Timmer

Good Scientist! You Get a Badge. by Carl Zimmer

Reproducing Scientific Results – On Purpose by Derek Lowe

Common Lab Dye Found to Interrupt Formation of Huntington’s Disease Proteins by Kathleen Raven

No, that’s not a picture of a double sunset on Mars and An unreal Mars skyline by Phil Plait

How to Patch the PhD Problem by Alison McCook

Lead’s Everlasting Legacy by Meghan D. Rosen

Tweeting my genome #twenome and “Run away!”: a one-size-fits-all solution by Alex Brown

The Rise of the Three-Parent Family by Annalee Newitz

The Political Benefits of Taking a Pro-Climate Stand in 2012 by Connie Roser-Renouf, Anthony Leiserowitz, Edward Maibach

The Circadian Advantage: How Sleep Patterns Benefit Certain NFL Teams by David K. Randall

Book Review: Newjack Guarding Sing Sing by Erin Podolak

Dear HigherEd Communicators: John Tesh is Kicking Our Asses by Elizabeth Monier-Williams

When Yellow Fever Came to the Americas by Michelle Ziegler

The Mind of a Flip-Flopper and Cow Week: Angry cows vs. angry mothers by Maggie Koerth-Baker

PhD2.0 and anecdotes from the trenches by Jeanne Garbarino

The Sea Longs for Red Devils by Daniela Hernandez

Cooperating For Selfish Reasons by Miss Behavior

The Mix-Up that Ended the World by Erik Vance

Intimate Life of Mosquitoes by Lowell Goldsmith

What Anti-Trafficking Advocates Can Learn from Sex Workers: The Dynamics of Choice, Circumstance, and Coercion by danah boyd

Confessions of a Fake Scientist by Phil Edwards

Baby, You Light Up My World Like Nobody Else by Rachel Wang

Nothing Says Baby-Makin’ Like Desiccated Bacon and Scientists create a “Dow Jones” for ocean health by Allie Wilkinson

The Evolution of Shark Week, Pop-Culture Leviathan by Ashley Fetters

The Smell of Fear (No Tweets Necessary) by Natalie Angier

Post-Antipsychiatry by The Neurocritic

Where Have All The Cults Gone? and Is Poker A Game of Skill or Luck? by Neuroskeptic

Brain’s Drain: Neuroscientists Discover Cranial Cleansing System by Daisy Yuhas

This Woman Wants You to Buy Her, Piece by Piece by Rose Eveleth

My Brain Made Me Do It: Psychopaths and Free Will and How PTSD and Addiction Can Be Safely Treated Together and Couples Therapy Can Help PTSD and Improve Relationships by Maia Szalavitz

On quack cancer cures, and “alternative medicine” as religion by Xeni Jardin

Scientists can block heroin addiction now? and Offbeat tales: The summer heat takes its toll and Morning wrap-up by Paul Raeburn

How to Put a Curator in a Box: Part 1 and Ask an Exhibitionist #1: What’s the fake water? by Helen Chappell

Sharks and lasers, not just for entertainment! by Craig McClain

Giant cluster phenomenally fertile by Nadia Drake

Emma Marris: In Defense of Everglades Pythons and A Song Tries to Go Beyond the ‘OMG’ Reaction to GMOs by Andrew Revkin

The Emerging Revolution in Game Theory by The Physics arXiv Blog

“A simple feat… only expensive”: The Oatmeal tries saving Tesla’s lab by Casey Johnston

How many colors are really in a rainbow? by Ethan Siegel

Spiders Weave Better on LSD-25 by Clyde

Are Drug Companies Faking an Innovation Crisis? Uh, No. by Derek Lowe

Gorilla Joy Without a Doubt by Marc Bekoff

Turning Trauma Into Story: the Benefits of Journaling by Jordan Gaines

A Lesson in Rocketry by Marie-Claire Shanahan

PhD what is it good for? #leavingacademia by Jerry Nguyen

Contraception, healthcare and the costs women will leave behind by Katie Rogers and Ruth Spencer

The problem with poker by Pete Etchells

Rare Discovery: Hook-Legged Spider Found in Oregon Cave by Douglas Main

Why I’m Working Toward my Ph.D. at a Museum by Alejandro Grajales

How not to criticize psychiatry, part 1 by Tim Skellet

Book Review: The Wolverine Way, by Douglas Chadwick by DeLene Beeland

On Sciences and Humanities: Reflections on Coyne and Konnikova by German Dziebel

Citizen scientists may beat the pros in identifying at-risk species by Kate Shaw

The Long-Lived Legacy of the Cambrian’s “Wonderful Life” by Brian Switek

Bigger and Smaller by Lucy E. Hornstein

Scissor Sisters by Sally Adee

Brain network: social media and the cognitive scientist (pdf) by Tom Stafford and Vaughan Bell

 

Media, Publishing, Technology and Society:

Sick of Impact Factors by Stephen Curry

A smear campaign against Impact Factors…and the Sheep of Science by Drugmonkey

Deep impact: Our manuscript on the consequences of journal rank by Bjoern Brembs

Chess ratings and Impact Factor and Self archiving science is not the solution by Zen Faulkes

On publishing in PLoS One, and what’s the matter with ecology? by C. Titus Brown

Should supreme court justices use Google? by Paul Raeburn

Geneticists eye the potential of arXiv and Neanderthal sex debate highlights benefits of pre-publication by Ewen Callaway

9 ways to find helpful people and organizations to follow on Twitter by Steve Buttry

Instead of a press release: Options to add to your press release diet by Denise Graveline

Jonah Lehrer and the Problems with “Pithy” Science Writing by Karthika Muthukumaraswamy

Using Links as Citations Helps Gizmodo Defeat a Defamation Claim–Redmond v. Gawker Media by Eric Goldman

Discover magazine moving to Wisconsin and Discover magazine update by Paul Raeburn

New! New! New! (not yet) and If I were making a Twitter clone… and Making a Twitter clone, day II by Dave Winer

Magazines Don’t Have a Digital Problem, They Have a Bundling Problem by Hamish McKenzie

Should journalists specialize? by Kallen Dewey Kentner

Science Outreach in North Carolina by Russ Campbell

Stop Publishing Web Pages by Anil Dash

Author Platform Lessons from #1 New York Times Bestseller Rebecca Skloot by Dan Blank

To Think, To Write, To Publish by Maria Delaney

Do We Need Another Information Sharing Platform? by Jalees Rehman

How The American University was Killed, in Five Easy Steps by Debra Leigh Scott

13 ways of looking at Medium, the new blogging/sharing/discovery platform from @ev and Obvious by Joshua Benton

How To Lose Twitter Followers by Neuroskeptic

What to Do With Political Lies by Garance Franke-Ruta

Science Communication in the PhD process by Heather Doran

Science News staffers complain about misappropriation of their copy by UPI and UPI’s second response on misuse of copy by Paul Raeburn

UPI shirks responsibility by Curtis Brainard

News stories that aren’t news by John L. Robinson

Student Paper Editors Quit at University of Georgia by RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA

Letter from the Editor in Chief by Polina Marinova

Students walk out on University of Georgia newspaper by Andrew Beaujon

UGA Red & Black staff walks out today in protest. Is it now Red & Dead? by Maureen Downey

Witness describes confrontation between Grady NewSource Reporter and Red & Black Publisher by Grady Newsource

Study: Journalists’ lousy understanding of fair use leads to self-censorship by Andrew Beaujon

Five types of problem writer by Ann Friedman

Jonah Lehrer’s Mistake — And Ours by Peter Sims

Making Studies Out of Nothing at All by Taylor Kubota

On being a journalist, getting quotes by Razib Khan

Mendeley Acquires SciLife, a Social Network for Scientists and Researchers by Darrell Etherington

Nikola Tesla museum campaign earns $500,000 online in two days by Adam Gabbatt

Lessons on the Internet for LAMs from The Oatmeal: Or, Crowdfunding and the Long Geeky Tail by Trevor Owens

Further Decline in Credibility Ratings for Most News Organizations by Pew

The Update by Matt Thompson

Metrics, metrics everywhere: How do we measure the impact of journalism? by Jonathan Stray

Why we are poles apart on climate change and Doing science is different from communicating it — even when the science is the science of science communication by Dan Kahan

Hey, Twitter — shouldn’t it be about the users? by Mathew Ingram

The first steps towards a modern system of scientific publication by Joe Pickrell

Reflections on science blogging by Puff the Mutant Dragon

 

Blogs of the Week so far:

May 11, 2012: Academic Panhandling
May 18, 2012: Anole Annals
May 25th, 2012: Better Posters
June 1st, 2012: Vintage Space
June 8th, 2012: Tanya Khovanova’s Math Blog
June 15th, 2012: Russlings
June 22nd, 2012: Parasite of the Day
June 29th, 2012: March of the Fossil Penguins
July 6th, 2012: Musings of a Dinosaur
July 13th, 2012: Contagions
July 21th, 2012: Life is short, but snakes are long
July 27th, 2012: Science Decoded
August 11th, 2012: Powered By Osteons