Because It's Christmas
Friday, December 25, 2009 | Author: eventer79
Make an animal's day great today. It's easy, fast and free.

Go click the big purple button at

They deserve a present today too.
It's Not Too Late To Do Something That Really Matters
Wednesday, December 23, 2009 | Author: eventer79

Still looking for that last minute holiday gift? Look no further. Click here to go to Heifer International and make a donation in honor of anyone you choose. This holiday season, give a gift that will truly make a difference and may not only change, but save, someone's life. Instead of investing in the self-serving pattern of consumption that is a retailers wet dream, step up and take action that matters and be part of a pattern that makes the world a better place.

With gifts of livestock and training, we help families improve their nutrition and generate income in sustainable ways. We refer to the animals as “living loans” because in exchange for their livestock and training, families agree to give one of its animal’s offspring to another family in need. It’s called Passing on the Gift – a cornerstone of our mission that creates an ever-expanding network of hope and peace.
-Heifer International
Sometimes You Feel Like A Nut
Friday, December 18, 2009 | Author: eventer79
Friday Fun Fact!

In Indonesia, the veined octopus has recently been discovered collecting coconut hulls and assembling them into underwater shelters. Octopuses (because it's more fun to say then "octopi") have long been known for their incredible intelligence, including differentiating shapes, colours, playing, and learning by observation, but this level of tool use is a first, not only for this group but the entirety of the diversity of invertebrate fauna.

All I'm saying is, when you've finished that pina colada on a serene Indonesian beach, do an octo-friend a favour and hurl it into the surf!

"I've got a love-ly bunch of coconuts..."

Now you see me, now you...snap!
Is It Spring Yet?
Thursday, December 17, 2009 | Author: eventer79
Every winter,
When the great sun has turned his face away,
The earth goes down into a vale of grief,
And fasts, and weeps, and shrouds herself in sables,
Leaving her wedding-garlands to decay--
Then leaps in spring to his returning kisses.

--Charles Kingsley
Saint's Tragedy (act III, sc. 1)

Underwater Architects
Friday, December 11, 2009 | Author: eventer79
Friday Fun Fact!

Yup, I let Darwin choose your fun fact topic for this week: the largest living structures on the planet -- corals. What you see as a coral reef is actually a skeleton of calcium carbonate which is built by millions of tiny polyps. Polyps vary in shape, size, and colour (example at right), but each is an individual animal, working with its neighbours to build the rock hard foundations on which they sit.

No doubt you have heard about the vanishing coral reefs of the world, thanks to pollution, warming oceans, and direct destruction. Fact is 70% could be gone by 2050, only 40 short years from now. "Oh well," many think, "it's not like I need a coral reef to get through my life."

You might.

Reefs have provided treatments for cancer, HIV, cardiovascular disease and uclers. The calcium carbonate coral skeletons have been used for bone grafts. Boy, when you need it, I'll bet you'll be thinking coral reefs are THE most important thing in the world.

In addition, even though reefs only cover about 1% of the planet's surface, they provide a home for over 25% of marine fish species. And food and livelihoods for 500 million people. Let me say that again -- 500 MILLION PEOPLE. $375 billion (yes, BILLION) of goods and services EACH YEAR exist thanks to coral reefs.

So, Mr. Darwin, your mighty little architects are indeed not to be lightly dismissed. The industrious polypus has gifts to offer each of us, upon which our lives might one day depend.

To learn about how you can help coral reefs every day, click here.

A True Wandering Wonderer
Saturday, December 05, 2009 | Author: eventer79
I know, I know, my head is hanging in shame that I missed your Friday Fun Fact this week, but I offer a new look at an old friend as compensation.

We all think we know him, but I have recently discovered that there is much more than I ever thought to the man who stood biology and society on its head. Yep, this week was the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of the Species, Charles Darwin's legendary epistle on evolution of species via natural selection. Now being a biologist, one would think that I have pored over the pages of this particular tome, but in truth, I had managed to reach this point in my life without ever cracking the cover.

Feeling a bit out of the loop, I figured I should read SOMETHING he wrote, seeing as he gets the credit (or blame if you happen to be some crazy right wing nut in sheer denial of reality, but then, I'd guess if you were, my blog is not exactly on your Favourites Toolbar anyway) for the founding theory of my field (even though credit should be fully shared with his gifted contemporary, Alfred Russell Wallace). I didn't really want to drag my toes through Origin itself, I confess that as much I love to read, it just seemed too much like a text book and too much like, well, work! So I picked up a copy of The Voyage of the Beagle instead and began following a young Darwin on mule treks through South America, hikes across Australian bushland, banquets in Tahiti and all the other things that I had no idea he ever did!

Turns out Charles Darwin was a lot more than a naturalist. He had an objective curiosity about the world and EVERYTHING in it. Every where, why, how, and when, he pondered possible answers. He had a keen eye for details and patterns that led him, unbeknownst to him, to ideas decades ahead of his time. Every place he went, he also turned his hand to rudimentary anthropology and tells story after story of both the native peoples and the (mostly Spanish) colonizers, both good and bad that cross his path. I also discovered he had a very dry wit about him and even in the most dismal circumstances, could bring an unexpectedly humourous turn of phrase to a story, such as a recounting of his guides hurling a cooking pot from the summit of a mountain in the belief that it was cursed after having failed to cook their potatoes (even though Darwin himself tried to explain to them that water boils at a reduced temperature at high elevations). In Tierra del Fuego, he tells of scaling a mountain.

During the first two hours I gave over all hopes of reaching the summit. So thick was the wood,...every landmark, though in a mountainous country, was completely shut out...So gloomy, cold, and wet was every part, that not even the fungi, mosses, or ferns could's course was often arrested by sinking knee deep into the rotten wood;...we did not stay long on the top of the mountain. Our descent was not quite so laborious as our ascent, for the weight of the body forced a passage, and all the slips and falls were in the right direction.

The Beagle's route around the world

In short, though it's taken me forever to read it, it's a wonderful book and I LOVE it. I feel as though I am sitting at the knee of the legend himself while he recounts his stories. Each story of each day wanders in the tracks of his thought and you never know where the road will leave you. It is no great leap for his curious mind to go from observing a crawling insect to philosophizing on fate of mankind or the world. At times, I even felt a bit like a cheering teacher, watching his theories develop and with my own knowledge of modern biology, seeing where he is completely off course and then a few moments later, postulating ground-breaking truth. To appreciate how far out on a scientific limb Darwin's theories really were, one must understand that the current accepted theory in the scientific community of his time was that God had created each species individually and these species would continue, unchanging forever and were unrelated to each other.

It's fascinating, entertaining, amusing, and educational, all in one. There is sadness at the treatment of indiginous peoples, at the rapacious waste of resources newly found, but at the same time, wonder that fairly oozes from every line as he discovers people and places and creatures unknown to his world. I would like to have met him, to have basked in that passion, in that eagerness to explore and to question and to experience every moment and detail life has to offer. But since I can't, I shall have to suffice with this journal of his voyage which really did change the world.

I will leave you with one of his more beautiful passages revealing his deep love and wonder for the animals he spent his life pursuing and watching, written as he gazed upon waves pounding the shore of the coral atoll islands in the Malay archipelago.

It is impossible to behold these waves without feeling a conviction that an island, though built of the hardest rock...would ultimately yield and be demolished by such an irresistable power. Yet these low, insignificant coral-islets stand and are victorious: for here another power, as an antagonist, takes part in the contest...Let the hurricane tear up its thousand huge fragments; yet what will that tell against the accumulated labor of myriads of architects at work night and day, month after month? Thus do we see the soft and gelatious body of a polypus, [I interject: here he refers to the corals themselves, living animals who build the hard structure of the reefs and islands] through the agency of the vital laws, conquering the great mechanical power of the waves of an ocean which neither the art of man nor the inanimate works of nature could successfully resist.
Changing Their Futures
Tuesday, December 01, 2009 | Author: eventer79
I just finished reading this article in last month's National Geographic. If you haven't figured it out yet, yes, I unashamedly love that magazine. In short, we are introduced to a program called the Watershed Organization Trust (WOTR), who works with villages in India to reclaim their land by reshaping their watersheds and capturing the rain on which their life depends.

India, like most of the world, including the US, has fallen victim to the fatal combination of changing climate patterns, development, and associated human over-exploitation of resources. Most villages rely on farming, which in turn, relies on water, in order to survive. However, as water is sucked up by development in cities and water tables are drained while less rain falls due to climate change, wells dry up, crops fail, land parches, and hope withers and blows away on the dusty wind.

From the article: "Our lives are wrapped up in the rain," explained a woman named Anusayabai Pawar... "When it comes, we have everything. When it doesn't, we have nothing."

WOTR works with villages, getting everyone invested by requiring that all parties, including women, lower caste members, and children contribute to the work of planting vegetation, digging ditches, capturing runoff, everything that slows down the monsoon rainwater and allows it to soak into the soil, replenshing wells and reviving both the land and the people's futures.

If you are thinking, "Oh, this is India, they just have lots of poor hungry people, and deserts, I am just fine in my snug suburban home in my western nation," think again. We are not unspeakably far from a similar predicament in the US. Our water tables are dropping steadily as it is impossible for rainfall to replace the massive quantities we suck out for ridiculous things like golf greens and car washes. Wells must be drilled deeper and even then, they are frequently in danger of contamination or drying up in droughts, which we are beginning to see more of. Full on legal wars broke out all over the country during our most recent dry-up in 2007 pitting state against state in a battle over a scarce resource.

We don't do a good job of using water wisely, as I discussed here. We don't do a good job of keeping the water we drink clean (here and here). But that doesn't mean we can't change. That doesn't mean we can't take a hint from WOTR and from some hardworking villagers in India who have discovered that not only does taking care of your watershed benefit you directly by ensuring that you have water to use, it builds your community via people working together, talking to each other, and enterprising new solutions for a better, brighter future.
You Are What You Eat
Friday, November 27, 2009 | Author: eventer79
Friday Fun Fact!

And a turkey fact it is, of course!

Adult turkeys have between 5,000 and 6,000 feathers (oh poor student who had to count these, how I pity you.). These feathers allow them to fly up to 55 mph, unless they have the misfortune of being born a domesticated turkey, which cannot fly at all. Even if they are on the ground though, don't take a turkey on in a foot race as they can easily pass you at 25 mph in a dead run.

Turkeys may be goofy looking, but they are very intelligent and posses keen eyesight. Which was why Benjamin Franklin chose the wild turkey as the US national bird. Unfortunately, the turkey was ousted by the showy bald eagle -- which is somewhat more appropriate, as eagles are known for their scavenging, bully ways; they much prefer to beat up smaller birds and take their food rather than hunt on their own, a piece of poetic irony I just love.
You Are Getting Verrrrrrry Sleeeeeeeeepy...
Friday, November 20, 2009 | Author: eventer79
Friday Fun Fact!

There still a few bronze leaves twirling to the ground in the wind outside my window. But the chill in the air leaves no doubt: it is time to gorge myself, curl up in a warm dark hole, and sleep till spring like Lil' Ms Dormouse on the right.

Winter makes food and water deathly scarce for wildlife the world over (plus it's just damn cold and no fun at all). In a rather miraculous feat of survival, many species opt to sleep it out, either in full hibernation or a lighter nap known as torpor.

True hibernation involves the near-shutting down of an animal's metabolism. Average mammalian body temp is around 99 degress, but they will drop it down to an average of 43 degrees. Heart rate can plummet to 10 beats per minute.

Some, like bears, den up alone and may even give birth to cubs without waking up (how about that for a relaxing childbirth experience?!). Others, like bats, snakes and ladybugs, will snuggle together in one giant spoon-fest to share collective body heat. So closely rationed are body resources that bats, for example, if awakened during winter in their hibernacular caves, can die as a result. The unexpected waking event will burn too much energy and they will run out of resources before spring and renewed food supplies arrive (spelunk quietly and with care in the winter and try to stay out of hibernaculars!).

A bear is often thought of as a classic hibernator, but in actuality, they practice torpor. Their body temperatures do not drop as low and they may rouse several times to track down a snack or two. Amphibians and reptiles are better examples of true hibernators -- they sleep solidly through the worst of the seasons, encased in a cave, den, or dried mud until seasonal cues coerce them slowly back to life (Noooooooooooo!).

I Have Super Powers!
Saturday, November 14, 2009 | Author: eventer79
That's right, I can summon famous people to appear with this blog! I bet you had no idea WWWT was so omniscient, eh?

Guess who appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart this week right after my post about her?

Jane Goodall on The Daily Show

That's right -- Dr. Jane Goodall. And sorry, Jon, I love ya, but you were sorely outclassed by this woman!

Now, let's see if I can focus my blogging powers and make Daniel Craig appear in my living room...ohhhhhmmmmm......
A Day For The Proverbial Wet Noodle
Friday, November 13, 2009 | Author: eventer79
Friday Fun Fact!

Here in the Southeastern United States, it pretty much feels like it's been raining for the past decade. Ok, so it's only been three days. But I'm keeping my eyes peeled for an ark -- we've garnered well over six inches in the last 48 hours.

It could be worse, I suppose. I could live in Cherrapunji, India, home of the world's heaviest average rain fall (about 430 inches). I hope residents have webbed feet and gills because they can get as much as 87 FEET of rain in a single year.

Of course, we are no stranger to wet and wild places. Our wettest state is Louisiana, which soaks in 56 inches (a little over 4 feet) of rainfall per year. But if you want to spread it all out evenly, go stand on the summit of Mt. Waialeale in Kauai, Hawaii, which drowns during up to 350 rainy days every year.

Pulling out that umbrella at the thought and wondering why it never seems to keep you dry enough? Well, that's because the umbrella was originally invented for protection from the blazing sun of Egypt; wind was not really an issue there. And if THAT idea makes you feel too warm, remember that all rain starts out at cloud level as snow and ice; what form it hits the ground in depends on temperatures on the way down.

The most important thing to remember, of course, is that all rain started out as water in a river or stream (or is it that all streams started out as rain???) so whatever we put in one rains down upon our heads from the other. So think of it this way: what do you want in your hair today?
We Can't Forget The Hope
Tuesday, November 10, 2009 | Author: eventer79
Jane Goodall is a name that many know. Ever since I read one of her books years ago, she's been one of my personal heroes. The book was Reason For Hope and much of it brought tears to my eyes. Dr. Goodall is a soft-spoken, compassionate, patient and open person with a core of incredible strength and perserverence that I can only hope to approach. This woman started out as a grad student watching the chimpanzees at Gombe and now she changes the world one person at a time. She has done so much for conservation and continues to be a peerless ambassador for those who have no human voice. I don't think I can name many other women (or even people!) who I find so truly beautiful and awe-inspiring.

In hopes that no one will mind (and I would fall over dead of awe if Dr. Goodall ever stumbled upon my blog anyway), I want to share an essay of hers that is also posted on her site. Working in conservation, it is so easy for me to become disheartened, but reading these words, I almost feel as if she is patting me on the head, saying, "It will be ok. Never forget that there are many reasons to have hope." It makes me want to sit down and weep in both relief and a desperate desire to trust that her world travel means that she has seen much more than I and has seen that there is indeed much hope out there.

Without further ado:
Jane's Reasons for Hope

"It is easy to be overwhelmed by feelings of hopelessness as we look around the world. We are losing species at a terrible rate, the balance of nature is disturbed, and we are destroying our beautiful planet. We have fear about water supplies, where future energy will come from – and most recently the developed world has been mired in an economic crisis. But in spite of all this I do have hope. And my hope is based on four factors.

The Human Brain
Firstly, we have at last begun to understand and face up to the problems that threaten us and the survival of life on Earth as we know it. Surely we can use our problem-solving abilities, our brains, to find ways to live in harmony with nature. Many companies have begun "greening" their operations, and millions of people worldwide are beginning to realize that each of us has a responsibility to the environment and our descendants. Everywhere I go, I see people making wiser choices, and more responsible ones.

The Indomitable Human Spirit
My second reason for hope lies in the indomitable nature of the human spirit. There are so many people who have dreamed seemingly unattainable dreams and, because they never gave up, achieved their goals against all the odds, or blazed a path along which others could follow. The recent presidential election in the US is one example. As I travel around the world I meet so many incredible and amazing human beings. They inspire me. They inspire those around them.

The Resilience of Nature
My third reason for hope is the incredible resilience of nature. I have visited Nagasaki, site of the second atomic bomb that ended World War II. Scientists had predicted that nothing could grow there for at least 30 years. But, amazingly, greenery grew very quickly. One sapling actually managed to survive the bombing, and today it is a large tree, with great cracks and fissures, all black inside; but that tree still produces leaves. I carry one of those leaves with me as a powerful symbol of hope. I have seen such renewals time and again, including animal species brought back from the brink of extinction.

The Determination of Young People
My final reason for hope lies in the tremendous energy, enthusiasm and commitment of young people around the world. As they find out about the environmental and social problems that are now part of their heritage, they want to right the wrongs. Of course they do -- they have a vested interest in this, for it will be their world tomorrow. They will be moving into leadership positions, into the workforce, becoming parents themselves. Young people, when informed and empowered, when they realize that what they do truly makes a difference, can indeed change the world. We should never underestimate the power of determined young people.

I meet many young people with shining eyes who want to tell Dr. Jane what they've been doing, how they are making a difference in their communities. Whether it's something simple like recycling or collecting trash, something that requires a lot of effort, like restoring a wetland or a prairie, or whether it's raising money for the local dog shelter, they are a continual source of inspiration. My greatest reason for hope is the spirit and determination of young people, once they know what the problems are and have the tools to take action.

So let’s move forward in this new millennium with hope, for without it all we can do is eat and drink the last of our resources as we watch our planet slowly die. Let’s have faith in ourselves, in our intellect, in our staunch spirit and in our young people. And let’s do the work that needs to be done, with love and compassion."

--Jane Goodall, PhD, DBE

Falling For Fall
Friday, November 06, 2009 | Author: eventer79
Friday Fun Fact!

It's a favourite time of year for many -- fall, autumn, that magical time when green swaths of forest turn red, orange, yellow, gold, magenta, even purple, as trees prepare for winter. But how and why do all these changes happen?

Leaves have a broad, thin surface and are vulnerable to freezing and subsequent damage, so in order to survive, the tree must ditch the weak links. The tree seals off the end of the branch near the leaf stem and the leaf is dropped like yesterday's paper.

Beginning in mid-June, days begin to shorten and this signals to the trees that it is time to start the Great Preparation for winter dormancy. Many brilliant colours are always there, but hidden by the deep green of the chlorophyll. As chlorophyll production slows and stops, the green fades and the colours emerge in full dazzling array.

Brown colors in oaks and elms come from a waste product called tannin. Orange comes from carotene. The yellows are due to xanthophyll and are seen blazing on birches, tulip poplars, redbud and hickory, who exclusively show this color, never red.

Bright red & purple colors found in sugar maple, dogwood, sweet gum, black gum and sourwood come from anthocyanin pigments, formed from trapped glucose. This pigment is not produced until chlorophyll starts breaking down in late summer. Anthocyanins lower the freezing point of the leaves, allowing them to stay on the tree longer and buying time to maximize the amount of nutrients the tree can pull out before releasing the leaves to the wind.

Every form of life, be it fauna OR flora, has a unique and specialized way of surviving the seasonal changes that life hurls at it. Here in the Eastern US, one of the best places in the world to view the changing colours of autumn, we are lucky enough to be surrounded by trees who choose to do so in a rainbow salute to the dying of summer before settling into a grey sleep, awaiting spring and green rebirth.
A Treehouse For Height-O-Phobes
Thursday, November 05, 2009 | Author: eventer79
I always wanted a treehouse. My very own little den nestled in the branches of a backyard sugar maple, where I could sequester myself next to wrens and squirrels and leaves and breezes. On the other hand, I have always been afraid of heights -- I would climb trees, but only the really easy ones with nice big stout branches and plenty of wide forks in which to sit. I was forever caught between my desire to reside in a cave of wood and air and light and my aversion to being suspended above the ground.

Well, I am caught no more!

A Wisconsin architect has been building stunningly beautiful houses out of whole trees. While he does still kill some trees, he uses smaller trees than are conventionally logged, opening up spaces in the forest for understory plants to flourish, and he also uses a lot of deadfall wood. The whole trees are stronger than cut lumber as well as cheaper to use (no sawmill required!). As a bonus, by not cutting into the tree, the carbon sequestered in the wood is kept in, instead of released by the lumbering process.

In the end, of course, you also get a home that is not only beautiful, but unique, strong, and full of character and natural grace, as well as the knowledge that you have used a process that is better for the forest, better for the atmosphere, and better for you. This kind of innovative thinking and creative engineering is what is going to change us for the better and it's what we need a lot more of!

Where can I send my order?

Unfair Share
Friday, October 30, 2009 | Author: eventer79
Friday Fun Fact!

If you divided all the water in the world equally among everyone, each person would get 2.5 gallons of their own.

The average American uses 400 gallons.

Yes, something is very very wrong with this picture! Contrary to popular belief, water is NOT an infinite resource that will just magically keep coming out of the tap after you turn it on. We MUST get better at using water wisely and stop assuming that fairy magic will clean it and return it to us after we use it. Why? Because even in the US, our freshwater supplies are imperiled; already there are lawsuits and other fights across the country. If we want to continue to have access to clean, safe drinking water, each of us are going to have to take steps to make that happen.

Need ideas? Try 100 ways to conserve water; that should give you plenty to work on!

The Magic Number
Monday, October 26, 2009 | Author: eventer79
So I am back from some more travel! My apologies once again for missing your Friday Fun Fact, it could not be helped.

Today I want to share a fun and important campaign from the Center for Biological Diversity called 350 Reasons We Need To Get To 350. In short, 350 species that will be in big trouble if we cannot get atmospheric carbon levels to 350 parts per million.

You can check out the regional map to find out species in your area that have made the list, sign the petition asking the Obama administration to follow the clear science, join the cause on Facebook, read the science behind the number, follow the campaign on Twitter, or even submit your own photo to be part of the 350 exhibit which will travel to Copenhagen.

Sometimes Updates Are Sad
Tuesday, October 20, 2009 | Author: eventer79
Around 100 wolves have already been killed in the Montana and Idaho wolf slaughter (previous posts here). The famous and much studied Yellowstone Cottonwood pack has been wiped out, leaving only pups who will starve without the support of the adults. These wolves did nothing to earn their fate. They never preyed on livestock or harrassed anyone. They were helping increase the health of elk herds and native vegetation communities through the greater Yellowstone ecosystem. Their thanks is a bullet.

Science? Ignored. Predator-prey dynamics? Dismissed. Ecosystem function? Unvalued. Thousands of years of evolution and history? Trashed.

Propaganda? Saluted. Untruths and misleading fearmongering? Rampant. Selective reasoning? Celebrated.

Call. Write. Be heard.

Find your senators and representatives here. At the same website, you can also find out how to contact the governors and representatives from Montana and Idaho, who have purposely targeted wilderness and backcountry wolves, quite the opposite of what the proponed to do.

Tell Secretary of the Interior (ex-rancher) Ken Salazar exactly what you think of his actions selling out to the ranching lobby and backwards thinking, ill-informed state governments.

Ken Salazar
Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, N.W.
Washington DC 20240

Support Defenders of Wildlife any way you can, they are pulling out all the stops and have already garnered 80,000 signatures on a petition to Secretary Salazar in just a few days.

These are your resources and my resources, they are not the property of the states or the ranchers or the small-minded, testosterone-driven hunters. Don't let this illegal and unethical activity continue unchecked.
The Long Road South
Friday, October 16, 2009 | Author: eventer79
Friday Fun Fact!

It's migration season, the time of year when animal species around the world complete ming-boggling feats of endurance and determination. Best known of these journeys are those completed by feathered denizens of the sky.

Some warblers (a common local one here is the prothonotary warbler, pictured) complete their journeys, as many birds do, with no stopovers. It's a single, all-out flight from summer to winter feeding grounds. And they cover as much as 1,900 miles in just three days. That's like you driving from San Francisco to the Mississippi River. Only you weigh two pounds and can only use your tiny flapping wings to get there.

Makes me tired just thinking about it...

So help out a songbird or two in fall and spring. Feeders and water can go a long way towards helping out an exhausted bunting or oriole or warbler as many places they would normally obtain food and water along their route have been destroyed by development. Seeing them able to rest and fly off refreshed is a colourful thank you salute.
What's The Point?
Wednesday, October 14, 2009 | Author: eventer79
I recently stumbled upon this post on one of my favourite blogs, Cool Green Science (although I can't keep up with it, it moves so fast!).

It hits on an important issue: most people DON'T understand why conservation is important. We, as conservationists, are not vocal enough, not clear enough, with the most vital part of the message: that the well-being of the natural world is indeed critical to human survival and well-being. No plants, no animals, no water = no people, no society. But few are getting that message.

The author, Jeff Opperman, a fellow freshwater conservation biologist, talks about several good points, stating that

Expecting nature to always pay its way, in a strict sense, would be no different than suggesting that the National Gallery should sell its most valued paintings to private collectors because the most economically efficient use of those hundreds of millions of dollars would be to reinvest them in health care or education.

And not only does the natural world provide us emotional and spiritual well-being, but it also provides us with the means to stay alive. Worldwide, people depend on natural ecosystems for jobs, food, and energy and there is often a direct relationship between the health of resources and the health of the inhabitants.

As biologists, we are behind the scenes, under the radar. We snuggle up with the Man Behind The Curtain, although he never lets us pull the control levers. We need to step into full view and in exchange, we need the populace to open their minds to the idea that man cannot live on prime time TV alone...
Mr. Fuzzy Lies
Tuesday, October 06, 2009 | Author: eventer79
In order to address a very pressing issue brought up in yesterday's comments, I had to delve deep into the research files to answer a critical question:

Can woolly worm caterpillars indeed predict the severity of winter?

Drum roll.......

No. Research indicates that there is no correlation between the width of the 'pillars' brown stripes and winter weather. Raising broods of woolly worms in identical conditions reveals that variations in colour pattern are simply that -- natural variations among individual 'pillars.

Bummer. But that doesn't mean you can't still enjoy the annual Woolly Worm Festival in Banner Elk, NC during the third weekend of October! Bring your best racing stock, as "Saturday’s winning Woolly Worm holds the esteemed honor of predicting the winter weather season and the Woolly Worm wins prize monies of $1000, which we hope the winning worm shares with its owner."

No one likes a selfish caterpillar.

Fall Is In The Air
Monday, October 05, 2009 | Author: eventer79
It's grey out, and damp, that damp that tells the trees it's time to slowly retreat into dormancy. I'm worn out from field season, which is why my posts have been sporadic at best. My apologies. I even missed your Friday Fun Fact last week, sigh. I have trouble facing myself...

Long awaited vacation begins this week and I hold out hope of achieving some level of refreshment, drinking the wind and watching the bobbing motion of shorebirds on a barrier island. It is many moons overdue (and I laughed at I actually typed many moons in a sentence).

Drink deep that fall air, wanderers. Watch the wildlife around you prepare for the hard times ahead, when food and water can be scare and survival questionable. Just this morning, I sighted a plump groundhog digging for snacks on a highway median and I hoped that he would keep to the median and not the blacktop! More often now, I hear the sad song of the Canada geese as they salute my roof with southbound wingtips. I always wished I could fly along with them, just to know what it was like to follow the compass needle within to the safety of winter food and habitat.
Because "You're An Idiot" Is Generally Ineffective
Monday, September 28, 2009 | Author: eventer79
For some ridiculous and endlessly disappointing reason due to a combination of staunch denial of personal responsibility, obstinance, ignorance and god knows what else, there are still people out there who claim that climate change is a "hoax" or it's "natural" or some other such nonsense. Of course, almost all of them are people who know virtually nothing about the scientific process themselves and generally haven't even viewed the data but suddenly consider themselves experts on global climate, one of the most complex systems on earth. For some reason they are completely oblivious to the fact that stating such backwards things pretty much makes them look and sound, well, like an idiot.

I'm not going to write out all the reasons they are wrong, other than to say the data is overwhelming -- I've seen it, I've talked to climatologists, I've read very critically the literature. And there's no room for argument in there, it's so obvious that even a monkey could see it. Because it's not just about change, change in and of itself IS natural. It's about the RATE of change and that is what we in our infinite short-sightedness and self-destructiveness have accelerated to a disasterous point.

Should you run into one of these misguided souls, Grist has put together a phenomenal page called How To Talk To A Climate Skeptic. Very well laid out into clearly defined sections, it addresses all of the commonly heard excuses folks use to try and avoid accepting responsibility for their actions. You can now have the perfect response to that moron (bless their heart, right?) whining, "Scientists don't agree" or "But it's cold today!" or "The models don't agree" (this last is my personal favourite because it's usually from someone who couldn't build or even define a mathmatical model if their life depended on it).

Most likely, the result of using this page will cause the blustering denier to stick their fingers in their ears screaming "I can't hear you!" in a desperate attempt to maintain that their uninformed statements based on nothing more than hope and fantasy are right.

Oh well, the truth hurts.

What A Dickhead!
Friday, September 25, 2009 | Author: eventer79
Friday Fun Fact!

A new species of chimaera has just been named after years of languishing unknown in museum collections. Chimaeras are related to sharks and are the oldest living group of fish in the world, haunting deep oceans for hundreds of millions of years. This new species, the Eastern Pacific black ghostshark, flies through watery darkness, thousands of feet beneath the waves off North America's Baja Peninsula.

A distinctive chimaera feature is the retractable sex organ males wear on their heads. Club-shaped and spiked on the end, scientists hypotheisize that the fellows use it to stimulate females or draw them in for mating.

Hey, some girls like it rough.

Why Ask Why?
Monday, September 21, 2009 | Author: eventer79
Why don't people care about resources, like water, that are so clearly linked to survival?

Why are they convinced that it will just magically keep appearing when they need it?

Why does everyone know that actions have consequences yet remain convinced that there are no meaningful consequences for THEIR actions?

Why is a basic compassion for living things lacking everywhere, even among my co-workers in the conservation field?

Why is it ok to forever decimate a natural area with no real demonstrated benefit, but if we want to PRESERVE said area, we must prove concrete benefits?

Why can each person only think of their own benefit and not the costs to other people or other lives?

Why are people incapable of thinking in the long term?

Why, as a species, is humanity totally incapable of altruism?

Why are contributions to resource consumption celebrated but choices conserving resources derided?

Why is no value given to anything outside of self?

Why are atrocities permitted "as long as I can't see them?"

Why do we allow our own breath, our future to be ripped away, trampled down, paved over for a short term gain that does not even benefit us? We even applaud while it is happening.

Why are people proud of themselves for being short-sighted and narrow-minded?

Answers welcome...
What's Seven Feet Long And Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?
Friday, September 18, 2009 | Author: eventer79
Friday Fun Fact! (Yes, that IS all I'm good for these days -- I promise, real posts shall return, I am slowly gathering my energy. But I'm trying to at least keep up with your Friday entertainment!)

The Humboldt squid is not the world's largest squid, but it's not exactly a pushover either. They can easily grow up to 7 feet long and weigh 100 lbs. They belong to a group called cephalopods, which includes octopus, squids, and cuttlefish. These are highly intelligent animals, and like cuttlefish, squid communicate and camoflage themselves using a system of rapidly changing color pigments in their skin. For example, watch the dark colour bands rippling on this fellow below (not a Humboldt) -- the complexity and speed at which they can control these pigments are startling!

They usually reside between 600 and 2300 feet deep in the darkness of the ocean, but at night, they will rise to the surface to hunt in packs. Ah yes, nothing says wilderness like the haunting sound of a squid pack in full cry...

A Tall Drink of Water
Friday, September 11, 2009 | Author: eventer79
Friday Fun Fact!

In the winter, glaciers store about 75% of the world's freshwater supply. Be nice to glaciers or else they will spit it out into the ocean and then it will be too salty to drink!

How much water is that exactly???

The entire world has 1.4 million cubic kilometers of water. For those of you who are not Canadians excellent at visualizing that particular quantity, that is 3.69...umm, what comes after trillion -- gajillion? -- or 3,690,000,000,000,000 gallons of water. A LOT.

Well dang! Why do we have water shortages then? Oh, because less than 1% of that is available as drinking water. And of that, very very little is readily available for use (i.e. in streams and rivers).

So think carefully next time you turn on the tap or the hose because that resource supply is tiny and finite! And it's on the brink of being too contaminated for use.
Progress? Or Empty Words?
Thursday, September 10, 2009 | Author: eventer79
Yesterday, a federal judge agreed with the case of these twelve filers:

Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, The Humane Society of the United States, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Friends of the Clearwater, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Oregon Wild, Cascadia Wildlands Project, Western Watersheds Project, Wildlands Project

The suit asserted that the delisting of the Northern Rockies population of grey wolves was illegal (which it was) and demanded an injuntion on the wolf hunt in Idaho and several other states, including helicopter-rifle-hunting in Oregon.

Bad news: The injunction was denied on the grounds that the filers could not provide "sufficient" proof for irreparable harm to grey wolves. Apparently science is not good enough for courts. I'd say death and population collapse qualify as irreparable harm, wouldn't you??

Good news: The judge agreed that the claim of illegal action under the Endangered Species act was legit, which means that prospects improve that the courts will rule for the relisting of this wolf population.

I'm trying really hard to be happy about that but it's hard when I can see guffawing rednecks with rifles putting wolves in their crosshairs right this very minute. I can only hope for a disproportionately high number of misfires...
Sometimes All You Can Do Is Weep. And Hope. And Keep Trying.
Tuesday, September 08, 2009 | Author: eventer79
I've been following the fight to protect grey wolves closely for you. This is an endangered species, reintroduced into the northern US and still working towards meeting recovery goals as framed under the Endangered Species Act.

Today is the 8th day of the open season on grey wolves in Idaho. You can read more here.

Personally, I am so angry that I really have no words. There is simply no way to plumb the depths of outrage and of sorrow for the selfishness, no, the wrongness of these events. The "justification" giving for the slaughter of these wolves is based on nothing but fiction. One look at the science will tell you that the only thing overpopulated is human ego.

Please call, email, write, click anywhere you can find. Talk to legislators, the media, let them know that this is not acceptable. Emotions aside, this is bad wildlife management at its worst and a state that believes it can bully its way past the rest of us while destroying resources that are in the trust of the ENTIRE North American public.

It's cliche but I cannot say it better than this right now: JUST SAY NO! Speak loudly, because the voices of the wolves themselves, the song in which the notes of this pup are only part of the rich melody, the language of the ecosystem in which the wolf plays a vital and irreplaceable role -- that is being ignored.
That's A Big Damn Rock
Friday, September 04, 2009 | Author: eventer79
Friday Fun Fact!

The photo in the previous post is one I took several years ago, the last time I was in Yosemite National Park. "Spectacular" is an understatement for that place, it is truly magical and like no other place I have visited in this wide world. The Sierras in general are rather mind-blowingly awesome and once in the Yosemite Valley itself, you pretty much have to be dragged out kicking and screaming. So I thought I'd share a couple fun facts (and my photos of course!) about this wonderland...

El Capitan, that famous rock face that draws climbers from all over the world, is the biggest granite rock in the world. It's 4,000 foot high face is rather impressive to stand in front of; you can see its imposing breadth to the left in a view from Taft Point, with the Merced River winding at its feet.

Yosemite Falls is the 5th tallest waterfall in the world (Angel Falls in Venezuela maintains the top spot at 3,212 feet) with a total of around 2,400 feet. It's fed primarily by snowmelt and in the spring, can easily blow boulders out of place.

The valley itself was carved by uplift and glaciers over 50 million years. That's right, 50,000,000 years. The sheer granite faces, especially the distinctive, clean slice of Half Dome (right) belie the cutting force of millions of tons of ice and water and time.

Add all that to the towering 3,000 year old redwoods in Mariposa Grove, bustling black bears and golden eagles and mountain lions, glacier lakes nestled high in the thin cold air (like Tanaya Lake, below), and beauty of contrast and scale that is enough to break your heart with the majesty of it all and you end up with a place that will touch your soul. This park has been connected to my family for generations, so its story is part of my story too. And I can promise you, if you ever get a chance to emerge from a certain highway tunnel that leads into the park itself and witness the allure of this ancient valley, it will take your breath away.

A Cloudy Day
Wednesday, September 02, 2009 | Author: eventer79
I'm reading the quote from Sunday. Even though I've read it probably 50 times between then and now, it still leaves me thoughtful, even on this somewhat grey day and in my current mood of upset, perturbed (that's just a good word), and something else I can't put my finger on.

What is peace? Where do you find it?

To me, peace is that inner stillness, a quiet calm that feels as if a balm was spread on the tumult within. A slow, soothing breath pulling in a clean slate and letting out the suffocating noise of unrest.

It's as simple as a cliche walk in the woods, feet crunching a leaf or two, a chickadee leading the way with his chick-a-dee-dee-dee call. I will stop and crouch down and just let the space bring me that calm. I will look at leaves, 27 different shapes and sizes, at ferns and flowers on the floor, at fungus in a slow, inexorable procession around a log. Even the business of an ant doing his thing brings me closer to peace: he is so intent on his job and so focused, so in his world that there is reassurance in his resoluteness.

It's five minutes standing with a stream, letting the flow of the water fill me to the brim with the certainty that it will keep going. Knowing the clarity of the lives beneath its surface never falter as they go through their day.

It's standing for a moment on my porch after dark, drinking in the starlight above the trees across the street. Confident that up there, there is perfection because those stars are the one thing I can see that we can't touch, can't sully or claim or kill or dim no matter how hard the effort.

That peace is out there and I think right now, I may go for a little walk down to the lake and remember how to breathe.
Promises, Promises
Sunday, August 30, 2009 | Author: eventer79
I hope to have a new post for you by mid-week if not before, but until then, I leave you with some true wisdom from Albert Schweitzer, theologian, musician, physicist, philosopher (how's that for a resume!):

Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things,
man will not himself find peace.

A Man With A Vision...And A Pen
Wednesday, August 26, 2009 | Author: eventer79
Looking at the picture in yesterday's post, I am reminded that the the conflict between agriculture and habitat is nothing new. Neither is the demand for people with the passion and conviction to stand in the face of the status quo.

"Ding" Darling (1876-1962) is a name most of us in wildlife biology are familiar with but one that I think the rest of society has missed out on. He was a gifted editorial artist (his cartoons grace this post), which garnered him two Pulitzers. But even more important was his skill and dedication for conservation education. He founded the National Wildlife Federation as well as the US Duck Stamp program, just to name two of his lasting legacies.

Leadership and education like his are priceless in our rapidly changing world. People are bombarded with information and MISinformation from every direction at once on a daily basis. The long term consequences are lost among the trees of the short term gain. More than ever we need voices of reason and compassion, like Darling's to cut through the noise of the everyday.

It is at once hopeful and heartbreaking that even then, over 50 years ago, Darling and others like him saw that without our natural resources, we are nothing. Without clean water and air, without the richness of our global fauna, our future is lost. Darling also understood, in a way so beautifully illustrated in the cartoon above, that conservation and economic development are NOT mutually exclusive. It's not all or nothing, either or, as the naysayers would have you believe. All it takes is some thoughtfulness, common sense, planning and a dash of love to hold on to our invaluable "natural capital" on which our lives are built.

If we can just do that, we can avoid ending up with this:

Money Still Talks
Monday, August 24, 2009 | Author: eventer79
Brazilian rainforest, incredibly rich and globally important, is still under relentless attack. The latest threat is expansion of South American soybean fields. And much of this expansion is funded and encouraged by US-based agribusinesses. Soy is included to some extent in almost every food group these days, it feels like. There are many claims that all this soy is "American soy" -- but all too often that is only a half truth. It may be American OWNED soy, but it was NOT grown on US soil. Instead, it grew on land in Brazil that used to be lush rainforest, vital carbon sink, irreplacable wildlife habitat and source of dazzling biodiversity. Many major agribusinesses claim they will not have soy grown on cleared rainforest but law enforcement in Brazil is sparse and underfunded so actual follow-through is scarce.

A new effort has begun to pay Brazilian farmers and landowners to leave the forests standing. Many residents do not want to see their forest razed, but when faced with the choice of feeding their family or starving, is not fair to expect them to choose the latter in the interests of conservation. I've said it before and I'll say it again: HUNGRY PEOPLE DON'T GIVE A DAMN ABOUT ENDANGERED SPECIES. We have to give them a better option than short term "boom and bust" payoffs that are a result of typical rainforest clearing.

Cleared land can sell for about $1300 an acre (yes, these landowners are getting robbed considering the profits that the agribusinesses are making). If you had 100 acres, this would net you $130,000. That's still a hell of a lot of money if you happen to live in rural Brazil. A local environmental group is offering $12 per acre per year to leave the forest in place. For your same 100 acres, that is $1200 per year. You'd have to live 108 years to make your $130,000. We're going to have to do better than that. If they could get $50 an acre, that interval would go down to 26 years, a much more realistic time frame.

What can we do about it? Well, money even talks to rich agribusiness companies -- don't spend your money there. Try and avoid soy-based products when you can. Soybean oil is often used to make "biofuels", particularly biodiesel as well. Just say no. Reducing demand is key, as is pushing for increased support of the conservation process. If you cannot support conservation financially, push your representatives and media sources to recognize and take action in the process. Be the squeaky wheel, wanderers, and demand the Right Thing!
Free Water Filtration -- And It Already Exists!
Friday, August 21, 2009 | Author: eventer79
Friday Fun Fact!

Native freshwater mussels play a variety of important roles in any ecosystem, but perhaps the most important is water filtration. Mussels are filter feeders, that is, they get all of their food and oxygen from the flow over water over their internal gills, much like a fish. And they are REALLY REALLY GOOD AT IT - they can filter, on average, a gallon of water every hour. Observe a simple demonstration set up streamside:

Two small tanks filled with water from the stream in the background. Sediment has been stirred up, as would occur with stormwater flow or someone walking or driving across a stream. The tank on the right has about a dozen native mussels, the one on the left has nothing but water and substrate.

Elapsed time: 10 minutes

20 minutes

30 minutes

35 minutes

The difference is pretty dramatic. These animals are helping to keep your water clean by feeding on algae and bacteria that I'd prefer NOT to be in my glass of water! How effective are they in a large body of water? Take Chesapeake Bay for example: before we buggered it up, that particular gigantic estuary was FULL of oysters, a mussel relative, also a filter feeder. Those oysters kept that water crystal clear, filtering every single drop about every 2 days. In the whole estuary. Just to give you an idea, that's about 19 trillion gallons of water in that particular bay. 19,000,000,000,000 gallons. More than we can comprehend. In two days.

However, there is limit to their "mad filtering skillz." If the water has any toxic chemicals in it (for example, mussels are VERY sensitive to chlorine and ammonia, both commonly found in wastewater outfalls draining into streams and rivers), they cannot survive and typically, fatal levels of these chemicals are far lower than water quality standards set by states. Also, sediment can quickly smother a mussel if the source is ongoing. Think of it this way: if you make a cup of coffee and it has a few grounds in it, you will probably still drink it. However, if it's chockablock full of grounds, you will clam up (haha) and abstain. Same thing for mussels: they can filter out small amounts of sediment but if there is too much, they will be unable to breathe and they will die. Yet another reason to control sediment input into water, which I discussed here.
Mama's Got A Brand New Groove
Tuesday, August 18, 2009 | Author: eventer79
I'm playing with some new looks here on WWWT -- if you like what you see, let me know. I'm trying to step outside the standard Blogger templates but have no desire or energy to code an entire one myself, so am working to reach a happy medium. It's not exactly easy to switch back and forth, but I do have one other I'd like to try if this one wears out its welcome. You may now return to perusing the pictures below...
My Bubbles!
Tuesday, August 18, 2009 | Author: eventer79
Helloooooooooo from Lake Waccamaw, wanderers! As promised I have lots of pictures from one of my favourite places in this lovely state. I am still working on sorting and uploading, but thought I would post this very silly little video of me saying hullo from my office. Bloggers are often shy of posting pictures of themselves for fear of IRL identification, but I have decided to just let 'er rip. ;-P

I will continue with my picture sorting, oh, I mean WORK and post more later today.

Ready or not, here they come....

This lake is one of our TWO natural lakes in North Carolina. The rest are all manmade reservoirs, i.e. dammed sections of rivers, a process that destroys the native life in the river and causes endless problems for the system. As a result, we almost never work in lakes (since we deal with native species and habitats, there is no point in working in reservoirs given that they are such heavily altered environments) so it's a unique experience to swim around in this one.

This type of lake is called a Carolina bay, named historically for the bay trees that line the shores of many of them. Carolina bays actually rarely have water in them year round, Waccamaw is the exception rather than the rule. About 1/3 of the shoreline is state park (easy to identify, it's the nice part NOT dotted with a bazillion houses and a thousand ugly docks and boathouses) and it is drop dead gorgeous. Sandy shores lines with beautiful cypress trees dripping with Spanish moss.

Here my boss searches for broadtail madtoms, a rare species in the catfish family.

We never did find any, but we DID find one tadpole madtom (Noturus gyrinus), a fiesty cousin found in the signature habitat of madtoms:

And he enjoys opera: "!" Madtoms are just freakin' cute.

Waccamaw is also home to several endemic species (found no where else in the world!). One makes its home in maiden cane beds near the lake shore like this one (the cane is the grassy stuff).

It's the Waccamaw darter (Etheostoma perlongum) and you can see they are perfectly adapted to their habitat -- can you find the one in the first picture??

We wrangled other endemics that day including the Waccamaw killifish (Fundulus waccamensis), a lovely little tiger-striped fish,

...and the federally threatened Waccamaw silverside (Menidia extensa; yes, the folks down there ARE the most uncreative species namers in the world).

Another reason I LOVE working in this lake is that it is one of the few places left in the state where you can still find a LOT of native freshwater mussels. A LOT. As in, I can't take a step without landing on two or three of them. A LOT. I hope to put together a post just about mussels for you soon -- they are fascinating creatures with surprising levels of complexity to their lifestyle, definitely having more to them than meets the eye. When you are in the water, this what a mussel looks like, you can just see the water siphons they use to breathe and feed resembling a row of eyelashes.

Once you pull them out of the bottom, you can get a better look at them to identify them. This is my favourite species there, the rayed pink fatmucket (Lampsilis splendida; now THAT'S a good name!).

All in all, I spent two weeks down there, surveying for fish and mussels. We were happy to discover that many species are doing very well in the lake these days and populations are healthy. Now, if we can just find those pesky madtoms....we may have to start a campaign to get people to throw their empty bottles and cans into the water (I'm not kidding, these fish LOVE to hide in those things!) -- they've done too good a job picking up their trash!

I will leave you with this excited and curious school of coastal shiners (Notropis petersoni) who were intent on investigating me while I searched for darters. Wander in wonder!!