By Southern Fried Scientist and Bluegrass Blue Crab, on May 9th, 2011
Early hours of the wildfire in Dare Country. Image NCFWS
In Beaufort, the first sign that something was amiss occurred on Sunday night. The air became thick with haze and smelled like of burning mulch. At first we thought it was just an overzealous barbecue somewhere down the road, but as we drove over the Morehead City highrise bridge, we discovered that the smoke was everywhere. This wasn’t an isolated grilling accident, trash burn, or house on fire, some thing was burning, something big. It could only be a forest fire, and, judging by the direction of the wind, it was blowing in from somewhere near the Outer Banks.
Yellowstone National Park was established to preserve the American West, largely held up as the iconic American landscape. Picturesque Yellowstone houses the hopes and dreams of the frontier, the wilderness that is a large part of American heritage, and the final refuge for North American wildlife. Despite such a colorful and large part of American history, Yellowstone should perhaps be famous not for its astounding trees and bouncing elk, but instead for the ecosystems that depend on Yellowstone’s geysers. They are the unsung heroes of modern biotechnology and place Yellowstone’s wilderness leaps and bounds above other temperate forests in terms of biodiversity.
This 2011 Beneath the Waves Film Festival entry comes from Paul Hillman at NOAA. What Do Marine Mammals Eat? is part of the Microworlds series, which focuses on NOAA scientists interacting with public school students.
As part of our Biodiversity Wednesday series, we’ve discussed amazing ecosystems all over the world. This week’s post will focus on an area a little closer to home (at least a little closer to my home). The Santee Cooper lake system, home to unique fish and a fascinating history, is less than an hour from Charleston. If you’ve ever driven on I-95 through South Carolina, you’ve gone right over it.
The Santee-Cooper system is marked with a white arrow. Image created with Google Earth
In The Mass Extinction of Scientists Who Study Species, Dr. Craig McClain argues that we are loosing a fundamental unit of biological science – the Taxonomist. He’s right, of course. Taxonomy is a shrinking field. Entire phyla sit, unstudied, as the expertise necessary to understand them retires and expires. With few to train the next generation of taxonomists, the field could slowly vanish. Molecular tools are supplanting traditional taxonomy (once described to me as “the ability to identify hundreds of species of centimeter-long worms by counting ass-hairs under a microscope”) as the de rigueur method for identifying organisms.
I do not disagree with Craig. Losing skilled taxonomists is tragic for the biological sciences. Unlike many leading the charge in support of taxonomy, I did not benefit from a rigorous taxonomic study in my early career. I fall into the same camp as Dr. Holly Bik, relying primarily on molecules, not morphology, to draw the distinctions between my samples. I never identified species by counting the ass-hairs on a worm, and my education is poorer for it.
This year, we’re going to change around our Biodiversity Wednesday series. Instead of posting a YouTube clip of some various organism or region, we’re going to highlight a lesser known region of biodiversity importance and discuss related conservation and management issues.
Located along the west coast of India, the Western Ghats are a 1600-km mountain range formed when the Indian sub-continent split from Gondwana approximately 150 million years ago. These basalt mountains are rich in iron ore and, to a lesser extent, bauxite, making them prime candidates for mineral extraction. Due to the position of the mountains, the Western Ghats interact with the annual monsoon season to generate high amounts of rainfall. Nearly 40% of all Indian river systems drain through the Western Ghats.
The shark blog-o-sphere has been busy lately. Here are some of the headlines from the world of shark science and conservation.
Chuck from Ya Like Dags has a fantastic post explaining the ecology of fear and how it relates to sharks. As it turns out, predators can have a major impact on an ecosystem just by being there- prey change their behavior in ecologically significant ways because they want to avoid being eaten. If you’re looking for scientific reasons why sharks are important to the ocean or if you’re just looking for a cool ecology story, check it out!
The dissemination of science follows the conventional route of rigorous peer-review followed by publication in an accredited scientific journal. This process has been the standard foundation from which the general public can trust that the science is, at the very least, valid and honest. Of course this system is not without its flaws. Scientific papers of questionable authority, dishonest methodology, or simply flawed design frequently make it through the gates of peer-review. Politically charged papers possess strong biases and many high impact journals favor sexy or controversial topics.
Beyond the conventional route of peer-review, there exist a vast accumulation of gray literature – conference reports, technical notes, institutional papers, various articles written for specific entities that enter into general circulation without the filter of peer-review. Much of gray literature is valid, robust science, but much of it is not. The challenge is that sometimes gray literature is the only science available.