Fun Science FRIEDay – All About the Benjamins Baby!

UncategorizedJuly 25, 2014

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)

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

Focus on Nuance, Life in the Lab, Personal Stories, Science LifeJuly 22, 2014

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 Fiction

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, 2014

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.

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Fun Science FRIEDay – Fasting Fights Cancer?

biology, Blogging, Fun Science FridayJuly 18, 2014

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, 2014

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.

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Why exploding whale stories just won’t die and how we can use them to help save the ocean

BloggingJuly 15, 2014

Exploding whales are an endless source of amusement, even when they don’t explode. When a cetacean detonation made a guest appearance on Saturday Night Live, it was clear that we had reached peak exploding whale saturation. Now that we’ve all had a few months to decompress, it’s time to take a step back and look at why these stories are important and how we can leverage them into effective ocean outreach.

Good, effective outreach has to have a reason to exist. Outreach without a clearly defined objective is flat and meaningless. Deep-sea fauna with googly eyes exists explicitly to remind people, through the proliferation of viral images, that there is life in the deep sea, an ecosystem few people think about on a day to day basis. The Fukushima Debunking Initiative was created to help halt the proliferation of bad science and pseudoscience that distracted from the real tragedy of the Fukushima-Daichi Nuclear Disaster and shifted attention away from real problems impacting the US West Coast. Hasthewhaleexplodedyet.com was designed to leverage the mass media attention focused on the exploding whale to accomplish one simple goal: to disseminate information about what to do when you encounter a stranded marine mammal.

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Charm City’s Water Wheel: The first truly feasible ocean cleaning array is already afloat

Conservation, EnvironmentalismJuly 14, 2014

The Future is Here. Photo by Andrew Thaler.

The Future is here. Photo by Andrew Thaler.

Ocean plastic is bad news. Last week we were learned that not only did every ocean have its own, personal garbage gyre, but that a huge amount of plastic is “missing” from the ocean–that is, it has been incorporated into the ecosystem in ways we don’t yet understand. While there is plenty of misinformation floating around out there about what exactly these garbage patches are (hint: they aren’t solid islands of trash), there is no doubt that they are effecting the global ocean ecosystem in both profound and subtle ways.

Friend of Southern Fried Science and Deep Sea News writer Miriam Goldstein spent her PhD working on the North Pacific Gyre. Her research has revealed invasive pathogenic ciliates living on plastic trash and plastic-eating barnacles floating in the gyre. She also points out one of the biggest problems with trying to clean up these massive, dispersed “garbage patches”:

You would almost have to clear-cut the top of the ocean in order to clean up all those little bits of plastic.

source

There is a sea of theoretical solutions, from dragging nets across the ocean to mooring massive floating arrays, in various states of completeness. Some have been no more than public relation stunts, while others push on despite extensive criticism from oceanographers and other marine experts. Some have promise, other appear to be no more than press releases.

Amid the TED talks, press-pushes, empty promises, and gratuitous publicity stunts, the City of Baltimore quietly built, tested, re-designed, re-built, and deployed a solar-powered, trash-eating, waterwheel-driven garbage scow that’s plying the urban waters of the Chesapeake Bay, pulling tons of trash out of the Inner Harbor every day. Say hello to the Inner Harbor Water Wheel(more…)

Frequently asked questions about Rosie O’Donnell killing an endangered shark for fun

fisheries, marine science, Natural Science, Science, sharksJuly 13, 2014

On Friday afternoon, Slate published an article I wrote about Rosie O’Donnell killing an endangered hammerhead shark. Since that time, there has been an active discussion about the article and the surrounding issues on twitter (follow me here) and Facebook (like my page here). Some of the same questions keep coming up, so I decided to gather these questions, and their answers, in one place.

1) Why are you writing an article about this instead of going to the police / isn’t this illegal?

Since January 1, 2012, it has been illegal to kill great, smooth or scalloped hammerhead sharks in Florida state waters. They must be “immediately released, free alive and unharmed.” Rosie killed this hammerhead before 2012, so it was not illegal at the time. I never said it was illegal.

2) If it wasn’t illegal, what’s the problem?

“Not illegal” is not synonymous with “there are no negative consequences to this action, and it is above reproach.” There are lots of things you can do that are legal but bad. There are some things that are illegal but are not bad. “Legal” and “ethically acceptable” are different thing. I do not think that it is ethically acceptable to kill an endangered species for fun and then yell at conservationists and scientists who criticize this action. Also, if the best you can say about an action is “it wasn’t technically against the law when I did it,” you may want to reconsider the ethics of your hobbies.

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Can the world’s luxury yacht owners help reduce ocean scientists’ biggest expense: ship time?

Blogging, marine science, Natural Science, ScienceJuly 7, 2014

The International SeaKeepers Society is offering yachts for marine science expeditions, free of charge.

Marine scientists perform research ranging in scope from global food security to threatened species conservation to climate change, research that is critical to a healthy environment. As with other scientific disciplines, however, funding cuts threaten the future of this researchA recent Joint Ocean Commission Imitative report gave the United States government a D minus on funding for ocean sciences, and one of the primary funding programs for ocean exploration has been proposed for termination.

Even as funding is reduced, costs associated with ocean science research are rising. In particular, the fuel costs for research vessels, of which there are fewer and fewer each year, are increasingShip time often costs tens of thousands of dollars each day. This huge expense is critical, as researchers have to get to their study area before they can begin to study it. The International SeaKeepers Societya non-profit founded by a group of luxury yacht owners, wants to help reduce or eliminate this cost by hosting marine science expeditions on private yachts. “By providing scientists in need of a research platform at sea with the opportunity to work off a privately owned vessel at little to no cost, SeaKeepers helps remove one of the most costly aspects of data collection: access to the water,” says Brittany Stockman, Director of Programs and Policies for the International SeaKeepers Society.

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