Monthly Archives: March 2011

Symphony of the Soil – free film screening @Fresno_State this evening

We have another interesting soil-related even on campus this evening – a screening of a new film on the subject:


Here’s more about this film project from its website:


The Symphony of the Soil project consists of one feature film that examines soil in all its complexity and mystery and several short ‘satellite’ films that go deeply into single topics. The feature film explores soil as a protagonist of our planetary story, including the birth of soil, its life cycle, the many creatures making up the soil community, nutrient cycling, biological processes such as the carbon cycle and the nitrogen cycle, and succession. The film also examines our human relationship with soil, the use and misuse of soil in agriculture, deforestation and development, and the latest scientific research on the key role soil can play in ameliorating the most challenging environmental problems of our time. We will feature techniques from ancient wisdom to cutting edge science that preserve and improve soil. By gaining an understanding of the elaborate relationships and mutuality between soil, water, microorganisms, the atmosphere, plants, animals, and humans, we come to appreciate the complex and dynamic nature of this precious resource.


For more information about the feature film – SYMPHONY OF THE SOIL – stay tuned. We are currently in post-production and will have an update on the status of the film. There are work in progress screenings of the film. Find the schedule here.


The short films, which we are calling satellite films, are stand-alone films, twelve to twenty minutes in length. The short films provide information on specific topics such as dry farming, nitrogen, the Transition Movement, biodynamic farming, composting, soil/water relationships, and carbon sequestration. Below find a list of the short films completed to date:


PORTRAIT OF WINEMAKER (TRT: 15:36, work in progress)

TRANSITION TOWN TOTNES (TRT: 10:20, work in progress)

SEKEM VISION (TRT: 13:31, work in progress)

Posted via email from a leaf warbler’s gleanings

How can mushrooms save the world? Find out tonight!

That massive storm we had last weekend (more may be coming!) not only caused all kinds of road closures and power outages in the hills around us, it also forced us to postpone our public lecture scheduled for yesterday! Because the storm caused Yosemite National Park to close for the first time since 1997-98 (which I remember because the following summer I spent many happy days freezing my butt off monitoring white-crowned sparrows while trudging atop and through some 8+ feet of snow blocking Tioga Pass until late July – but more on that in another post, perhaps) – and our visiting speaker, Paul Stamets of Fungi Perfecti, and TED Talks fame, got stuck in the park and wasn’t able to make it back to Fresno until around 10 PM!

Fortunately for us (especially our Tri Beta student club which is sponsoring the event and footing the bill), he agreed to extend his stay to give us a talk this evening instead – and after some scrambling (and especially heroic efforts by Cindy Douglas in the Biology Department office) we managed to find another venue. So, if you want to hear something about how mushrooms can help us save the world, join us at the Peters Auditorium in the University Business Center at 6 PM today! See flyer below for details.

Download this file

Cities – some thoughts on a Radiolab exploration

If you are a public radio junkie, and a science+art junkie, you’re probably already addicted to WNYC’s wonderful Radiolab podcast featuring Jad Abumarad and the incomparable Robert Krulwich. If you aren’t already addicted to this podcast… what are you waiting for? Point your browser thither right now, and thence find the appropriate link to download the podcast on your device of choice. Got it? Good.

Now, for this science+radio junkie with a lot of urban ecology on the mind, the Radiolab guys offered up the perfect trifecta recently, when they did a whole hour-long exploration of Cities!! I’ve been mulling it over ever since I heard it several months ago, wanting to write a lengthier blog post about it, but what with teaching, travel, and actually studying urban ecology, never seem to find the time. This episode was brought to mind afresh last week during a trip to Tempe, Arizona, while attending a very stimulating workshop on urban ecology and resilience (hosted by the good folks at the Stockholm Resilience Center). The workshop was a precursor to the 2011 Resilience conference, where I also presented some of our ongoing work on urban water policy, water use, and biodiversity in Fresno-Clovis. As we drove back midway through the conference, while crossing over from the Sonoran to the Mojave deserts, I subjected my sociologist friend and colleague Andrew Jones to this show – and figured I might as well share it here with you. I think it is a rather (typically for Radiolab) rich and unusual exploration of cities from different perspectives, and contains ideas I want to pursue further, some in writing here in time to come. Meanwhile, you can listen to the show right here, right now:


The parts that resonate the most with me are in the first several segments, on the comparative metabolism of cities. Could be in part because I am a sucker for comparative ecology and metabolic scaling, more so because I also happen to know Bob Levine, psychologist colleaage here at Fresno State, who shared some of his work on the geography of time with us during an evening at the Central Valley Café Scientifique several years ago. Having lived in a number of cities of various shapes, sizes, and cultures, I have experienced some of this variation in the pace of city life, of how we experience the flow of time in different places. So I can begin to see how cities shape our perception of time in interesting ways. What really intrigues me now, after listening to the show again, is this: do other animals (especially the ones with the sharper brains and cleverer minds like us) also perceive the flow of time differently in different cities? Does the flow of time — or, to put it in behavioral ecology terms: do the rates of certain behaviors and/or the overall time-budget — for a macaque in Bangalore differ from that of its cousins in Mysore or Papanasam? Does a Scrub Jay in Fresno hop or call or cache food at a higher rate than one in Visalia? Are the White-crowned sparrows wintering in Fresno singing at a slower rate than those in Phoenix or San Francisco? I think this calls for another participatory global citizen science project, just like Bob Levine and the Radiolab guys did with humans. I’m developing a comparable simple-but-robust metric and protocol that could be used with urban birds and mammals, and will share it once I’ve got it worked out. If you have any ideas or suggestions on how best to measure the flow of time in non-human animals, please do write to me. This may not amount to a whole lot of science – but I wonder…

Water management & urban resilience: a talk given at the Resilience 2011 conference

[slideshare id=7278621&doc=resilience2011-katti-talk-110316002024-phpapp01]

I presented the above talk last Saturday afternoon at the Resilience 2011 conference held on the campus of Arizona State University in Tempe over the past few days. Here’s the abstract of my talk:

Resilience in an urban socioecological system: exploring the dynamic interactions between water policy, residential water usage, the urban landscape, and plant and bird diversity

Madhusudan Katti*, Andrew Jones, Henry Delcore, Derya Ozgoc-Caglar, and Tom Holyoke

Ecological theory has begun to incorporate humans as part of coupled socio-ecological sys- tems. Modern urban development provides an excellent laboratory to examine the interplay among socio-ecological relationships. Urban land and water management decisions result from dynamic interactions between institutional, individual and ecological factors. Landscaping and irrigation at any particular residence, for example, is a product of geography, hydrology, soil, and other local environmental conditions, the homeowners’ cultural preferences, socioeconomic status, identity construction, neighborhood dynamics, as well as zoning laws, market conditions, city policies, and county/state/federal government regulations. Since land and water management are key determi- nants of habitat for other species, urban biodiversity is strongly driven by the outcome of interac- tions between these variables. This study addresses the significance of water as a key variable in the Fresno-Clovis Metropolitan Area (FCMA), shaping current patterns of landscape and water use, at a time when the city of Fresno is installing meters as a regulatory tool to conserve water. A recent study from the Fresno Bird Count found that bird species richness and functional group diversity are both strongly correlated with residential irrigation and neighborhood income levels. Tree species diversity shows a similar pattern. Water usage in the FCMA is also directly linked to socioeconomic status, but what exactly are the social behaviors entailed by socioeconomic sta- tus? How will water use behaviors change across the socioeconomic spectrum with changes in the cost of water due to metering? In turn, how will plant and bird diversity change in the aftermath of metering? We examine several theoretical models explaining outdoor water use behaviors, with the aim of assessing the resilience of such behaviors with the introduction of water metering in Fresno, and the resilience of urban plant and bird communities to resulting changes in water use in the landscape. We argue that socioeconomic status results from a complex interplay of cultural, economic, structural, and social-psychological factors, influencing institutional policies regarding the governance of water resources, and in turn impacts biodiversity within the urban landscape through spatial and temporal variations in water usage. This study is part of a long-term research project that examines the impacts of human water usage and water use policies on biodiversity within an urban environment.

Womb Envy (Old Freud got it upside down)

Mulling over the stream of tweets and facebook posts from my friends and colleagues about the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day today, I remembered something I had written years ago, a bit of my juvenilia, which happened to be still lurking in a corner of my hard drive. So here it is, my confession of envy:


(Old Freud got it upside down)

Freud got it wrong
When he said, the problem
With Women was:
Penis Envy – 
They had too much of it!
I think the truth 
Is upside down, nearly,
The problem with Men is:
Womb Envy – 
They don’t have enough of it!

Of course, being born male
Has given me “advantages”
In nearly all human activity.
I have enjoyed the fruits         
Of centuries of male rule
In Education, in Science,
At Work, Play, Home.
Claiming superiority 
For the male hormones.
And most of all
I have greater opportunity
To rule, dominate, subdue, kill
One half of humanity
And the rest of living Nature.
I revel in my dominion
As a man, and even
Champion other males
Of other living species,
Sticking rather to Malehood
Than to Humanity.
And the greatest pleasure is
When women come to believe
They have less than I do
And I can tell them,
Their Problem is:
Penis Envy  – they’re doomed
Since it’s Nature’s law
However unfortunate…..
I chuckle softly, condescendingly,
As I enjoy my “leadership” – 
“Mankind’s leadership” – 
Of Humanity, and spaceship Earth
On the road to nowhere
And to doom!

But … No!, I disagree
With this whole scheme!
We have it all, I admit:
Power, Pleasure, Security, Posterity
And quite cheaply too, for
We can generate our lineages
With plentiful cheap (wasteful) sperms
While women have to pay 
All the costs – the pain!
Yet, we’ve got it all wrong.
We have everything
(dubious virtues and benefits), but, 
We don’t have that which matters.
We can kill, end life,
But we lack the power
To create life (substantially).
The power to produce human life
(After the minuscule male effort)
To nurture, nourish
And to bring forth in the world
Every single one of us.
This power is all Womanhood.
The Womb, in the final reckoning
Matters far more, than we do,
With our mighty egos.
And I would much rather
Give up all my dubious “glory”
To be able to do that :
Give birth to a single human being.
Yes I envy all you women.
Though you sometimes seem
Not to realize, appreciate it enough,
You are far more richly endowed.
It is we men who have the rough deal
From Mother Nature.

Yes, my dear old Freud
You did get this wrong:
“Castration Complex” in women?
Not nearly ….
It is the men’s “Potency Complex” 
That needs to be cured
If doom be averted
And humankind survive.

Freud got it wrong
He said the problem 
With women was
Penis Envy – 
They had too much of it.
But I think the truth
Is upside down, nearly
The problem with men is
Womb Envy – 
They don’t have enough of it!

(written sometime in the early 1990s by my younger self)

Much love to all my silly Herpetologist friends, but…

…grow up and get yourself a real discipline, would you?!


As the mouseover subtext puts it: “Birds are Aves, which is part of the clade Theropoda, which is in Saurischia, which is in Dinosauria. Those birds outside our windows are dinosaurs. We can clear out the rest of our brains because we now have the best fact.”