Fun Science FRIEDay – Underwater World of Pollination

A Renewed Sense of Wonder, biology, ecology, Fun Science Friday, marine science, Natural Science, ScienceOctober 14, 20160

Pollination. I think most people understand why this is important (or maybe I should say, I hope). To put it simply, the process of pollination facilitates reproduction in plants by transferring pollen from one plant to another. In the terrestrial world, this can be mediated by physical forcing (e.g., wind) or by animals (e.g., insects) – and its why people are freaking out about the loss of bees due to pesticides (because they are a primary pollinator), but I digress. Until relatively recently, pollination by animals was not thought to occur in the ocean. Unlike on land, where most flowering plants rely on creatures to carry pollen, plant reproduction in an aquatic world was surmised to rely exclusively on currents and tides. However, a team of researchers led by marine biologist Brigitta van Tussenbroek revoked the long standing paradigm that pollen in the sea is transported only by water, discovering and documenting the process of zoobenthophilous pollination (a term they coined).

Gamarid amphipod feeding on pollen or mucilage of a male flower of the seagrass Thalassia testudinum at night. (Photo credit: Tussenbroek et al. 2012)

Gamarid amphipod feeding on pollen of a male
flower of the seagrass Thalassia testudinum at night. (Photo credit: Tussenbroek et al. 2012)


Columbus doesn’t deserve a day ! (We should be giving credit to Cabot anyway)

Challenging the Conventional Narrative, Maritime historyOctober 10, 20164

Today is Columbus day in the US, and so I technically have a day off from teaching. However, despite a day of alleged freedom (I still have a stack of grading to do) the fact that we get a holiday to celebrate Columbus galls me. Firstly, because he was responsible for mass enslavement of indigenous people (over 1000 in just one round up, of which 550 were sent to Spain, with about 40% dying en route), sending an estimated 5000 Taino, Arawak and other indigenous peoples to Europe. His treatment of these enslaved people was barbaric – they were forced to bring him gold and failure to do so led to mass amputations and death. An estimated quarter of a million indigenous people died in Haiti alone due to resisting Columbus’ Governorship of Hispaniola, and many more died from diseases he and his crew introduced to the Caribbean.


However, secondly, he doesn’t deserve recognition for discovering North America. He never set foot on the North American continent*. If we should be recognizing someone from this era, it would be John Cabot.


Let’s make America think again …

#SciComm, EducationOctober 9, 20160

“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

I think everyone would agree that the current US presidential election has been one for the history books … and not in a good way. One of the running themes in this election has been how many people do not understand the difference between a verified fact and something they saw on “the interwebs”. That “doing research” to far too many in the US means Googling until they find a website that supports their opinion (and ignoring any other source that does not). Those involved in science communication have long been aware of this problem, especially those involved in communicating issues such as climate change, evolution and health issues. However, perhaps now more of the country is aware that the lack of public understanding of what a fact is has become a major problem, and how substantive the proportion of the country is that can’t tell the difference  between a fact and a belief or opinion or, quite frankly, a bold-faced lie. Perhaps now more people realize how dangerous it can be when facts no longer matter.


The 3D-Printed Giant Deep-sea Isopod You Always Wanted.

#OceanOptimism, deep sea, marine science, Natural Science, Popular Culture, ScienceOctober 6, 20160

Giant Isopod. Photo by author.

Giant Isopod. Photo by author.

I love giant deep-sea isopods (Bathynomous giganteus if you’re fancy).

I’ve written quite a few articles about giant isopods. Giant isopods were prominently featured in our epic ocean monograph, Sizing Ocean Giants. I’ve even been fortunate enough to observe novel giant isopod behavior in the deep sea. If Southern Fried Science had a mascot, it would have to be the giant isopod.

When I started Scanning the Sea, I knew that a giant isopod would have to be part of the collection. There was just one problem: 3D scanning marine critters is an imprecise art, and you need to start with a very clean specimen. Most of the giant isopods I had access to had been floating in formalin for decades, or came up in pieces, or were preserved in a twisty, roly-poly ball. They weren’t good candidates for scanning. (more…)

Time to release the Kraken ! Addressing controversial questions in marine conservation

Challenging the Conventional Narrative, Conservation, Uncategorized, Underrepresented Issues in Marine Science and ConservationSeptember 30, 20160

A few years ago, we organized a group of marine conservation scientists to meet to discuss, and list,  the most urgent issues that need to be studied. The resulting paper  came up with 71 questions which urgently needed to be addressed, because a lack of an answer was severely impeding marine conservation. However, during this exercise we also came up with a list of other questions – these were issues that were controversial, that everyone  knew were important, but were unwilling to raise as being an issue. These were the Voldemorts of marine conservation questions (they that shall not be named), the elephant (or elephant seal) in the room questions …. or as we more aquatically termed them: “the kraken in the aquarium” questions.



The international gill plate trade: a highway to hell for devil rays?

fisheries, marine science, Natural Science, Science, sharksSeptember 29, 20161

sebphoto2Seb Pardo is a biologist currently doing a PhD at Simon Fraser University in Canada. He is broadly interested in the biology, ecology, and conservation of sharks and rays. At present, his research is focused on borrowing tools from evolutionary biology to predict the biology and extinction risk of poorly studied sharks and rays. By using these data-poor methods, he hopes to make the most out of currently available data to inform policy decisions relevant for the sustainable management of sharks and rays. His twitter handle is @sebpardo

Chilean Devil Rays (Mobula tarapacana) swimming in the Azores. © Daniel Van Duinkerken — — Instagram: daniel.van.d

Chilean Devil Rays (Mobula tarapacana) swimming in the Azores.
© Daniel Van Duinkerken — — Instagram: daniel.van.d

Rays rarely get the same amount of attention as sharks do. Perhaps the most notable exception are the manta rays (genus Manta), which are charismatic, filter-feeding rays that inhabit warm waters throughout the world’s oceans. Their closest relatives, the devil rays (genus Mobula), are not nearly as “famous” — even though they are the only other members of the family Mobulidae. There are nine species of devil rays found throughout the world’s tropical and temperate oceans, and while they are smaller than mantas (only reach over 3 metres in width), devil and manta rays are so similar that they are sometimes confused with each other. Because devil rays garner less public interest, the are very few studies on their basic biology and ecology, hindering our ability to assess their status.

Devil and manta rays face similar threats. Both are often caught as bycatch in industrial and artisanal fishing operations, which may result in considerable mortality even after being released. On top of this, there has been an increase in the international demand for their gill plates, which are used a health tonic in Chinese medicine. This has increased targeted fishing and bycatch retention in many places around the world. However, because of the lack of information on devil rays, it is very difficult assess whether this level of catch and trade is sustainable. This is the key question we set out to answer.


I trained a recursive neural network on old Southern Fried Science posts, then asked it about the future of ocean conservation.

BloggingSeptember 27, 20160

Over the weekend, I decided to try my hand at some deep-learning using recurrent neural networks to create a text-writing bot trained on old Southern Fried Science posts. After 48 hours of training, the Southern Fried AI was born. This is what it has to say about the future of ocean conservation.

In the future, ocean conservation priorities will be dictated by the conservation conservation project. In the post of energy sharks and most of the greatest over the study has been conservation and dedicated to watch of conservation, the all new way that was she than a community to show better some astronation there is a research work (and sharks) in a more server shows of the research design of a discovery of campaign that even the results of some of the operational shark sources in the Climate change for the ensing and make that it may also end in the science of the response to the population of positions of marine scientists with my most months of cheap more and the project of a shark (with sampling and interesting proposal great from the final fishermen in the science and species of mermaids and other projects with some of the career of the Sea How and has a project that will be a dogfish down their beran place to go as a restoration and the ocean that submerse to have interesting a public posting ocean deciding enough to be asking “we could can be among the transports that is a shark critical components.”


Help crowdfund shark research: time traveling through shark skin

marine science, Natural Science, Science, sharksSeptember 19, 2016

DillonE_portraitErin Dillon is a PhD student at UC Santa Barbara studying how shark communities on coral reefs have changed over time. She graduated from Stanford University in 2014 with a B.S. in Biology and Honors in Marine Biology. Erin spent the following two years working with Dr. Aaron O’Dea as a fellow at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, where she started exploring dermal denticles preserved in sediments as a paleoecological tool to reconstruct shark communities. She aims to develop this technique further as part of her dissertation to establish quantitative shark baselines and investigate spatial and temporal variation in shark assemblages on reefs. To do so, she has now set her sights on Curaçao, which is located in the southern Caribbean. There, she will work on validating the tool, explore differences in denticle assemblages between reef habitats, and provide estimates of relative shark abundance in data-limited parts of the island. Sharks are notoriously difficult to census, and it can be difficult to protect something that we rarely see. Therefore, the information provided by denticle assemblages extracted from reef sediments has critical implications for shark conservation, both in the Caribbean and worldwide. Erin is raising funds until September 22nd as part of Experiment’s Coral Reef Grant Challenge to unravel a pre-historical baseline of Caribbean sharks.

Sharks are important players on coral reefs. However, understanding the temporal and spatial dynamics of shark communities and how they are affected by human activities is challenging. Surveys and fisheries catch statistics reveal that shark populations worldwide have suffered significant declines over the past several decades due to overfishing and habitat degradation. But how many sharks should there be in a healthy coral reef ecosystem? The answer to this question is locked in the past. To address this issue, we turn to the recent fossil record to uncover clues about the sharks that used to roam the reefs of lore and paint a picture of how their communities have changed over time.


Conservation Wanted – dead or alive?

ConservationSeptember 16, 2016


When I was an undergraduate studying conservation in the dim and distant past, we were told that the way endangered species would be saved would be to give them a financial value, and “wise use” of these species would allow them to survive. Well, that worked well, didn’t it…? The poster species of the “wise use” movement (such as elephants) are much closer to extinction today than they were decades ago.


Trying to debunk the aquatic ape hypothesis… or not. Or the day I tried to defend David Attenborough.

Reviews and Interviews

The so-called aquatic ape hypothesis is one that has attracted a lot of attention and much derision. In 1960, British marine biologist Alistair Hardy posited the idea that humans might once have had an aquatic phase (or more accurately a semi-aquatic phases, spending some time in a watery habitat but a significant amount of time on land). This was picked up highlighted in popular zoologist Desmond Morris’s book The Naked Ape . However, Elaine Morgan was one of the the hypothesis’ main promoters, writing a book called The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis . There have been several debunkers of the hypothesis including Southern Fried Sciences’ own David Shiffman although Jim Moore’s website is probably one of the most comprehensive debunking sites for the hypothesis . Today Alice Roberts and Mark Maslin posted a critique of the aquatic ape hypothesis, mostly in response to a new BBC radio series The Waterside Ape which is being presented by David Attenborough.



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