What do 16,000 dead iguanas smell like? Southern Fried Science Book Club Week 1

BloggingJune 3, 2015

The first thing you notice after reading a couple of chapters of Eating Aliens is that this book is much more about hunting invasive species than about why they’re invasive in the first place. For me, I like that. I’ve spent a large chunk of my career exploring the issues surrounding species invasions, and it’s great to get what is essentially a field report from those working on the front lines. I love meeting the people who run these eradication campaigns, and the politics involved in effective invasive species management. This is my kind of invasive species book.

This first thing that captured my attention in the first two chapters was how radically different the approaches to black spiny-tailed iguanas and green iguanas were. Both are invasive. Both came in through the exotic pet trade. Black spiny-tailed iguanas are omnivores, they get into peoples trash, go after rodents, tear up gardens, and are generally a pest. They’re also only invasive in a relatively small area. People view them as pests and the initial response was a grassroots effort, only later supplanted by the USDA. In contrast, green iguanas are vegetarian, more widely distributed across Florida, and more personable. People don’t view them with the same level of ire and many appreciate their presence, as destructive to the habitat as it really is. It’s harder to hunt out invasive when people don’t view them as pests, and one of the big problems is that, as eradication campaigns become more effective, the invasive populations go down and people begin valuing the invasives due to their rarity. It’s a brutal feedback loop.

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Eating Aliens with the Southern Fried Science Book Club

BloggingMay 29, 2015

Summer is coming, and it’s time to curl up with a good, light, vaguely optimistic book about the world’s ecosystems long slide into total decimation. For the next few weeks, join along with the Southern Fried Science book club, while we tackle Eating Aliens, by Jackson Landers. Eating Aliens takes a practical look at the emerging invasivore food ethic–the eating of only invasive and non-native species. We’ll join Landers as he travels the United States hunting and cooking invasive species.

By all accounts, this book is more of an adventure story than a deep look at the causes and consequences of species invasions, which suits me just fine for a good summer read. It also provides a great launch point for us to dig more deeply into the material.

On Wednesday, I’ll post my review of the last weeks readings. Depending on how many people want to participate, we’ll then meet via comment forum, Facebook group, or Google Hangout to talk about Eating Aliens and place it in a broader environmental context.

So grab yourself a copy of Eating Aliens* and read along. Next week we’ll cover the introduction and then talk about black spiny-tailed iguanas and green iguanas.


These links are Amazon affiliate links. By buying the books through them, you help offset some of the costs of running Southern Fried Science.

If you could only follow five people on Twitter, who would they be?

BloggingMay 27, 2015

Every few years, I published a Field Guide to Ocean Science and Conservation on Twitter. Rather than a comprehensive list of the best ocean twitter accounts (a list that would stretch out over more than 500 accounts as of last count), these guides are designed to point readers towards central nodes in the online conversation, from which they could then build upon by following and engaging in conversation. Instead of being a “best of”, the field guides are all about connectivity and how to build it.

I was just beginning to prepare this year’s guide a few weeks ago, when David Lang at OpenROV caught me with an even more challenging question: If you could only follow 5 people on twitter, who would they be? Again, not the “best”, or the funniest, or whatever metric you use to decide who to follow but the five that, if I were absolutely forced to cut my following list down to, would capture the widest breadth depth of the twitter conversations I care about: the most effective community builders, the central-est nodes, the people whose insight is most valuable and who curate and disseminate the most important content. After talking for a while about who the list would include, I was surprised to discover that the majority were people who I followed, but only ever interacted with rarely, if at all. (more…)

Ready, set, speak!  Tips for effectively communicating your science with public audiences

#SciCommMay 18, 2015

About the author – Dr. Allison Coffin is Assistant Professor of Neuroscience at Washington State University Vancouver studying acoustic communication and hearing loss. Over the past 10 years she’s taught communication workshops to a variety of scientific and professional audiences and was the Audience Choice winner at the 2014 U.S. FameLab Finals, a science communication competition hosted by NASA and National Geographic.  She runs the science communication website communicatalyst.com and am a long-time member (junkie?) of Toastmasters International.

Why communicate your science?

You’re a scientist doing important and interesting work in conservation biology, right? You probably publish your research in reputable journals and give departmental seminars, but these reach a limited (and self-selected!) audience. Do you want your research to have a broader impact?  Head the call of recent editorials by Chris Parsons and Andrew Wright, and learn to advocate for your science – get out and communicate!

Between online forums, public scientific discussions such as Science Cafés, and interactions with the 24-hr media cycle, there are more venues than ever for us to communicate our science to lay audiences. However, being willing to communicate isn’t enough. To quote a recent JCom article by van der Wurff and colleagues, “Scientists…supposedly aim for a serious and scientific style in which complex matters are unraveled and accurately explained, remaining uncertainties acknowledged, and ideas not too quickly taken for granted.” Does this sound familiar?  For many scientists, our natural inclination (or perhaps, our training) makes it difficult to step out of this “information transfer” mode to connect with our audience.  At its heart, communication is about connection.  How can scientists connect with lay audiences, so that our message is both heard and received? This article is for all scientists who want to speak to the public, advocate for their science, and build their skills so that they can connect effectively.

Know your audience (more…)

Dusky Sharks: Whale Killers

ecology, Natural Science, sharksMay 17, 2015

It’s generally thought that baleen whales are too large to be successfully attacked by most marine predators.  Orcas are typically considered the only real predatory threat to large whales, and even they have to use teamwork to take down a young whale.  Large sharks, which also sit near the top of the marine food web, are known to scavenge on whale carcasses as a nutritious and blubbery supplement to their usual diet of fishes and smaller marine mammals.  However, evidence has been found that white sharks actually take a proactive approach to increasing the whale carcass supply by attacking live northern right whale calves.  Now researchers in South Africa directly observed dusky sharks actively teaming up to bring down a humpback whale calf.

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Fun Science FRIEDay – “A cold-water fish with a warm heart!”

biology, evolution, fisheries, Fun Science Friday, marine science, Natural Science, UncategorizedMay 15, 2015

OPAH, OPAH, OPAH!

Recently scientists at NOAA’s South West Fisheries Science Center made a stunning discovery, the worlds first known warm-blooded fish, the moonfish, opah  (Lampris guttatus). Until this recent discovery all fish were considered cold-blooded ectotherms – allowing their body temperature to fluctuate with the change in ambient ocean temperature. However, opah’s are different, in that these largely solitary fish regulate their internal body temperature above the ambient temperature of their environment like mammals and birds (other warm-blooded animals).

Opah off the coast of southern California. (Photo credit: Ralph Pace Photography)

Opah off the coast of southern California. (Photo credit: Ralph Pace Photography)

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We built a beer-delivering underwater robot and sent it out to sea. You can probably guess what happened next.

Science LifeMay 13, 2015

Did Wyoming really just outlaw citizen science?

Citizen Science, policyMay 11, 2015

I first heard about the new Wyoming law #SF0012 through the Slate article summarizing it as a criminalization of citizen science. There’s a real danger that it could be interpreted and implemented that way, but let’s try and give Wyoming the benefit of the doubt for a minute. The text of the law only requires that scientists (citizen or otherwise) acquire written or verbal permission from landowners for collecting data on their land. It goes on to define what “data” means, including photographs in a fairly wide definition, and “collecting” as taking data with the intention of turning it over to a state or federal agency. It also defines trespassing and outlines the consequences for those who fail to receive permission. In short: the data collector could go to jail and their data will not be admissible in legal or policy proceedings.

At the core, the law re-hashes a fairly common definition of trespassing. The key part of the law that’s new is that the data won’t be admissible in court and the act of turning them over to federal or state agencies will make you an outlaw. Part of me thinks that data collectors, including citizen science groups, should be asking permission to go on someone’s land. This is both to keep ethics at the forefront of our scientific endeavors and for the personal safety of scientists (ranchers are known to carry shotguns, after all). (more…)

A huge thank you to all who helped make “Buy David Shiffman less ugly sunglasses” a success

BloggingMay 6, 2015

Last month we crowdfunded an initiative to buy everyone’s favorite shark conservation superstar a new, less ugly pair of sunglasses. We blew our initial goal out of the water, raising nearly $2500 from almost 100 people. Amazing! Rewards are going out over the next few weeks (I’m mailing all the big teeth today. The smaller teeth are still need to be printed).

Without further ado, thank you to everyone who contributed: Michael Rollins, Haxley J Gomez Vigil, Samuel Sturdivant, Mario Rups, Donald J Orth, Patrick M Goff, Janet D Stemwedel, Thomas L Clancy III, John D Holden, Cara Mollenkopf, Laura A Troutman, Marie Schambeck, Katherine Nieman, Matthew Masterson, Erin B Schuster, Renellys C Perez, Sandra Prow, Allison Coffin, Karyn Traphagen, Debra Flaherty, Diane Wyse, Ruth-Decker Chaney, Julie Weber-Roark, Alex Maki-Jokela, Eric T Edgeworth, Steve Swensen, S J Smedbol, Bethann Mclaughlin, Colin Schultz, Andrea Hamilton, Robin Marwick, Brianne Miller, Rachel Dearborn, Evan Donahue, Nicholas W Kantola, Brittany Finucci, Robert S Heittman, Sarah D Keartes, Alison Hansen, Cara Mollenkopf, Ian Ramjohn, Patricia E Kight, Dawn Williams, Sandra P Wooten, Dr R L Jefferson, Kimberly A Ventre, Osama Tariq Siddiqui, David Lang, Derek K Burnett, Rachel Holland, Joshua N Silberg, Prosanta Chakrabarty, Mary Frances Starr, Renellys C Perez, Anthony Davidson, Bethany Dixon, and Gabrielle Zuckerman.

Thank you to all (including those who didn’t wish their names to be listed)! You’re contribution has made the world of shark conservation outreach one with slightly fewer ugly, ugly, just horrible, sunglasses.

David will update us on his new ocular acquisition as is happens.

A poster to remember

#SciComm, Life in the Lab, Science, Science LifeMay 2, 2015

Today I was at an undergraduate research event with our best and brightest presenting their research via posters – great science, but often dreadful posters.

Posters can be a great medium for getting your science over to an audience. They have the benefit that if you can draw people into your poster you can have a lot more intimate face to face discussion with your peers. But first you have to draw them in…

Increasingly poster sessions in conference are becoming large sprawling events, and your poster is going to have to compete for attention with hundreds if not thousands of other posters, with your audience having little time to browse, they may be distracted by friends and colleagues, they may be tired as poster sessions are often at the end of a long day of presentations, and possibly (probably) slightly to moderately drunk. Here are some simple tips for making a good poster that has impact.

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