Monthly Archives: May 2007

Planning to check out the Creation Museum…?

… you know, the one that opened in Petersburg, Kentucky this Memorial Day, and has been all over the news? Well, you may visit that if you are in the region and want some amusement – or need to raise your blood pressure. Like that pathetic “fair-and-balanced” review in the New York Times did to me. Fortunately, there is an excellent antidote, from (who else) Dr. PZ Myers, who has waded through a flood of media coverage and blog commentary to compile a carnival: The Creation Museum. That’s the one you should be visiting this sunday.

Remembering Rachel Carson

Rachel Carson would have been a 100 years old today, had she not lost her battle to breast cancer in 1964, 18 months after publishing her seminal work, Silent Spring, which many consider the birthpoint of the modern environmental movement in the US. I remember reading it and being affected quite powerfully while I was in college in Bombay some 20+ years ago, and wondering why DDT had not yet been banned in India (it was banned, for agricultural use, in 1989, but not for malarial mosquito control). Silent Spring (like Barry Commoner’s The Closing Circle), was one of the first books I had read which showed not only that science had a role in helping us understand how the world worked, and how we humans interact with it (for better or worse), but also that scientists could (and indeed should) play an active role in shaping the public discourse on the relationship between humans and nature.

And that role is even more urgent now, especially here in the US, where science and reason have been taking quite a beating lately. It shouldn’t be surprising therefore, to note that the US Senate failed to take up a measure to honor Rachel Carson in time for her birth centenary! The resolution was blocked, using senate rules, by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla) who likened Silent Spring to “junk science”, no less!! These guys know all about junk science don’t they?! Anyway, I don’t want to sully my (and your) remembrance of Carson by linking to any more of these sad stories of wingnut ravings.

Instead, consider the following for your sunday morning, this May 27, 2007, and may they inspire you to more positive action, to inherit and further her legacy, follow her model as a scientist, citizen, and activist.

Let me leave you with the following quote:

The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.
— Rachel Carson, 1954.

Friday own-horn-tooting!

My co-author Eyal just alerted me that our paper modeling population dynamics under urbanization is finally out in print today! Its been a long haul getting this thing out, and I plan to write more about it (in non-mathematical terms) here one of these days, once I recover from this last semester…

In the meantime, here’s the full citation:

John M. Anderies, Madhusudan Katti and Eyal Shochat. 2007. Living in the city: Resource availability, predation, and bird population dynamics in urban areas. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 247:36-49.

Unfortunately the full article is behind a institutional/paid subscription firewall, but I’ll be happy to shoot you a PDF reprint. Just let me know. If you have online access to the journal, clicking the citation links above will take you to the paper. You may read the abstract here below the fold:

Living in the city: Resource availability, predation, and bird population dynamics in urban areas

John M. Anderiesa, , Madhusudan Kattib,, and Eyal Shochat

aSchool of Sustainability, Arizona State University, P.O. Box 873211, Tempe, AZ 85287-3211, USA
bDepartment of Biology, M/S SB73, California State University, Fresno, CA 93740-8027, USA
cGeorge Miksch Sutton Avian Research Center, Bartlesville, OK, 74005-2007 USA
Received 29 July 2006; revised 28 November 2006; accepted 20 January 2007. Available online 20 February 2007.


This article explores factors that shape population structure in novel environments that have received scant theoretical attention: cities. Urban bird populations exhibit higher densities and lower diversity. Some work suggests this may result from lower predation pressure and more predictable and abundant resources. These factors may lead to populations with few winners and many losers regarding access to food, body condition, and reproductive success. We explore these hypotheses with an individual-energy-based competition model with two phenotypes of differing foraging ability. We show that low frequency resource fluctuations favor strong competitors and vice versa. We show that low predation skews equilibrium populations in favor of weak competitors and vice versa. Increasing the time between resource pulses can thus shift population structure from weak to strong competitor dominance. Given recent evidence for more constant resource input and lower predation in urban areas, the model helps understand observed urban bird population structure.

Keywords: Resource dynamics; Predation; Population dynamics; Urban; Birds

“An inflorescence of males?”

A few nights ago, I joined a group of new found friends (Mikey, Matt, Ty and Ray) to grab a bite at Mimi’s Café in River Park—apparently, Chicken and Fruit is a hit specialty! I ate the Fried Chicken Salad…
Before dinner was served, I cared to notice the flowers on the table and took a closer look at them. My friends thought I was being a little weird, but I couldn’t resist a passing remark. I said something to the effect of, “this is an inflorescence of male flowers!” They got somewhat inquisitive about how I could tell a male flower from a female one. And, so I explained in introductory botany lingo the different parts of a male and female flower.

But every time I chance upon giving an explanation for such occurrences, I feel there’s always more to tell. It almost seems like there exists an imaginary divide between explaining small scale patterns and how they relate to the bigger picture. Yes, I just paraphrased Rosenzweig! After all, why must we expect people other us (the science types) to become remotely enthused about telling a male flower from a female one? I mean, seriously, there are more interesting questions, ones that would probably earn you a buck here and there—grant money. So what benefit does it serve that we know a bunch of facts but stumble when we have to relate them to the bigger picture? Wouldn’t such an approach, one that integrates small scale patterns and macro scale processes provide a richer and deeper explanation that would give people pause to reflect and appreciate the process of evolution—indeed the depth of time through which the world has evolved?
The more I muse about how to offer a succinct yet detailed insight about something as small as male and female flower structure, I find the evolutionary link is often given little or no mention. I have yet to examine how to integrate evolutionary explanations in every day observations, especially when others expect an amateur ecologist to tell them something more about nature in a more exciting almost hip style.
Those among us who teach introductory biology ought to consider, perhaps, teaching the course from an evolutionary perspective—I think such an approach would be more organic, one that integrates the various sub disciplines in biology in a way that makes sense through the process of evolution. In this way, people gain a deeper perspective on the mechanisms that drive living systems. It becomes a temptation for me to present mitosis, natural selection and biodiversity as individual, seemingly unrelated concepts when in fact the evolutionary underpinning of life itself should be accentuated within each area of biology.
Moreover, the concept of reconciliation ecology ought to permeate our own research work. Why must we expect funding agencies to care about the physiology of a weed species? Or as a matter of fact, our findings indicate that the tiger salamander is affected by urbanization in the Central Valley, but so what? When will people begin to become interested in such questions before we can demand any sort of action to the problem at hand?
Reconciliation ecology transcends our understanding of evolutionary ecology in human dominated landscapes—it should even shape how we address a research question within the context of humans and the effect our research findings will have on their lives. It becomes almost impractical to study evolutionary ecology devoid of human interactions because our species has unequivocally impacted the global ecosystem—the negative ramifications need no further mention.

Killer Tomato Plants ??

Type your summary here.

Hi, you fine folks…

Did you see this on Yahoo news? This could be HUGE !!



Type the rest of your post here.

Want to read Darwin’s letters?

Have you ever wondered how Charles Darwin maintained an active correspondence with some 2000 people over his lifetime in the 1800s? Do you try to imagine what he could have done (or not) with email, the internet, and all this Web 2.0 stuff? Curious to read what he wrote to everyone from the scientific bigwigs of the day to shoe-salesmen who collected beetles over the weekend? Well, now you can, for the Darwin Correspondence Project just went online today with some 5000 of his letters!

Here’s an excerpt posted as today’s Daily Quote on the site:

I have not yet got your Poultry Book; though I presume that it is lying at my Brother’s (for I have not been for a long time in London; my health having been of late very indifferent), & therefore I do not know whether you describe the plumage of chickens in their down: Dixon describes most of them; but the chicks of Gold & Silver Pencilled & spangled Hamburghs are not described, & I shd. like to know them.

One more reason to be thankful for these intertubes, eh!

Update: saving the Savannah River Ecology Lab

It appears that some people in Washington are beginning to hear the message about the importance of saving the SREL. I just received this update (below the fold) on Ecolog-L reporting that at least a couple of congressmen on relevant committees are questioning the decision to close down the SREL.

So, thank you if you responded to last week’s action alert, and I guess the message here is that we should keep up being the squeaky wheel in order to get the worm.
(OK, that’s a mixed metaphor I couldn’t resist using even though only a handful of people who ever heard Ted Case use it in his Ecology classes might get it!)

via Nadine Lymn of ESA:

Thanks to the efforts of many individuals, there seems to be a promising
development regarding the proposed closure of the Department of Energy’s
Savannah River Ecology Lab.

See below or visit:

Press Releases :: May 16, 2007

Miller and Lampson Challenge Proposal to End Funding for Savannah River Ecology Lab

(Washington, DC) The Investigations and Oversight (I&O) Subcommittee and the Energy and Environment (E&E) Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science and Technology today called on Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman to continue funding for the Savannah River Ecology Lab.

The mission of the lab is to study effects of the Savannah River Nuclear Weapons facility on the surrounding environment. It has been recognized internationally as a leader in radiation ecology and a training ground for future scientists and engineers in the field.

“We are currently unsure why and how the decision was made to terminate the Department’s support for the facility,” wrote I&O Subcommittee Chairman Brad Miller (D-NC). “We ask that you continue to provide support to the lab until the Committee can thoroughly review the Department’s actions in this case.”

“The Subcommittees deserve a chance to review the logic that led DOE to terminate support for a lab that has been doing world-class research since 1951,” added E&E Subcommittee Chairman Nick Lampson (D-TX). “On the face of it, this is a difficult action to understand.”

Miller and Lampson called the lab indispensable in tracking the environmental conditions around the Savannah River site and providing unbiased information to the public and the government about those conditions.

The Chairmen have asked for continued support for the lab from DOE pending further review by the Subcommittee. They have also asked that the Department provide all records since August 1, 2006 regarding the lab and the decision to terminate support.

A major benefit of the Savannah River Ecology Lab has been its long-term research and steady accumulation of detailed field records than can provide insights into, among other things, the possible consequences of climate change on the complex ecology of the region.

Read the letter from the Chairmen to Secretary Bodman by clicking here.