Connecting the Town and Gown: Cooperative Extension

Challenging the Conventional Narrative, Focus on Nuance, UncategorizedJuly 31, 20140

Over the last few months, I’ve seen a few efforts proposed to better connect universities to local community research needs. While whole practices and skill sets around participatory action research, community-based research, etc., exist, these don’t quite meet the need these recent proposals attempt to address. These proposals are not talking one faculty research program implementing participatory methods, they want a fundamentally different relationship between researchers and the community surrounding them – which, in many ways, gets back to the roots of many universities in the United States: land-grant universities.

In 1862 and 1890, the Morrill Acts granted land to create universities to focus on practical education: agriculture, science, military, and engineering. Students and faculty research from these institutions, in return, would advance important industries and changing social class relations. The Smith-Lever Act of 1914 later extended the mission of these schools to extend the research results to users – creating the cooperative extension system. In short, science in service of society. (more…)

About those lionfish

BloggingJuly 28, 20143

We’ve been monitoring the situation surrounding a south Florida lionfish study that’s been blowing up the headlines thanks to a feel-good story about a young student’s science fair project and a subsequent controversy surrounding a former grad student who feels slighted for having his name left out of the research. We decided not to comment on it while the story unfolded and wove its way through a dozen twist and turns.

Rather than rehashing events now, I point you to Spiny media battle highlights importance of scientific credit by Bethany Brookshire and If a 12-year-old’s “breakthrough” sounds too good to be true… by Tara Haelle as the most comprehensive and authoritative dissections of this unfortunate chain of events.

Busting Ocean Myths: This anglerfish is not as kink as you think.

deep sea, ecology, marine science, Natural Science, Science0

The claim: Deep-sea Anglerfish have parasitic dwarf males that fuse to their mates and become nothing more than wibbly gonads hanging off of the much larger female. 

Who said it: Well, pretty much everyone. This Oatmeal Comic, Ze Frankme.

Status: Sometimes true, sometimes false.

Melanocetus johnsonii. Photo by Edith Widder.

Melanocetus johnsonii. Photo by Edith Widder.

cover-Time-19950814-82066I’d like you to meet a very dear friend of mine. This is Melanocetus johnsonii, the humpback anglerfish. If you follow the deep sea at all, you’ve probably met this delightful creature. She was featured on the cover of time magazine, barely losing out to Newt Gingrich for 1995 Vertebrate of the Year. Since then, she has been a standard-bearer for the deep sea, and iconic species, immediately recognizable. Stories of her exploits abound, and no story is more compelling that the tale of the hapless male anglerfish, a parasitic dwarf that lives its entire adult life fused to the larger, more capable female angler fish.

There’s just one problem.

Melanocetus johnsonii, along with the four other anglerfish that make up genus Melanocetus, don’t have parasitic males. Males of this genus are still significantly smaller and lack lures, but they retain their free-swimming lifestyle into adulthood, occasionally biting into the side of a much larger female for a temporary coupling, where gametes and food are exchanged. This temporary coupling, in which no tissue fusion takes place, has been observed only three times: once during the filming of the BBC Blue Planet documentary; once off the coast of Japan; and once, confusingly between a male Melanocetus johnsonii and a completely different species, Centrophryne spinulosa. In none of these instances was the connection permanent, and no reduced males have even been found attached to a Melanocetus. (more…)

Busting Ocean Myths: How many containers are really lost at sea?

Focus on NuanceJuly 27, 20140

The Claim: 10,000 containers are lost at sea every year.

Who said it: Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, Slashdot, Yahoo News, NOAA, me, and many others.

Status: False.

10,000 is one of those numbers that’s big enough to be surprising, but not so huge to inspire immediate incredulity. The worldwide shipping industry is enormous and containers do get lost overboard. With a few recent high-profile maritime accidents, it’s not hard to believe that 10,000 containers could be sent to swim with the fishes every year.

The MOL Comfort breaks its back. Image via gCaptain.

The MOL Comfort breaks its back. Image via gCaptain.

Fortunately, it’s pretty hard to hide a missing container and the number of containers lost at sea is actually much lower than 10,000. In 2011 and 2014, the World Shipping Council surveyed it’s members to find out exactly how many containers are lost at sea each year. What they found was that not only was the number of lost containers an order of magnitude less than the 10,000 figure, but that the average was driven up by two catastrophic accidents–the sinking of the MOL Comfort and the grounding of the MV Rena.

(more…)

Fun Science FRIEDay – All About the Benjamins Baby!

UncategorizedJuly 25, 20140

To quote the Notorious BIG, “It’s all about the Benjamins, BABY!”

That quote unfortunately holds true in many walks of life, and is especially applicable to this weeks FSF where Dr. Costanza, from Australian National University, and a number of colleagues puts a price tag on the world’s natural environment. Some of you are probably thinking, “Dude, that’s old news!”  In summary, yes, this is old news.. sorta.

(Photo credit: dreamstime.com)

(Photo credit: dreamstime.com)

(more…)

Education and Experience are Not Mutually Exclusive: Job Market Pet Peeves

Focus on Nuance, Life in the Lab, Personal Stories, Science LifeJuly 22, 20142

While looking at positions that allow me to jump off the sinking ship of academia, I’ve seen plenty of rewarding, fun, and excitingly challenging job announcements out there. Most of them require two to five years of experience in the field, and I’ve looked at those, said ‘yep, I qualify’, and turned in the application. I can’t say what happens after, but here’s the type of experience I thought I could safely check off, which met with a surprisingly negative response:

  • communicating complex technical issues to a diverse audience
  • social media and online outreach
  • project management
  • volunteer coordination
  • budget management
  • community engagement
  • mentoring and training employees
  • grant management and program development

When did I learn these tasks? In graduate school. And here’s where I can feel the doors shut on interest in my application. After applying for positions doing any one of the careers listed above, I’ve met the following responses many times: (more…)

Cascading planetary-wide ecosystem effects of the extirpation of apex predatory Krayt dragons on Tatooine

Blogging, Conservation, Natural Science, Popular Culture, Science, Science Fiction0

Author’s note: this post is part of the “Science of Tatooine” blog carnival. Though obviously about science fiction and not the real world, it includes real ecological theories,  and it uses some real peer-reviewed scientific papers as references. Whenever possible, I’ve linked to accessible copies of those papers and explainers of these ecological terms. Many of the same issues are associated with shark population declines. 

ABSTRACT

Predators play an important role in structuring ecosystems, with predator population declines being linked to a variety of negative ecological effects. Here, we present evidence that the planet Tatooine, famous throughout the Galaxy for being a desert planet, experienced desertification as a result of unintended changes in herbivore populations caused by the intentional large-scale killing of apex predators by offworld colonists. Fossil evidence and interviews showing traditional ecological knowledge suggest that once-abundant Krayt dragons were hunted to near extinction by early human colonists. As a result of the decline in predation, populations of large herbivorous banthas populations grew out of control and overgrazed the plants once found throughout Tatooine.

INTRODUCTION

Studies of numerous ecosystems have consistently shown the importance of intact populations predators to healthy ecosystems, with a recent review (Estes et al. 2011 “trophic downgrading of planet Earth”) noting that “the loss of apex consumers is arguably humankind’s most pervasive influence on the natural world.” Population declines of top predators can cause a trophic cascade, resulting in unintended consequences that ripple through a food chain. Sea otter population declines in the Pacific Northwest of the United States resulted in predation release of otter prey (sea urchins), and an overabundance of sea urchins destroyed entire kelp forest ecosystems by overgrazing (Estes et al. 1998 “killer whale predation on sea otters linking oceanic and nearshore systems.) Wolf population declines in Yellowstone National Park resulted in predation release of wolf prey (elk,) and an overabundance of elk destroyed aspen pine forests by overgrazing (Ripple et al. 2011 “trophic cascades among wolves, elk, and aspen on Yellowstone National Park’s northern range.”)  Ecosystem-wide effects stemming from the loss of predators has also been listed as the proximate cause of disease outbreaks (Pongsiri et al. 2009 “biodiversity loss affects global disease ecology,”), increasing destructive wildfires (Perrings et al. 1997 “biodiversity resilience and the control of ecological-economic systems: the case of fire-driven rangelands,”) and overall biodiversity loss (Paine 1969, “Pisaster-tegular interaction: prey patches, predator food preference, and intertidal community structure.”)

Though the planet Tatooine in the Tatoo system of the Outer Rim is known by researchers to have once been covered by oceans and lush vegetation, it is commonly known now as a desert planet (source). While it is famous in Republic circles primarily for being the home of Jedi Master Skywalker, Tatooine also has native sentient species, including Jawas and Tusken Raiders (the latter are derisively referred to by locals as “sand people” ).  Native non-sentient animals include banthas (large herbivores used as beasts of burden) and the now mostly extinct Krayt dragon (a large predatory species that fed on banthas).

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Beyond the Edge of the Plume: understanding environmental impacts of deep-sea mining

biology, Conservation, deep sea, Environmentalism, evolution, marine science, Natural Science, ScienceJuly 21, 20141

Ifremeria nautilei from the Manus Basin. Source: MARUM

Ifremeria nautilei from the Manus Basin. Source: MARUM

The mining of deep-sea hydrothermal vents for gold, copper, and other precious metals, is imminent. Over the last seven years I’ve worked with industry, academia, and international regulatory agencies to help craft guidelines for conducting environmental impact studies and assess the connectivity and resilience of deep-sea ecosystems. Deep-sea mining, particularly at hydrothermal vents, is a complicated endeavor. As an ecologist and environmentalist, I’d like to see all deep-sea ecosystems receive extraordinary levels of protection. As a pragmatist and someone who recognizes that access to technology is a human right, I realize that demand for essential resources like copper, cobalt, and rare earth elements is only going to increase.

Mining a deep-sea hydrothermal vent presents a conundrum. Across the world, vents vary in their longevity and proximity to each other. A fast spreading center like those found in western Pacific back-arc basins, can have numerous, densely packed vents that persist for tens of years. In contrast, ultra-slow spreading centers, like the central Indian Ridge, may have a few, sparsely distributed vents that remain active for centuries. The sustainability of deep-sea mining is completely dependent on the type of vents being mined. Vents in slow spreading centers may never recover from any anthropogenic impact, while those in fast spreading centers could be extremely resilient to the disturbance caused by mining.

(more…)

Fun Science FRIEDay – Fasting Fights Cancer?

biology, Blogging, Fun Science FridayJuly 18, 20140

Happy Fun Science FRIEDay to everyone. FSF is back and with a new name!

After a brief hiatus to sort out some legal issues regarding the title of FSF, and a trip to the World Cup, I am hopefully back into the swing of providing you with mostly weekly, fun, and interesting science facts!

Up this week is cancer, and what we as a species are doing to kick its ass! … along w/ the involuntary help of the Mus musculus species.

Relatively recent work by Dr. Longo, of the University of Southern California, and his colleagues, has shown that a simple dietary adjustment may help combat the negative influence of chemotherapy and age on immune cell function! In short, their findings suggest that fasting, yes you heard right, FASTING, may provide benefits for cancer patients and the elderly by replenishing stem cells in the blood.

 

Conceptualization of the influence prolonged fasting has to promote stem cell regeneration and reverse immunosuppression. (Photo credit: Cheng et al. 2014)

Conceptualization of the influence prolonged fasting has to promote stem cell regeneration and reverse immunosuppression. (Photo credit: Cheng et al. 2014)

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These things are related.

Blogging, ScienceJuly 16, 20143

Exhibit A. At Boing Boing, Maggie Koerth-Baker publishes an article talking about her disenchantment with Richard Feynman after learning that he was a gigantic womanizing creeper. Matthew Francis follows up with more information about Feyman’s inexcusable behavior. Armies of Feyman supporters rush to his defense, arguing that we should judge him as a product of his times or that he was a great physicist, so we should just ignore the fact that he was a misogynistic creep that, as a faculty member, pretended to be an undergraduate to pick up students. Janet Stemwedel has more.

(more…)

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