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Science as Leisure

Liz Marchio

I am a trained ichthyologist interested in what gets people interested in natural history, biological sciences, and science careers. My passion is to find out what fuels curiosity for the natural world.

Biology-related serious leisure activities can impact people's interest in ecology, biology, and natural history. Do these activities promote biological understanding? If so, how does that progress and to what level does it progress to? 

If you're interested in a starting a dialogue, please feel free to contact me. If you're curious about how I got here, my story can be found on the About Me page.

 

Filtering by Category: life

7 Ways Twitter is for Scientists

 Social media is good at taking over lives but it can be beneficial too. 

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I've told science colleagues I am on Twitter and gotten about a 90% rate for reproachful looks. I'm guessing they consider it to be a place for movie stars to push their interests to the masses. Well, it can be; however, I have found it to be surprisingly helpful. 

Sure, there are self-serving people on Twitter and it may even make you self-serving as well. But yet, there are 7 positive attributes I consider to be great equalizers:

  1. Communicating with the public: I can cast my net wide and promote my ideas and research to a wider community of people. Not only this, but I learn to follow trends which allows me to communicate more effectively with the public. Scientists are not the best communicators so any practice I can get is beneficial. 
  2. Networking: The open access of Twitter promotes networking with people. I've met many new and potentially unapproachable scientists through Twitter. Through "Tweet-ups" at conferences and meeting people at professional meetings, it's a way to get involved.
  3. Immediate news: I used to use Facebook (FB) for my real-world and research news. Now, I rely on Twitter for the most up to date information. This includes up to date science! New papers, research, and ideas. It is exciting to be on the outer limits of knowledge!
  4. Less doom and gloom: I found FB and perhaps my day-to-day experience to be full of negativity. This negativity was affecting my disposition and causing me to be disappointed in humanity & depressed. Twitter isn't always *happy* but I found the negatives are outweighed by the positives, especially stories on activism (e.g. people doing something rather than watching it happen).
  5. Less biased/More diverse information: I don't just get a "snow-ball effect": only seeing the news and information that my friends and family pass on through FB. Because of the short character limit I can follow a more diverse crowd and get more types of information. "Trending" stories round out my viewing. 
  6. Practice being concise: Most of your life you're taught to write excessively in order to make a page limit... but grad school wants clear and concise. Twitter helps me cut out unnecessary adjectives and description in order to keep it under 141 characters. I also get feedback: my Tweets aren't read or retweeted unless they are also clear. Overall, good practice for keeping it short, sweet, and interesting! 
  7. Writing and Funding opportunities: I have been published in the Working Life section of Science because of a writing opportunity I saw on Twitter. Also, I've applied for several unique funding opportunities seen on Twitter. I feel good applying for them since they are unique and potentially have a higher award rate per cost of time spent applying. 

BONUS #8: JOB OPPORTUNITIES! 

 I really cannot stress this enough. Every single day I see at least one job opportunity posted that is potentially applicable to me. I'm mainly on Twitter only in very short, but regular, bursts (i.e. bathroom breaks) so there's a lot going on Twitter.

 These are the reasons I have found Twitter to be a good use of my limited time. If you're a scientist and find these 7 reasons potentially helpful, join the community!

And make sure to follow me @LizMarchio

Why you need to memorize science facts in school

From science-focused college undergraduates I have heard the same repetitive criticism of coursework, "All I do is memorize facts!" 

Are we in fact making a generation of fact-regurgitators, people who could slay on Jeopardy but can't function as real scientists? Or is there some other reason for this fact-memorizing methodology?

 That face indicates he probably isn't ready to move up the ladder...

That face indicates he probably isn't ready to move up the ladder...

Science education is a knowledge pipeline and you need to learn the basic fundamentals before you move to the next level. Well... perhaps it's a ladder rather than a pipeline. Or maybe it's all one gigantic and challenging test to push you to your limits. After all, to get the highest academic position in any program, you have to be the best of the best and prove yourself worthy. We wouldn't want doctors who don't know fundamentals like anatomy, right? Why would we want a scientist who doesn't know the basic concepts science is built upon, like the scientific method and other basic science facts? 

Science is an intellectual activity and you need to master the fundamentals of science and those are facts. As a science-focused college undergraduate you also need to pick your science path... so you take all kinds of science classes to figure it out. From physics to chemistry to biology... you are forced to cast your net wide!

 The earlier you focus, the more you could potentially funnel yourself into more advanced (and less fact-oriented) work. This kind of work is skill oriented, where you apply your facts and your proven perseverance to do real science. You can't just skip to this level! [You don't want to skip to this level!] 

I think of it like this:

 To get towards the top of the science ladder, you must master the core, fundamental knowledge rather than the skills.

Skills you learn later under the tutelage of a science sensei! 

 You may move up to working with a science sensei once you have proven yourself worthy. Then guess what? You must continue to prove yourself through tedious, monotonous tasks.

You may move up to working with a science sensei once you have proven yourself worthy. Then guess what? You must continue to prove yourself through tedious, monotonous tasks.

 While you're with your sensei, you must hone your science skills. This takes time and practice.

While you're with your sensei, you must hone your science skills. This takes time and practice.

Once you have mastered the facts and some skills during research credits, you may graduate to working on your own. This may be a job, a Master's degree which you work with another sensei and hone yet more skills, or a PhD which is a more advanced form of tutelage with a bit more freedom [i.e. risk of failure]. 

Once you have mastered advanced science skills through a Master's or PhD, you may challenge your sensei for the final test: The Defense! This is not recommended for those holding down jobs... 

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Once you've finally proven yourself worthy during the defense,  you can move on to doing science on your own! With the facts and skills you've learned along the pipeline/ladder, you can take on the world!

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Remember, you have to start somewhere, and in science that means FACTS! 


Dead man charged $985.61 for an ambulance ride

It's finals week and I'm a graduate student. That means I'm trying to finish A LOT of important work that can make or break my career. I don't have time for regular baths let alone dealing with being taken advantage of. Today is the straw that broke the camel's back. I am again asking myself this question:

IS HEATH INSURANCE A SHAM?

My grandfather, my best friend, passed away almost exactly 2 months ago today. I've come to realize his untimely passing may have been painful for me but a blessing for him. It was an almost immediate death, painless, and quiet. He was filling out paperwork at his regular doctor at Mt. Carmel East (Columbus, Ohio) and just slumped in his chair. [We didn't have an autopsy done so I can't say exactly what caused his death. I think some kind of aneurysm since it was so quick and painless.]  Eventually his immobilized body was noticed in the waiting room and he was given CPR. But... he was gone.

The doctor's office called an ambulance since you can't just call a morgue or the family (or can you? Not exactly a social norm for family to transport deceased loved ones...). Of course the ambualnce and medics couldn't revive him and he was transported NEXT DOOR to the ER. 

 My deceased Grandpa took an ambulance from the yellow square to the red square and it only cost $989.15! 

My deceased Grandpa took an ambulance from the yellow square to the red square and it only cost $989.15! 

Two months later, my mother received a bill for $989.15. Here it is: 

The bill  is not really itemized in a logical manner and includes codes that I had to research to figure out. Surprise. 

My pronounced-dead-at-the-scene grandfather was billed $985.61 for an "ALS 2" which is, according to this website, "A0433 Advanced life support, level 2 (ALS2)". He was dead at the scene and had been for an unknown amount of time so I'm not sure why he was not only driven to the ER in an ambulance but done so under an elevated emergency level (Level 2 vs. Level 1). 

The other $3.54 charge was for the mileage to the ER from the building next door. The bill does not tell you what that mileage is, unless "000" is it. It probably is 000 miles, just look at the map! 

So, can someone please tell me how my dead grandfather was charged $989.15 for a level 2 emergency ambulance ride to the building next door? I understand there are flat rates for things, but for an ambulance ride?! For a dead man?! This is repugnant. 

If you agree, can you please get the word out about this? I am taking time away from my studies to write this in an attempt to stick up for what is right. I'm tired of being so busy with my life that I let unfair, disgusting, and monetarily draining things like this slide. Please consider passing this on, if not to help then for simple awareness. 

Thank you. 

Note: I want emergency medics and doctors to get a fair and above average wage. Furthermore, I understand the system may "work" in many circumstances but this doesn't seem to be one of them. 



Feral Cat Colonies & Crazy Cat Lady Syndrome

We've all heard about the negative effects feral cats have on wild bird populations. It's a fact that cats are hunters and they're good at it. After all, there are probably millions of barn cats employed because of their wonderful work ethic! 

  Image from galleryhip.com

Image from galleryhip.com

The most interesting thing about the feral cat issue taking place in our society today is the straight up crazy conflict over the situation. We all know cats kill other animals. We know they do it well and whenever they can. Regardless of what we all know, take a look at any social media post regarding feral cats killing birds and you see the cat defenders come out and swat away those negative cat statistics. 

  Why would spay/neuter help keep cats from eating? This is a common argument of cat-defenders .

Why would spay/neuter help keep cats from eating? This is a common argument of cat-defenders.

Above you can see the cat-defenders using several different tactics to defend wild/feral cats. Strategies include an appeal to emotion, appeals to humanity, placing blame, offering (biased) information to support pre-determined decisions, logical reasoning, and threats. It's intense and flies in the face of the information we all know: cats are killers and bird populations are on the decline because of it. So why defend cats so vehemently?

Enter: Toxoplasmosis. 

  Toxoplasmosis gondii. Photo from Wikipedia.

Toxoplasmosis gondii. Photo from Wikipedia.

Toxoplasmosis is a parasite that is found in cats and cat feces. It is also found in rats. Basically, an infected rat is eaten by a cat (yay barn cats!), which then infects the cat. The cat does what all cats do, and poops. The feces house Toxoplasmosis and make it "available" to the environment. Uninfected rodents can get infected via fecal contact and so can people.

So, if you have a cat and you clean its box, or the cat gives you "the brown eye"... you may have Toxoplasmosis. 

Up to 80% of people could have Toxoplasmosis! 

This isn't even the scariest part. I haven't told you what the parasite can do... 

In rats, it has been shown to cause a reduction of fear. This is a "plan" by the parasite! If eaten, especially by a cat, the parasite can continue its life cycle. If the host rat doesn't fear cats, then cats get Toxoplasmosis. Here's a video to help explain:

This lack of fear response could also be an affection response.

It's well known by most people that people who keep a cat have an increased propensity to own another cat... and so on... and so on... This can lead to hoarding and an intense, self-destructive affection towards cats. 

This is Crazy Cat Lady Syndrome and it involves Toxoplasmosis.

 If social media stories on feral cat issues have replies/comments that are made up of 50% cat-defenders, are 50% of the people replying to that story "suffering" from Toxoplasmosis?  

After all, they are defending cats based on a reduction of fear and a strong, almost insatiable,  emotional attachment towards cats. 

Perhaps the feral cat issue can be aided by research in the "suffering" of Toxoplasmosis in the public? If people who will not aid bird conservation by limiting the number of cats in the wild actually have a disease and cannot act any other way towards cats... maybe there can be some middle ground forged? 

No one wants to know they're a part of a parasite's plan, or life history, so I doubt this gets much attention, but damn, isn't this at least interesting?


Part 2: What is a species: Hybrids

My last blog post covered the biological species concept and some of the issues surrounding its use. This post builds on that introduction to "species".

At the end of the last post, I asked: What is another issue surrounding the use of the biological species concept (BSC)? 

A major problem with the BSC is it stipulates that species cannot interbreed. However, we see consistent examples of interbreeding across species. Here are a few examples of crosses, or "hybrids":

 A lion x tiger cross = "Liger" or "Tigon". Photo credit: gwzoo.com

A lion x tiger cross = "Liger" or "Tigon". Photo credit: gwzoo.com

 Horse x donkey cross = mule. These are yearling mules out of saddle and draft mares. Photo credit:  Deb Kidwell,  Lake Nowhere Mule and Donkey Farm  (Thanks, Deb!) 

Horse x donkey cross = mule. These are yearling mules out of saddle and draft mares. Photo credit:  Deb Kidwell, Lake Nowhere Mule and Donkey Farm (Thanks, Deb!) 

 Trimaculatus cichlid x ??? x Parrot cichlid = "parrotfish" Photo credit: practicalfishkeeping.co.uk

Trimaculatus cichlid x ??? x Parrot cichlid = "parrotfish" Photo credit: practicalfishkeeping.co.uk

I don't know about you, but I definitely see a horse as a different species from a donkey and a tiger definitely different from a lion!

So, what's the deal?

If we define species by the BSC, where "species cannot interbreed"... are these seemingly distinct species actually ONE? Are lions and tigers one species??

As with ALL science, rules are hard to make for nature! 

If we rely on the biology of one "species" to differentiate it from others, there are always exceptions to the rule! In science as a whole, there are almost always exceptions to the rules!

Maybe that leaves a bad taste in your mouth. How do we know anything then? What's the point of science if it can't answer "basic" questions??

Well, yeah... How do we know anything? The answer is, we don't know anything for sure. A scientist will never tell you they are 100% sure of anything. We are humans and we are making the world around us into understandable parts. We see the diversity of life on earth and we want to name and categorize things. To do that, we use a system. Unfortunately, time does not stand still and things are always changing. The biological species concept does not take into account these kinds of things. There are other species concepts who do (evolutionary and phylogenetic species concepts, for example), but even those are flawed.

Maybe we get ligers and tigons because they are really closely related and haven't been separate species long enough. It takes TIME, lots and lots of time, for these kinds of changes to "be set in stone".

But, hey, that's one of the most amazing things about studying life on earth! There is no creation of a species. There is no "BAM!" you're a tiger and will always be a tiger.

We are trying to figure things out as we go. We are making theories and testing them. And, interestingly, we are hanging onto theories such as the biological species concept even though there are obvious exceptions. 

So what are your thoughts?


NOTW: Mark Valen, a man of many naturalist hats

 This NaturalIst of the Week has been written by guest blogger: Katie Wedemeyer

Sometimes when you meet some people for the first time, you can tell right away that they’re special. Mark is one of those people.

Mark and I got hired around the same time at the Living Coast Discovery Center (formerly the Chula Vista Nature Center) at San Diego Bay in Chula Vista, California. I was hired for education and Mark as the lead horticulturist (“hortus” = garden; “cultúra” = cultivation). I knew right away Mark had a lot to teach me, as a colleague and a human being in general.

Mark, a man of many naturalist hats showcasing a Yucca flower pruning. (photo credit: Mark Valen) 

Mark is the epitome of a naturalist: 

Every aspect of his life shows appreciation and awe at the natural world  - and a profound respect for it that is contagious. His enthusiasm spreads to those who are lucky enough to learn from him, young or old.  

Mark in his natural habitat (photo credit: Mark Valen)

His list of naturalist-related accomplishments is impressive, and steadily growing. He currently is in a Masters of Liberal Arts in Sustainability and Environmental Management through Harvard, while also working as the Horticulturist and Facilities Lead at the Living Coast Discovery Center. Did I mention he also is adjunct faculty in the San Diego Community College District and the Southwestern Community College Districts, teaching about sustainable landscaping and urban agriculture? 

Through his work at the Discovery Center, which reaches many underprivileged schools, and through working at the Community Colleges, Mark is directly impacting and inspiring students who may not have the same “top tier” opportunities as those from more “privileged” (i.e. funded) neighborhoods.

In his free time he serves as commissioner on the City of Chula Vista's Resource Conservation Commission that advises the City Council on environmental decisions. As an undergraduate at UC Santa Cruz he not only helped develop his own sustainability major he also created and taught classes for it. There’s a reason he is the NOTW of many hats!

Despite so many accomplishments, Mark is the most Down to Earth (pun-intended), sincere nature lover out there. Each time we interacted at work I was always paying close attention, excited to learn something new, to gain a new appreciation for plants.

As a scientist, I always appreciated plants for giving me oxygen but lost interest after that – until Mark presented them as fascinating organisms with incredible adaptations.

His lessons may have been geared towards the 7 year olds attending summer camp but I was hooked! 

Mark inspiring (and blowing minds of) some of the Living Coast Discovery Center campers (photo: Living Coast Discovery Center facebook page

Did you know that pickleweed (Salcornia virginica) lives near the brackish (salt + fresh water mixed) water of the salt marsh It lives so close to the water’s edge that it can actually “drink” salt water! What? How cool is that!  Have you ever accidently ingested salt water? Did it quench your thirst or make you thirstier? It makes me thirstier! Several marine animals (like sea turtles, sea birds, and marine fish) have adaptations for drinking salt water, but it turns out that plants do too! Pickleweed, which gets its name from its pickle-like shape and salty taste, is generally green in appearance except for its red tips where it concentrates the salt it has sucked up and when the tip becomes saturated with salt, it turns red and falls off. By getting rid of the excess salt it can hold onto sufficient freshwater to help it grow and survive! What a cool adaptation!

Pickleweed! (Photo credit: ballonafriends.org)

Mark was a key component of many of the education programs I created at the Living Coast Discovery Center, always eager to contribute to educating the youth and getting them out to play in the dirt.

We had several campers compost and the looks of amazement on the kids’ faces were priceless as they held worms for the first time, their eyes fascinated, moving quickly along with the squiggly movements of these often underappreciated creatures. 

For the first time they realized that worms have an important job: mixing different layers of the compost and aerating it simply by burrowing through it. They couldn’t wait to dive in to the compost pile to find more! 

Mark teaching a composting class at the Living Coast Discovery Center (photo credit Living Coast Discovery Center facebook page)

He has, without a doubt inspired thousands of individuals, from children through senior citizens, to get out in nature and not be afraid to dig in the dirt and to appreciate all of nature’s contributions to the beauty and function of our everyday lives.

For these reasons, Mark is our NOTW and our naturalist of many hats!

To contact Mark, send him an e-mail or just go visit the Living Coast Discovery Center (or at least visit their Facebook page)! Bring the kids, bring the wife! Get Dirty! 

For more information on our guest blogger, Katie Wedemeyer, please follow her on twitter @krwedemeyer and visit her website!


Killing Animals for Decoration

Ever look at a hunter's wall and think how unnecessary that wall of death is?

 That's a lot of dead animals...

That's a lot of dead animals...

Well, as gross as that may be to some people, I have an even bigger beef to talk about- people who keep dead animals in their homes and don't even know it! 

I'm talking about the Curio trade. You know, dead starfish, coral, and fish like pufferfish and seahorses! 

 Googly eyes are like my favorite thing on earth, but it seems a bit disrespectful on a dead animal decoration!! 

Googly eyes are like my favorite thing on earth, but it seems a bit disrespectful on a dead animal decoration!! 

I googled "dead puffer" images and no curio puffers showed up on the first visible page. This lends support to the idea that people do not understand a dried puffer is actually a DEAD puffer. 

This is a trade that permits collectors to collect namely marine animals for decorations. It's not illegal, but it is almost completely unnecessary and definitely tricks people! I don't know how many people I've talked to or seen online that are confused when they learn a dried starfish from the $1 store at Mission Beach is actually a REAL DEAD animal! Some even try to put these DEAD ANIMALS into their AQUARIUMS!

 No, you cannot stick a dead animal into your aquarium! 

No, you cannot stick a dead animal into your aquarium! 

Not only are consumers unaware of the dead nature of these "decorations" they are fully unaware of the process of  making them dead. People who collect these animals are collecting LIVE specimens, and many times allowing them to suffocate slowly in order to keep their shape and color. How do you think a dried seahorse is in that cute seahorse shape? It's dying and molded into an attractive pose.

 Avenge me, brother!

Avenge me, brother!

Other times animals, especially those with shells, are simply bleached alive. I remember I was looking for shells on one of the beaches in South Carolina and saw a man with a HUGE beautiful shell. It was a conch-type animal and it was very much still alive. He was a stranger but still openly stated, "I'm going to keep it for it's shell". RIP you poor, and probably decade-old, thing. 

 THROW IT BAAAACK!!!

THROW IT BAAAACK!!!

So, is the killing of sea animals, especially in the face of extinction and loss, really necessary? Do you need some sea shells sitting in some sand on the toilet? Do you really need to buy your kid that googly-eyed pufferfish that they will forget about in a week?

Probably not. 

So what do you do? Well, (1) spread the word that these animals actively die for the curio trade. They aren't washing up on beaches, they are collected and systematically killed for decoration; and (2) stop buying these things. As I said in my Walmart fish post, if you don't want to promote the consumption of something, stop buying it yourself.

What could be any easier than NOT buying something?

Disclaimer: if you are purchasing shells that were collected for meat and done so appropriately, fine. And yes, there are cultures that eat and use seahorses as food or medicine. Maybe those things are fine, maybe not, but what we can do here in the States is at least stop the consumption and thus the collection of live animals only to be killed for decor. Please pass this information along!

 

TransRacial Families on the American Race Debate

Are there race issues in America right now? Taking a look at social media outlets...

The majority of African Americans say YES. White people are either ambivalent or they take a side. Many say NO.

If one group of American citizens almost all say the same thing, doesn't this alone tell you that there is a problem? If you still need persuading, perhaps another perspective on the issue will help shed some light on the "problem".

After Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice and the almost racially dichotomous side-taking, I want to hear from people who bridge the gap.

I want to hear from One race of Americans who have adopted another race into their homes.

This tiny section of the American society is almost never heard from, and yes, they do exist! 

I have had the privilege to speak to a white woman, Amanda Scott, who has fostered and then adopted several non-white children into her home. Amanda and her husband Jacob have many fears for their children as they grow up in our current American society. But first, what do we call these kinds of families? Mixed? Or what?

Amanda said: "I tend to prefer transracial, but that gets confusing, so mixed is fine. It's also totally fine to call us biracial, since I really believe once one member of your family is not white, you are a non white family." So, since Amanda self-identifies as transracial, let's take a look at a transracial parent's feelings toward the race issues going on in American society today:

The main question I asked her was: What do you worry most about your children and growing up black in America? 

The long answer is:  "I'm scared that I won't be able to properly prepare them to live in a country that's steeped in institutional racism. There are some things I can do - like telling my sons to raise their hands and never move them and to not talk back to officers and only respond politely. But, as Tamir Rice demonstrates, they might not even get the chance to do anything that could help them survive an encounter."

"I'm also afraid I can't protect them from the other realities they will face. Like the fact that my older son will be less likely to be called in for a job interview because he has a less traditionally White sounding name. Or the fact that accounting for SES and education, my non-White kids will (statistically) have worse health outcomes, a fact that many researchers are beginning to attribute to the multitude of large and small interactions people of color have with a racist society that increases their stress and is linked to things like premature infant birth (and higher mortality), higher blood pressure, more risk of diabetes, etc. Those are the two things that scare me the most."

"I worry about what happens to them when my privilege no longer transfers. When my being white doesn't protect them."

So, with that short interview, I think it's evident that social media, and all media, could do a heck of a lot better by asking transracial families, of either variety, what they think of the issue.

 Amanda and Jacob's beautiful family photo! These are families we need to hear from on these racially-charged issues.  

Amanda and Jacob's beautiful family photo! These are families we need to hear from on these racially-charged issues.  

These are the only people that bridge that gap and their voices should be, and deserve to be, heard.

NotW: Rachel O'Leary - The Mohawk Aquarist

Sometimes you just know you've come to the right place.

That's how I felt when I met Rachel O'Leary.

We were both invited speakers and since I hardly see women at these events, I knew Rachel was going to make an impression. And boy, did she! 

                                                Rachel in her natural habitat- her fantastic fish room! 

                                               Rachel in her natural habitat- her fantastic fish room! 

Rachel O'Leary - The Mohawk Aquarist & Naturalist

Rachel epitomizes a lot of qualities that I respect (and wish I had the balls enough to do). She travels the country doing fish club talks, she is her own scientist and natural historian, published author, and an aquarium-related icon. Maybe it's the mohawk? Nope, this woman knows her fish, loves her hobby, and one of the most down to Earth people I've ever met. 

I remember sitting in her aquarium-club talk on dwarf shrimp and being impressed with the amount of information she knows and is completely up to date on. For example, the dwarf shrimp genera (Caridina, Neocaridina, etc.) are currently in flux taxonomically, and she has her finger right on the pulse. Frankly, the only thing that could hold her back from being more knowledgeable is the lack of Open-Source scientific publications (hint hint). 

Not only is Rachel knowledgeable, she is willing to take a lot of time to educate others. She is also willing to stand up and tell people "No" when they want to buy organisms that are inappropriate for their aquarium set-up:

 Rachel imports fish and invertebrates to sell to fellow aquarists; sometimes it's a demanding job. But the following she has supporting her decision not to sell (65+ likes, 80+ comments) shows she is indeed making a difference and a leader in the hobby.

Rachel imports fish and invertebrates to sell to fellow aquarists; sometimes it's a demanding job. But the following she has supporting her decision not to sell (65+ likes, 80+ comments) shows she is indeed making a difference and a leader in the hobby.

Aquarium keeping has gotten and will continue getting a lot of flack for irresponsible pet ownership issues, but people like Rachel are making a difference, once teeny tiny seemingly insignificant step at a time. 

Kudos to you, Rachel, our Mohawk Aquarist and Naturalist of the Week! 

Check out Rachel's website, her book, and her aquarium talks

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Accidentally Went Viral: Embrace the Mistake

So sometimes we, as humans, make mistakes.

Yeah, duh, right?

And sometimes those mistakes get made fun of and gossiped about...

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But looks like that ain't nothin' now. Gossip the "old fashioned way" was verbal and or on paper; the new gossip is immediate and akin to a wildfire. If you're on the wrong side of this phenomenon, good luck.

A simple mistake can turn into a HUGE, GLOBAL mistake. 

So, what is there to do about this? Well, we could always be a bit better about consuming and regurgitating these viral mistakes. Spreading the snapshot of an editing mistake instead of notifying the editor is snarky and pretty nasty. Yeah, geeze, seeing something dumb is funny, I agree- but at what cost? You spread the viral mistake and become "internet famous" at the expense of someone else. So, those of us who like attention, and that's all of us, we need to be a bit more mindful. 

So, yeah, us consumers of media could be mindful, but is that really going to happen to the masses? Probably not. So, what do you do if you're on the other end of the viral mistake? The one who MADE the mistake? Well... good question. If you cower and hide you're likely to become a larger target (bullies love to feel the power, right?). My suggestion is:

Embrace the Mistake!

We all make mistakes and those who deal with them with dignity and honesty can actually become role models. So what if you left something stupid in a document and the WHOLE WORLD saw it? The whole world saw YOUR document! You're on stage now!

Take advantage of it and embrace the mistake! 

 "Going viral" can be good or bad, depending on how you deal with the situation. 

"Going viral" can be good or bad, depending on how you deal with the situation. 

Now, let's see how the ESA comet shirt guy deals with his...



Introducing Scientist and Blogger, Sarah Flanagan

While I will still be highlighting Naturalists on my NotW series, this week I would like to highlight a fellow scientist and graduate student, Sarah Flanagan. 

Sarah has lived all over the world and just wrapped up a field season in Norway and Sweden collecting pipefish for her dissertation. She studies this group of fish and sexual selection, population genomics, and evolutionary biology.  

Not only is Sarah a great scientist (just as NSF; she has been awarded accolades and money for her work), she is working on scientific outreach. Check out her most recent blog post, which mentions Natural History, here. You can also follow Sarah on Twitter here: @sarahpf19

She also created the citizen science project, Pipefish World, where you can submit your own collection photos, GPS, and information on pipefishes! Join the fun!

Interested in studying pipefish, seahorses, sexual selection, and evolution? Check out the Jones Lab at Texas A&M where Sarah is currently studying! 

 

NotW: Dr. Luiz Rocha - The Deep Sea Naturalist

Welcome to another installment of Naturalist of the Week (NotW)!

This week's featured naturalist is the "Deep Sea" Naturalist, Dr. Luiz Rocha.

 Dr. Luiz Rocha giving young ichthyologists a tour of the collection at CalAcademy! 

Dr. Luiz Rocha giving young ichthyologists a tour of the collection at CalAcademy! 

Luiz is an ichthyologist ("ich" = fish; "-ologist" = study) from California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, CA.  He studies the generation and maintenance of the extremely high biodiversity in tropical coral reefs. Sounds awesome, right?! So, how did Luiz get into this field?

Well, I asked him myself and he said he was interested in the natural world since at least third grade! In third grade, I too was passionate about animals and life on Earth. It must be a formative time period! 

At this age, Luiz kept a homemade ant farm, mayonnaise jars with jumping spiders, a box of caterpillars waiting to metamorphose into butterflies, and.... fish tanks! He started out the aquarium hobby with a large tank of guppies and a few small tanks with bettas.

He says he just never grew out of being a naturalist. 

  New species of Grammatonotus (collected by Brian Greene; 470 feet) in  May 2014 . 

New species of Grammatonotus (collected by Brian Greene; 470 feet) in May 2014

Today, Luiz's most exciting work includes scubadiving deep into mesophotic reefs which extend from 100 to 330 feet (up to 500 ft in tropical regions), have low light, and lots of sponges, algae, and low-light photosynthetic corals. And awesome, cool, and rare fish!

He and his team finds new species of fish in every dive and see species that were previously only seen and/or collected by submarines!

Check out/like the CalAcademy Ichthyology Facebook page if you're as geeked as I am about new species of marine fish! 

And, as you can see from his photo on the top of the page, Luiz does some very important outreach to formative young students- our future naturalists and ichthyologists! Other outreach opportunities he participates in includes: public events at CalAcademy, blog contributions (this one is on fish sex), Twitter (@CoralReefFish), and giving talks to marine aquarium clubs in North America (such as the 2014 MACNA).

 Luiz and Brian Greene (slowly) bringing up some deep water fish, including a NEW species of  Liopropoma  (candy basslet)! Photo by Bart Shepherd.

Luiz and Brian Greene (slowly) bringing up some deep water fish, including a NEW species of Liopropoma (candy basslet)! Photo by Bart Shepherd.

In light of the recent hubub regarding the proposed listing of Amphiprion percula (Percula clownfish, AKA Nemo) on the Endangered Species List as well as other media implicating the marine aquarium hobby in major ecological and environmental issues (i.e. release of lionfish and other non-natives), the marine aquarium hobby seems to be a tipping point.

I asked Luiz what he thought of the aquarium hobby.

He stated, "I think the educational benefits brought by the aquarium hobby far outweigh its impacts. Aquarium fish collection is not the same as food fish collection. You need a much larger infrastructure for aquarium fish because you need to keep them alive, so prices must remain high to support the industry. And for the prices to remain high, the supply has to be kept at a certain level. If supply is too high, prices drop and the industry stops making money, so I think it is somewhat self-regulating. Food fish on the other hand, have a much higher demand, so food fish industry tries to collect every single fish they can."

What do you think? 

Whatever your stance on the aquarium hobby, Luiz is utilizing it as a vehicle to educate the public about fish, ecology, and nature as a whole. He has taken it upon himself to be a leader in professional ichthyology to reach out to non-professionals. 

Kudos to you, Dr. Luiz Rocha, our Deep Sea Naturalist, for all the time you invest in the people who are starting out in ichthyology- those who can and will make major impacts on the world with their attitudes and behaviors. 

If you're interested in deep water fishes, ichthyology, and other science related news, please consider following Dr. Luiz Rocha on Twitter (@CoralReefFish) and his work at the California Academy. Thanks for reading and if you haven't already, follow me on Twitter (@LizMarchio).

NotW: Aaron Roland- A Natural Born Naturalist

This week I showcase a "non-professional" ichthyologist, Aaron Roland.

Don't let "non-professional" fool you... I'm betting Aaron could school any marine biologist on fish and coral husbandry, propagation, and even native habitats and geography.

No Doctorate? No Problem! 

  Aaron (almost) in his natural environment.

Aaron (almost) in his natural environment.

I used to work for aquarium and pet stores in Columbus, Ohio from 2000-2010. During that time I met and worked with a multitude of people, most of them amazing in their own way. As I progressed from working at a pet store to working at a fish-only aquarium store, the people I worked with became more specialized and actually, increasingly passionate about conservation and wild stocks of fish.

Perhaps your're wondering how conservation and aquariums goes together... Well, I'll touch more on that in another post, but think about it- as I said above, as I specialized in my work (and leisure) the people involved in the hobby did too. This specialization in a serious leisure activity allows people, like Aaron, to progress to a level that rivals "professional" ichthyologists. 

 The art of nature as seen through the lens of Aaron's camera. 

The art of nature as seen through the lens of Aaron's camera. 

Not only is Aaron a very smart non-professional-degreed ichthyologist, he uses his free time to study and keep fish.


Aaron lives and "breathes" fish! 


This intense passion for aquatic life has spurred him to new heights in knowledge and awareness. As many aquarists know, keeping fish is a double edged sword- conservation and consumptive hobbies can deplete resources such as ornamental fish. However, with people like Aaron at the helm, someone infatuated with the natural world and absolutely well-known in Columbus for his willingness to help any aquarist who needs it, the aquarium hobby and evolve and progress into a conservation-minded force!


For these reasons Aaron Roland is the Naturalist of the Week! 

 Click the Rivers to Reefs logo to visit Aaron's facebook page.

Click the Rivers to Reefs logo to visit Aaron's facebook page.

Thank you, Aaron!

You've educated and guided so many people to be stewards of the natural world rather than just consumers. 

 

Aaron is currently working on opening his own aquarium-only store in Columbus, Ohio. If you live in the area and want to keep a conservation-friendly aquarium (and get some really good advice and help on all things aquatic), please consider offering him your future business. As I said in my last post, there are stores that only consider fish as products- Aaron considers them ambassadors to the wild world of fish. 

What Solo Travel Teaches

I just got back from 5-6 weeks abroad in Australia where the last 10 days consisted of me, a Land Rover (complete with tent, fridge, GPS, and camping materials), and Australians. I survived and have never been happier.

 Creeped out by a fellow traveler at first, once I warmed up the gentleman (and wife) gave me substantial advice. They pulled out a map, helped me figure out a route, and gave me further ideas and information. 

Creeped out by a fellow traveler at first, once I warmed up the gentleman (and wife) gave me substantial advice. They pulled out a map, helped me figure out a route, and gave me further ideas and information. 

At the start of the solo trip, what I called my "walkabout", I was nervous. I rented a car that was out of my price range and was worried about the money I had spent, I was worried about physically driving the car since it was a stick shift and I was in a country that drove opposite of the States, and most of all... I was alone.  

The first worries consumed me for sometime, well, about 3 of the 10 days. Once I got into the car and practiced a bit... Driving was fine. The stick shift was actually helpful in making decisions about the use of the turn signal (I was told it was easy to accidentally use the window screen wipers instead). I conquered driving much faster and more thoroughly than I thought I would. And you know what? I celebrated that accomplishment daily. Each day I did well, I allowed myself to feel good. Sure, it was a little accomplishment, but that once consuming worry was fading fast and my trip was better for it. I'm usually very hard on myself but I realized it was ok to make mistakes. I made a few. I turned down the wrong streets, I accidentally got into the right lane after turning around once, and I planned poorly some days and fell behind my flippant travel schedule. But, hell. I was out there in another world, traveling on my own! And I was rocking it! 

 My sweet ride camped out in Springbrook National Park. This site was suggested by a random guy I met in Surfer's Paradise on a beach as he was walking out to go whale watching. Yes, the conversation with him lasted a bit longer than I expected it to, but his suggestion turned out to be my one of my top two favorite camp sites. Note the yellow-tailed black cockatoo in the left tree.

My sweet ride camped out in Springbrook National Park. This site was suggested by a random guy I met in Surfer's Paradise on a beach as he was walking out to go whale watching. Yes, the conversation with him lasted a bit longer than I expected it to, but his suggestion turned out to be my one of my top two favorite camp sites. Note the yellow-tailed black cockatoo in the left tree.

The price of the car rental and the worries about it consumed me for much longer. There were several other car rental places that were 1/3 the price. However, when I thought about the amenities I had and the people I was supporting by renting the car... The money worries eventually melted away. The owner of the rental business, Bear Rentals (wwww.bearrentals.com.au), picked me up and dropped me off at the airports each time, he offered me a place to stay on my last night, and he shared a lot of time and information with me. He even built the camper car I rented! He ran the business! And he was my age, maybe younger. I was impressed and found myself kinda proud to support him and his venture. Plus, he hooked me up with a bike and surfboard rental, GPS, and tons of travel help. 3 days after starting my trip, I was happy with the rental and would definitely repeat the experience.

 3 days in Sydney were a huge change from my previous 7 days of camping in national parks. People everywhere and like any city, sometimes a bit rough around the edges. But, once I settled down, felt comfortable and able, I felt at home.

3 days in Sydney were a huge change from my previous 7 days of camping in national parks. People everywhere and like any city, sometimes a bit rough around the edges. But, once I settled down, felt comfortable and able, I felt at home.

My last worry, traveling alone, stayed with me in a small form for most of the trip. I had my pepperspray handy in case I was stuck in a bad situation and I had an Aussie phone for emergencies. The only real issue I had was completely mental and fabricated. I listened to some older women I met at a couple caravan parks along the way- "be careful!", "don't be alone!". While these sentiments are obviously helpful, and I heeded them, it also made me unfriendly and scared. I was fearful when I would pull into a camping area. I felt like a potential victim; a target. But you know what? I never was. I never had a threatening situation beyond one time where I misunderstood a situation and another when a homeless looking man actually gave me very helpful directions on the Sydney train. Both times, I armed myself, covertly, with the pepperspray and each time, the threat faded and once I was a bit more friendly, the people around me shifted perspective in my head and became people. 

The intrinsicly good nature of people, foreign or not, was one of the best lessons I learned. Yes, it is hard to trust people and strangers can be threatening; however, if you never take chances, never let anyone further in than arms-length away, you'll always experience life a little less. So, get out there! Take chances! And as one of my favorite role models for students, teachers, and women states:

image.jpg

 

Thanks for reading and following! The following link is to an article that helped motivate me to write this blog post: 

http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/5519693?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000023&ir=Good+News

 

 

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