Welcome to the summer 2008 edition of Oekologie, the monthly blog carnival of ecology and environmental science. And for those of you on edge because you didn’t get your Oekologie fix last month, this is a special double-issue! As such, you might get extra helpings of your (current or soon to become) favorite blogger’s writings for I am also relaxing the one-post-per-blog rule.
I often get asked what Reconciliation Ecology is all about, as a discipline. My one-line response is at the top right of this blog, while some graduate students have subjected themselves to the entire semester-length graduate seminar version! I’ve also written a draft essay on the subject I might post to this blog one of these days. For now let me share this visual illustration I came up with for a talk some time ago, to describe the framework of my thinking about ecology, and demarcate this carnival’s layout:
To me, Reconciliation Ecology requires thinking about and studying processes occurring throughout this framework (within each interacting circle in the above diagram, and at their intersections), across ecological and evolutionary time scales, and, ultimately, applying what we learn to help reconcile our species’ boundless creative and destructive energy with all the other lifeforms we share this precious planet with. So, with that framework, and those signposts, in mind, you are now free to virtually stroll about this carnival as you please. And, of course, feel free to wander off the carnival grounds entirely, to explore other corners of this blog, if you haven’t been in this neck of the blog-o-woods before!
My experience of nature through my childhood and youth was strongly shaped, more than anything else, by that incredible weather phenomenon, the Indian Monsoon. Growing up outside Bombay, I loved to watch the massive phalanx of dark clouds pour forth across the sky, darkening the world even as we sweated in the stifling summer heat soon after our final exams were over, waiting for that first cloudburst. And for that first rain, we had license to go running (and dancing!) out in the streets soaking in the downpour, an annual ritual that I very much miss in the temperate aridity of the American southwest. That, and mangos! Later, in college, monsoon was the favorite season to go hiking in the Sahyadri mountains, when one didn’t have to worry about getting too hot or having to carry water, and the joy of soaking one’s bare feet in the soft mud of the mountain trails and sliding up and down waterfalls more than made up for having to eat wet sandwiches! Now, as I endure a heat wave in central California, I have to thank Pankaj at-crossroads for sharpening my longing for the monsoon and its renewal powers, with his evocative words, and images of the monsoons in the Andaman Islands.
Meanwhile, here in America, Kevin Zelnio lauds the coolness of the US Senate in granting legal recognition to soil as a natural resource!! About time, some of you may say, even as others like Kevin and me scratch our heads and go “hmmm… never quite thought of that!“. This led some folks over on Ecolog-L to immediately ask: can we now have a Clean Soil Act please, like the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts? That would be cool – but how on earth does one set any standards for a natural resource like soil which varies so damn much from place to place?
Interactions make individuals: genetics, physiology, behavior
To start us off at the small scale of the gene, 96well pushes at the boundaries of what might be appropriate for this carnival (but heck, its a carnival, so boundaries must be stretched, right? and these are really brief posts!) by pointing to new approaches for heavy metal detection with reporter genes, and goes on to urge researchers excited about detecting endocrine disruptors using mammalian cell reporter gene assays to stop with the new cell lines and focus instead on studying interactions in vivo – now that’s something we ecologists understand!
Shaheen Lakhan shares an article from Brain Blogger (which Lakhan edits) on Multiple Sclerosis, which turns out to have “a variety of seemingly independent factors associated with its development. In addition to the usual suspects – genetics, sex, and poor health habits such as smoking – MS is also linked to what appear to be unrelated and uncontrollable factors such as birth place and birth month.” Aren’t gene-environment interactions cool? I don’t suppose one could easily do controlled transplant (or common-garden) experiments to sort out these interactions in the case of MS in humans, but the article does point to case studies of immigrant families like mine as throwing much light – but also kicking up some dust – in the study of this disorder. But what’s up with that birth month correlation?!
Moving on to whole organisms, we have Delson Roche’s photo-essay on the <a href="http://delsonclicks3.blogspot.com/2008/07/spot-billed-pelican.html"
>Spot Billed Pelican, followed by two thoughtful and informative articles from the urban wildlife watcher DN Lee: on the flight mechanics of Flying Squirrels (must be nice to live in a city with those, no?) and on watching Fireflies in the backyard.
Mama Joules points out the importance of being right side up for young (as in embryonic) organisms of all sorts, from plants to crocodiles, who cannot right themselves if someone plants them upside down, to frogs who can figure out gravity! Cool, huh?! She also shares some thoughts on how some wild animals are attracted to humans at feeding time, even as others prefer to hunt their own prey.
Interactions within populations & between species
Ever wonder about the population genetics underlying all those diverse dog breeds? Head over to Greg Laden’s blog for a detailed commentary on a recent PLoS paper about dog genetics.
Spidery action speaks louder than words in Amila Salgado’s amazing slideshow, but he does fall back on words to describe the butchery of beautiful Shrikes on Mannar Island in NW Sri Lanka, which shares interesting biogeographic affinities with Deccan fauna of southern India (a region dear to my own heart for having spent a decade chasing warblers and lorises within it).
In other late-breaking (and I mean really laaate) predator-prey news, Jennifer Pinkley of the Infinite Sphere gives us a nice overview of research (in light of another recent paper in PLoS) on the huge question: What killed the mammoths?.
The other big class of interspecies interactions is, of course, parasitism, and here we have a report from Shaheen Lakhan on clinical trials on a new vaccine for the H5N1 bird flu, even as the Indian Council of Indian Council of Agricultural Research is proposing a research center to breed avian-flu resistant poultry at a new research center to be located on some uninhabited islands in the Andamans!
Meanwhile, Jennifer Pinkley went looking for a mysterious fungus that is now killing off large numbers of bats in the eastern US, by giving them White Nose Syndrome. Is this the start of another global epidemic? And are humans, somehow, responsible?
Interactions make communities & ecosystems
Before we get into the more serious trouble caused by our own species, how about a little break, with some nature travelogues? I’ve been sent some nice ones from India: an ode to picturesque Talawe by k.v.subramanian; and Arunava Das’ travelogue written on the basis of real life experience at Nagerhole National Park, Coorg, Karnataka, India.
Adding to my longing for a monsoonal hike, Amila confesses to peak-dodging while describing various wonderful critters he encountered in the Peak Wilderness Sanctuary, “the only wilderness area in Sri Lanka with attitudinally-graded rain forests ranging from lowland rain forests-up to 1,000m, sub-montane forests from 1,000-1,500m & montane aka cloud forests above 1,500m”. Now I’ll have to go visit some day! (and an aside to Amila: yes, I did enjoy the Mendis magic, painful as it was to watch the Indian crickets dance in that unpredictable rain; but do you have to rub it in? :-))
Getting back to more sciencey news, James Millington shares the Michigan UP Seedling Experiment, a post about some recent fieldwork in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula: “One of the main issues we will study with our integrated ecological-economic landscape model is the impact of whitetail deer (Odocoileus virginianus) herbivory on tree regeneration following cutting.”
And Jeremy Cherfas presents some News from the front at Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog, which should be your key stop for agricultural ecology news.
Over at Deep Sea News, Peter Etnoyer tells us about satellite-tagging studies of endangered Hawksbill Turtles, while Kevin Zelnio alerts us that the world’s oceans are being taken over by Hydromedusa in a Ninja style stealth invasion! Yikes!!
Malcolm McCallum, editor of Herpetological Conservation & Biology is so alarmed by his calculation that global amphibian extinctions are currently occurring at a rate 211 times the background extinction rate, and so keen to make sure the world knows about it that he share’s someone else’s blog post on the subject even though they don’t cite his paper with the original calculation!
if that doesn’t bring you down, how about Phil for Humanity’s cheerful declaration that natural Evolution is Dead in this human-dominated world?! And to round off on the reality checks for Americans, he tosses in the suggestion that the American Independence Day, 4th of July, is by far the most polluting day of the year!
In an Earth Week post at Guadalupe Storm-Petrel Barn Owl addresses a specific kind of pollution, by organochlorine contaminants, and how they end up in Sea Lions and Seals.
Lisa Spinelli then brings up everybody’s favorite planetary interaction in an article entitled Global Warming: Fact or Fiction = Democrat or Republican, saying, “Forget that scientific research totally supports it, and the rest of the world is trying to find ways to combat it: In the United States, global warming is debatable.” Sad, but true, although the tide may have turned. And Phil for Humanity is there too, urging us to accept that global warming is ruining the earth, and that “No, we cannot stop global warming”, so we better buck up and start finding other ways of doing business. Of course, Al Gore thinks we can solve it, and is apparently about to toss us an “Unprecedented Challenge on Energy and Climate” this thursday (according to an email to bloggers from the “We” campaign)!
Human interactions sculpting the world
If you think that planting trees on a global scale is one sure-fire good thing any individual can do to save our planet, you must pause to read Mike Bergin’s historical account of the ecological havoc wreaked by National Arbor Day (sorry this one got missed in the shuffle, Mike – but better late than never, right?). You can’t just go planting trees willy-nilly wherever you are, surely!
But setting aside Protected Areas will save other species, right?! Well, don’t get your hopes up too high on that one either, for Jeremy Cherfas argues the perils of protected areas at Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog. At the same time, laments Prashanth, your life may be even worse if you are a poor forest dwelling human on the edge of one of these protected areas, especially in the tropical developing countries. Tigers vs. people is the classic conflict in India, and in the midst of it have jumped some physicists hunting for neutrinos, as I observed last week. Now it is Science vs. Tiger, and the drama never ends!
Lest you collapse in complete despair, however, Amy L. offers at least some modicum of control over our own habitat (if you can afford it) with suggestions for Creating a Butterfly Garden. And Sarah chimes in with tips on organic weed control methods for your garden.
Interactive solutions: finding ways to reconcile
First off, Kevin Zelnio argues in favor of keeping scientific information available freely on the internet because that too helps conservation! The onus is on us scientists to keep pushing on that front. Meanwhile we better start using the good information that is already available.
What else can we do to reconcile our human “development” with biodiversity conservation so that we leave some room for other organisms on this shared lonely planet, and also improve our own habitats and lives?
We could start by reading Samir Bhardwaj’s environmental parable “The Yellow Rubber Ducks Now Live Down on the Farm“. Then read Spencer Tweedy’s <a href="http://spencertweedy.com/blog/2008/06/03/a-new-look-at-trash/"
>new look at trash. And consider taking Timothy Morton’s premise that the catastrophe has already happened as your starting point! That just might free you from the paralysis of overwhelming despair, so you can start tackling the real problems. Watching Wall*E might help you get going too, either with renewed hope or anger!
Whatever you choose to do, you’ll have to start by getting past your dependence on fossil fuels. Even airlines are finding new ways to cut corners to save on gas money, says Ave Maria. You can go one better: dream about the new E85 Ethanol Vehicles, the 100 m.p.g. car, or others using plain water as fuel, and whatever you do, listen to Vikram Bhatt and stave off the temptation to buy one of the new Tata Nanos just launched in India!
If you like lists to keep your efforts organized, then let’s go by the numbers:
1. SpiKe suggests 7 ways we can stop wasting food and help save the Earth.
2. Heather Johnson gives us 8 ways to save energy around the house; and,
3. Victoria E presents 10 ways to Green Your Pet!
Remember that sometimes, we can also simply let nature push back at us, and enjoy Jeremy Bruno’s sense of peace.
Finally, whatever you choose to do, keep some perspective about your place in the grand scheme of the universe and try not to get too full of yourself! And, like this carnival’s founder, realize that there is more to life than blogging!
I hope you enjoyed this special double issue of Reconciliation Oekologie. Join us again, perhaps by <a target="_blank"
title=”Submit an entry to “oekologie””
>submitting your own blog article to the next edition of Oekologie which will be hosted by Seeds Aside.