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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.

 

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

loach.jpg

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...

potato_marchio.jpg

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! 

 

New Aquarium Talk for 2015: "Species. What's in a Name?"

Attention Aquarium Clubs!

I am interested in producing and presenting a new aquarium club talk on species and species concepts. In this talk, I will go through aquarium fish-related information covering:

  • Taxonomy and binomial nomenclature; its importance and use (see this blog post).
  • Introduction to species concepts
  • The "Species Problem"
  • Implications for the hobby

I want to offer a new, interesting, and thought provoking talk that not only informs but also gets aquarists (marine or freshwater) interested in asking questions and thinking about a concept most people don't question.

If you are interested in hearing "Species. What's in a Name?", please pass this post on to your club's members and president or contact me directly (elizabeth.marchioatgmail.com).

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. 

PSA: So you saved a fish from Wal-Mart...

So, many of my followers know that I've been involved in the aquarium hobby for about half my life. During that time span I worked for 4 different aquarium stores in Columbus, Ohio and I used to moderate an online forum, aptly named "Fish Geeks". 

I've heard a lot of stories but never one more frequent than     "I saved a fish from Wal-Mart"

Fish keepers: you're an amazing group of caring, creative, and actually very powerful people in the pet industry. I care deeply about the hobby, animal care, ethics, and conservation-mindedness, and there is something I need to express about "saving fish" and the responsibility of consumerism.

First of all, there is one thing that must be understood and I'll just give it to you straight: fish are products. Yeah, they're "live", but they still are bought from wholesalers, marked up, and sold for profit.

 The very common aquarium fish: seen as $$ by some, amazing animals by others.  Remember: different people see them differently.

The very common aquarium fish: seen as $$ by some, amazing animals by others.

Remember: different people see them differently.

This product mentality towards animals is most obvious in stores that are not fish-only stores, such as good ol', cheap, get everything under one roof Wally World.

Here fish are an afterthought, as a way to bring in a little extra money to the store because they can undercut absolutely everyone else. The stores that are being undercut, those usually run by caring local business owners, almost absolutely treat their animals with more respect. You know, regular water changes, compatibly selected for display, fed daily, responsibly sold, etc. 

Unfortunately, these poorly kept fish are exactly why people buy them from Wal-Mart. 

Every single time you purchase anything from Wal-Mart it goes into a data system that counts that product as sold. This sale is a "success"; it is desirable and the business wants it. That's why the business exists! There is no special code that says that someone bought it because it was going to die. There is no way Wal-Mart will ever know about your motives when you purchase from them.

If you save a fish from Wal-Mart, you're condemning many more to the exact same fate.

The more you purchase from these places, the more they will absolutely restock. Remember, fish are products. 

 

Aquarists have an amazing amount of power - wield this power wisely! Purchasing animals is a responsibility. Frankly, there is so much more responsibility to it than I am talking about here, so please think it over. Remember you "own" these businesses and can make a difference! 


Let me make this clear: all stores that sell fish HAVE TO treat them as products- that's just how buying and selling things works. The aquarium hobby isn't all bad because of this, but you, as an informed customer, needs to be aware that you have the power to stop WalMart, or any other stores, from selling poorly kept or irresponsibly collected fish if you just stop giving them your money

 

NotW: Dr. Kyle Piller - A Naturalist in the Rough

Continuing the Naturalist of the Week (NotW) series, this week I highlight a very productive researcher at Southeastern Louisiana University, Dr. Kyle Piller.

 Dr. Piller striking a pose in Mexico during a fieldwork excursion. 

Dr. Piller striking a pose in Mexico during a fieldwork excursion. 

Dr. Piller is an ichthyologist

("ichthy" = fish; "ologist" = study)

and a diamond in the "rough" educational system in Louisiana. As the economy became more and more derailed, as Louisiana cut its education budgets, Dr. Piller maintained his research program and turned out well trained ichthyologists and research manuscripts.

He is also, of course, a naturalist! 

He has taught many graduate students the art of seining for fish in the wilds of Louisiana and Mississippi. He made lab jockeys into fieldworkers. His leadership and training is making more and more well-trained ichthyologists with detailed knowledge of all things fish-related. 

 Kyle Piller's ichthyology class (2010) learning how to seine for fishes in the bayou of Louisiana! Photo by Kyle Piller. 

Kyle Piller's ichthyology class (2010) learning how to seine for fishes in the bayou of Louisiana! Photo by Kyle Piller. 

Thank you, Dr. Piller, for all you've done to encourage a naturalist experience for your students! 

 

Interested in the research Dr. Piller conducts on fishes? Click the banner below to visit his website and learn more! 


NotW: Dr. Scott Edwards - An Ivy League Naturalist

I am going to start a Naturalist of the Week (NotW) post in order to highlight some of the amazing science-minded people who are also naturalists.

Maybe you're wondering, c'mon, aren't all scientists naturalists? Nope! Some sit inside and do lab work all day and may not have any interest at all in nature. Also, "scientist" is actually a pretty general term. People who study all kinds of phenomena are scientists and I'm more interested in those who are naturalists! (Aren't you??!)

 

The first Naturalist of the Week is Dr. Scott Edwards: 

 Birding with Dr. Scott Edwards in Louisiana! Pictured is me, Dr. Edwards, and Malorie Hayes. Photo by: Katie Sternberger

Birding with Dr. Scott Edwards in Louisiana! Pictured is me, Dr. Edwards, and Malorie Hayes. Photo by: Katie Sternberger

I met Dr. Edwards in 2011 when he gave a seminar talk to Southeastern Louisiana University. He was not only an excellent speaker, but allowed us graduate students to take him birding in the Louisiana bayou! He is not only an excellent scientist but also a naturalist, leader, and role model! He also has a good sense of humor when dealing with crazy Louisiana students!

 Breakfast with Dr. Edwards

Breakfast with Dr. Edwards

As with a lot of "professional naturalists",  Dr. Edwards' interest in ornithology (study of birds) and natural history began as a child growing up while living in the Bronx. He was a smart cookie to begin with- he earned his undergrad degree from Harvard and during that time took a break to decide if he wanted to pursue biology and move onto graduate school. To do this he volunteered at the Smithsonian in D.C. where he effectively became a field biologist through his studies in natural history and conservation of birds in Hawaii and northern California.  

He did his PhD at UC Berkeley and spent almost a year in New Guinea and Australia volunteering in research on birds-of-paradise and studying the genetics and population structure of  babblers (Pomatostomus) found in Australia and New Guinea. 

  Grey-crowned Babbler (Pomatostomus temporalis). Photo by David Taylor.

Grey-crowned Babbler (Pomatostomus temporalis). Photo by David Taylor.

He is currently Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology and Curator of Ornithology in the Museum of Comparative Zoology. His research aims are to unite genomics and natural history while he endeavors to involve students at all levels in the wonderful world of natural history and science. 

Kudos to you, Dr. Scott Edwards! Truly an Ivy League Naturalist! 

Visit Dr. Scott's faculty website for more information! Most of this information was gathered there but it's only the tip of the iceberg! 

If Dr. Edwards is reading this, I'd like to talk to you more about your personal natural history and how you became a naturalist and professional scientist! 

 Click the banner to check out Dr. Edwards' website at Harvard! 

Click the banner to check out Dr. Edwards' website at Harvard! 

Homophonophobia: Big Science-y Words Strike Again!

For those who have read my previous post I mentioned that big, science-y words can be broken down into smaller, more manageable and understandable chunks. This avoids confusion, right?

Well....

In a story that is making rounds on Facebook under "I can't believe this is not satire!" headlines, a man who teaches English to students who are learning it as their second language was FIRED for blogging about homophones

So... let's try breaking down the word "homophone" to see what the big deal is:

 

HOMOPHONES:

"homo" which comes from "homos" = same

"phone" = representing vocal sounds

 

Hmmm... well... I guess someone was fired over "words that sound the same"? Like "their", "there", and they're? Uhhh....

so the real story is...

It turns out, to some people:

the word homophone is a homophone for homosexual.

 

Are you still with me here? Someone was fired because they were adequately teaching English and someone misunderstood that the big, obviously quite scary science-y word (i.e. homophone) sounded too "gay". The boss man explicitly stated "Now our school is going to be associated with homosexuality". Sounds like he is suffering from "homophonophobia":

 

HOMOPHONOPHOBIA:

"homo" which comes from "homos" = same

"phone" = representing vocal sounds

"phobia" = excessive or irrational fear of

 

 ...OR WILL THEY!? 

...OR WILL THEY!? 

Don't Mess with ... Birders! The Vikings' new stadium is not for the birds.

"Birders"

people who spend their leisure time looking for and usually documenting the birds they see. 

 These birders are looking for waterfowl species in 42F temperatures and 40mph winds. Photo taken by Kirby Adams. 

These birders are looking for waterfowl species in 42F temperatures and 40mph winds. Photo taken by Kirby Adams. 

To some birders, "birding" is a challenge to see as many species as possible; to others it's an excuse to get outdoors and connect with nature. To almost all, it's a passion and a life choice to be a "birder". 

The absolutely most amazing thing about birders is that there are no groups of amateur scientists that can rival birders in passion, conservation attitudes and behaviors, and even biological education. As novice birders become seasoned veterans, this passion grows until it bursts forth.

If you mess with birds, you mess with birders!  

When birds are in peril, the people who appreciate them most will speak up until their voices are heard. These passionate bursts are evident in a few recent stories from around the nation, including this one from the Midwest:


Washington, D.C., January 29, 2014: According to www.abcbirds.org, one of several wind turbine projects planned for the shores of Lake Erie, in one of the greatest bird migration corridors in the Western Hemisphere, has been halted following submission of a letter of intent to sue from American Bird Conservancy (ABC) and Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO). The two groups had vigorously opposed the project due to its exceptionally high risk to federally protected wildlife.


The ABC and BSBO are run by citizens who are passionate about birds. Because of passionate individuals, like yourselves out there in internet-land, something poorly planned can actually be halted. No one had to chain themselves to trees to make a point - they used social media, wrote letters, and basically made a big 'ol stink. If you really care about something, you are not helpless! 


The most recent story about birds and a poorly-planned project is the proposed, and currently under construction, Minnesota Vikings stadium. This American football team is rebuilding their stadium on the banks of the Mississippi River, which in of itself isn't ideal for the environment as a whole (just ask any New Orleanean who deals with the dirty Mississippi delta...) and consequently the location of the stadium is within one of the largest bird migration corridors IN THE COUNTRY.

This isn't just birders talking out their collective cloaca, this corridor or "flyway" is a cold, hard fact of life. 

 Maybe the Vikings really hate the Philadelphia Eagles, Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, and Seattle Seahawks...?

Maybe the Vikings really hate the Philadelphia Eagles, Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, and Seattle Seahawks...?

If you're not a birder you can just chalk this issue up to "progress", right?

"Us or them"?

 Ooooo.... but look at that purdy building! Local materials are being used " whenever possible " so, I mean, that evens out the bird deaths, right?

Ooooo.... but look at that purdy building! Local materials are being used "whenever possible" so, I mean, that evens out the bird deaths, right?

Well, the real problem with the new stadium isn't its existence. It's the glass they are using in the construction. Birds hit it. HARD.

And die.

Glass that reduces what birders call glass "strikes" is available and absolutely supported by the birding community (and birds, for that matter). So, what's the problem? For one, an estimated 988 million birds die annually when they inadvertently fly into buildings and windows, according to the American Audubon Society. Furthermore, the Vikings simply didn't budget for 1.1 million more dollars for "special bird glass". but ya know what they did budget for? 

According to http://www.newminnesotastadium.com/faq, the new Vikings stadium will provide several unique features compared to all other NFL stadiums, including:

  1. The largest transparent ethylene-tetraflouroethylene (ETFE) roof in the nation.
  2. Five 95-foot high pivoting glass doors that will open to a nearly three-acre plaza and the Minneapolis downtown skyline.
  3. Fans will experience an outdoor feel in a climate-controlled environment.    [wait.... seriously....???]
  4. Two of the largest and highest-quality HD video boards in the NFL will be located in both the east and west end zones, and over 2,000 HD flat screen televisions will be distributed throughout the stadium.

 

Well. In that case...

bird.jpg

More information can be found:

http://www.newminnesotastadium.com/faq/

http://m.startribune.com/?id=268319662

http://mag.audubon.org/articles/birds/why-should-birders-be-worried-about-new-vikings-stadium

Understanding Scientific Names of Fish

Have you ever felt lost or confused when trying to understand the scientific names of fish?

Maybe this post will help...


Why Scientific Names?

As an aquarium hobbyist progresses they begin to understand the uselessness of common names. A fish's common name is a colloquial name. This means that the name changes depending on who you're talking to. For example, a recent post on the Louisville Tropical Fish Fancier's Facebook page exemplifies the issue with common names:

common_name.jpg

As you can see the usage of  "Puntius barb" is a common name for several species of fish. This particular common name is also the genus of the specific fish in question. This genus-as-common-name situation is not always the case; however, you get the idea.

So from this example it's evident that if this person asked for the exact fish species they were looking for, there would be less confusion and clearer communication. This exact fish species name is called the "scientific name" and it is the name people all over the world use for that one species. 

The scientific name is always two words, a Genus and a species. [I will write "Genus" with a capital "G" because the Genus name is always capitalized. The species name is always lower-case.] The use of this two word naming system is binomial nomenclature. Of course binomial nomenclature is a scientific term so it, like scientific names, is pretty much in another language (Latin or Greek). Now, yes, this sounds terrible, but it's kind of fun and easy once you understand the basics of these prefixes, suffixes, and roots. If you see a scientific word, just remember you can break it down! 

Binomial nomenclature:

"bi" = two

"nomial" = name

"nomenclature" = name calling

So there, I've broken down the scientific words into their roots. You can see that binomial nomenclature translates into: "two-name name-calling". Or, using two names (Genus and species) to name something! BOOM! 

 

Let's try it again with a fish species:

Geophagus winemilleri

"geo" = earth 

"phagus" = eater

"winemilleri" = 'i' at the end indicates it was named after someone with the name Winemiller

So, Geophagus winemilleri means "earth eater named after Winemiller". If you're into cichlids, maybe you know geophagus species are often called "eartheaters" because they take in mouthfulls of substrate (earth) and eat small organisms in it (eater)! And if you know even more about geophagus, you know that Dr. Kirk Winemiller had this fish named after him as a tribute to his work in ichthyology. 

Try this fish species on your own:

Scatophagus multifasciatus


FYI: The man who came up with binomial nomenclature was Carl Linnaeus: 

 You can tell by his wig that this guy is long since gone. However, binomial nomenclature is so awesome and useful we still use it today!

You can tell by his wig that this guy is long since gone. However, binomial nomenclature is so awesome and useful we still use it today!


So, what do you think? Feel any better about scientific names?

Still concerned on how to divide the words?

For example, how did I know to divide geophagus into "geo" and "phagus" rather than "geoph" and "agus"?

Well, the bad news is that, to my knowledge, there is no way to teach you that without teaching you Latin and or Greek; but, trial and error with the use of an etymology dictionary will get you there without classical training (dictionary links below).

The good news is you can figure a lot of this out on your own! Scientific terms are all over the English language and you are sure to know more than you think. Once you practice and remember some of the words and meanings, you'll even be able to go backwards. For example, you will be able to read the name of an animal and, if the taxonomist (person who gives an organism its name) named it descriptively, you can get a visual or some other understanding of the organism.

Let's try one:

Zebrasoma flavescens

"Zebra" = striped African horse

"soma" = body

"flav" = yellow

"-escens" = tending to be

So, this fish is striped like a zebra on the body, but tends to be yellow. Hmmm... 

 

 

 

 Striped body (when captured or stressed)... 

Striped body (when captured or stressed)... 

 ... but tends to be yellow! 

... but tends to be yellow! 

BOOM! We've solved the mystery! Zebrasoma flavescens is a Yellow Tang! 

And after this short post you now know some root words:

"geo" = earth

"phagus" = eater

"flav" = yellow

"-escens" = tends to be

'i' at the end may indicate the organism was named after the person with the name before the 'i'

"soma" = body

"bi" = 2

"nomial" = name

"nomenclature" = calling of names

 

Congrats! You're well on your way to better understanding the scientific names of fish (and other organisms)! It's kind of fun, right? You can even use your knowledge to call people names without them even catching onto your wit! I used to call my brother a "Phallicophagus".


*caveats*

-not all taxonomists (people who name the species) name organisms with a descriptive name as they did with the yellow tang. Some taxonomists ignore the descriptive route of binomial nomenclature and instead seek to immortalize a person (President Obama, Etheostoma obama), a band ( Led Zeppelin, Lepidocephalichthys zeppelini), or their own work by outlandishly naming organisms for media coverage and PR. 

-not all scientific names are obvious and easy to understand

*links*

- Online Etymology dictionary

- FishBase.org's description of a yellow tang. This website also gives information on the scientific name so you don't have to use the dictionary

-Borror's dictionary of root words and combining

 

* learning roots of words, Latin, and Greek can help on standardized tests!*

It's not just for fish nerds. 

 

 

The Grand Canyon: Only For the Able Bodied?

The Los Angeles Times just released a story on Grand Canyon National Park and outside interest in making the park more than just  "a drive-by wilderness experience".  The local community of Tusayan plans to "add 2,200 homes and 3 million square feet of commercial space to a town two blocks long."

The development would increase the time visitors spend in the area and potentially increase revenue in the small gateway towns, such as Tusayan.

The plans also include the addition of a gondola that will allow visitors to reach the bottom of the Grand Canyon without having to hike or rent a mule. 

The conflict doesn't end there: Native American tribes own the rights to much of this land and their religious/spiritual ties to the land will suffer with increasing development. For example, they believe the confluence of the Little Colorado and Colorado Rivers

"represent male and female, and where they meet is where life begins."

Furthermore, Renae Yellowhorse of the group Save the Confluence states:  

"That's where our spirits go back to,"

"My father passed away last March. That's where he resides. If there is a development there, where are our prayers going to go?"

Lastly, the reason I wrote about this subject, it seems as though many avid outdoor enthusiasts are ignoring the Native American's perspective and the commercial and housing developmental issues (such as lack of drinking water in the area) to instead specifically fight and focus on the gondola.

A gondola would yes, surely mar the views of the Grand Canyon for those experiencing that area of the park but will also allow elderly, handicapped, and young visitors to visit and experience the park from top to bottom.

Who deserves to be able to see the entirety of the park?

Only those who are able bodied? Only those that can afford the hiking equipment? Or is seeing these sights rightfully left for those who are willing to put in the effort and time to "afford" it? It's a tough call and one I have no answer for.

Here is the mission of the National Park Service:

The National Park Service preserves unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations. The Park Service cooperates with partners to extend the benefits of natural and cultural resource conservation and outdoor recreation throughout this country and the world.

Knowing all this, what do you think?

 

 

 

Link to the original LA Times article: http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-grand-canyon-20140706-story.html#page=1

Link to the Outsider Magazine article based on the above: http://www.outsideonline.com/news-from-the-field/Bad-News-on-the-Horizon-for-Grand-Canyon.html?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=facebookpost

 

 

 

 

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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Cane Toad Confliction

I've heard about the invasiveness of cane toads (Bufo marinus) and their terrible effects on native Australian fauna. These past few days I have seen the invasiveness of cane toads on the landscape. From the "outbush" to the rainforest to the coastline... They are absolutely everywhere. 

 The cane toad, Bufo marinus. I've seen several about the size of my iPad mini.

The cane toad, Bufo marinus. I've seen several about the size of my iPad mini.

If you aren't familiar with invasive species, they are human introduced species to areas where they are not native. Some of these species die off, or remain innocuous (thus being called non-native rather than invasive), but some find a place where they can consume prey and live in a habitat where nothing can deal with them. They are not intimately fit into the habitat and upend the food web. This has huge consequences on the native plants and animals- a bottom up and top down cascade occurs. These are invasive species.

Invasive species can be introduced intentionally or accidentally. Cane toads were introduced specifically target and consume cane beetles. They call this biological control. However, cane toads took over and have been eating just about anything that will fit into their very large mouths. They are also toxic and no animals will consume them (though some have learned to invert the toad and eat the belly). They are most definitely "invasive".

In school, I learned about the cane toad and how they needed to be removed from the entire continent of Australia. They epitomize invasive species. Basically, they need to be killed on sight.

A few days ago I came upon a toad, about 2" long. I wasn't sure if it was a cane toad so I looked it over, tried to identify it in my field book, and thought about "dispatching" it. I wasn't 100% positive about my identification so I let the toad go. I later learned it WAS a cane toad. I had, and still have, very mixed feelings about dispatching them. I grew up with frogs and toads practically in my pockets. I have a very soft place for them.

I realized my cand toad conflict when I felt my responsibility as an educated citizen was to do the right thing and remove them through, well, killing them. 

So, of course, that same toad crossed my path the next morning and I caught it. It urinated on me, as they do, and I looked at it and felt sick. I felt absolutely terrible at what I was going to do to it. It was innocent, it didn't know it wasn't supposed to be in Australia, it was just a terrible misunderstanding!  

In the end, I was responsible and dispatched the cane toads I have come across in the most humane way possible. Although I know it is my biological and ecological responsibility to remove these animals, it has been extremely trying and eye opening. From invasive toads to feral cats, I now know why people are so unwilling to do the right thing. It is terribly hard to come to terms with hurting the "innocent" and "playing god".

Here is some more information on cane toads in Australia:  

http://www.environment.gov.au/resource/cane-toad-bufo-marinus

 

Thanks for following and all my biological best. 

 

 

The Loss of SciDiversity...?

With increasing interest in technology, the realm of biological sciences may be losing its academic diversity.

Taxonomy in Decline? 

 Bird specimens at Louisiana State University. Birds collected from all over the world aid in research on bird biodiversity and speciation. Those who utilize these collections are namely taxonomists.

Bird specimens at Louisiana State University. Birds collected from all over the world aid in research on bird biodiversity and speciation. Those who utilize these collections are namely taxonomists.

Taxonomists are people who name new species and many test the organism's place on the Tree of Life.

They know every tiny character in their organism of interest- whether that be fish, bird, mammal, etc. These people are natural historians and hold an unimaginable wealth of information about their study organisms. 

Their training is incredibly difficult and time consuming- I tried to be a taxonomist myself and found it extremely intense. These people lay the foundational knowledge about the species they study. Without knowing what the animal looks like, what bone is connected to what, what their eggs and babies look like, etc., it's extremely difficult to effectively utilize technology to aid in identifying species successfully.

DNA work and taxonomy are two sides to the same very important coin. 

The importance of taxonomy and taxonomic studies does not end with the identification of new species. Taxonomists are rarer now than ever before because the antecedents to wanting to learn about animals in this detail are being filtered out of our culture. Ask a taxonomist how they got into it- it starts with playing outdoors, having a mentor, and taking part in leisure activities that incorporate science. These activities are being replaced with other, more indoor, activities. 

Taxonomists are in decline and it starts in childhood.

But, make your own decisions- here's the article that got me thinking.

What do you think?

 Here is what a museum based on DNA would look like. WOW such color, much peaks, very BORING.   

Here is what a museum based on DNA would look like. WOW such color, much peaks, very BORING.

 

Utilize DNA/technology, but don't lose sight of the importance of the organisms! 

 

Also, as soon as I posted this blog story, I heard the lone, but very awesome, fish taxonomist at Texas A&M, Dr. Kevin Conway, just discovered something cool in clingfish... All because he was looking at the tiny, anatomical details! Story: Tiny, tenacious, and tentatively toxic

Passion Murderers: Why Women Leave Science

Women in Science...

It's a hot topic right now, especially if you're a female graduate student in science.

There are entire conferences that talk about getting a keeping women in science, how to maintaining their numbers in the "pipeline" from high school to college to grad school and beyond.

There are support groups for women already entrenched in science.

This is not working.


I went into science and I never knew I wasn't supposed to be there. I was born in 1982, a time that doesn't exactly make me young and free from female oppression. However, as my professional degree has progressed, namely the portion occurring in Texas, I have realized how weird I am. I read papers about how rare I am, I see support groups for a feeling I've never had, and experience I have (yet?) to deal with. I'm concerned.

A friend told me she went to a women in science conference this year. After attending, she had the same sinking feeling. We women in science... we don't belong here if we want a real life. She said all the speakers had the same lifestyle - limited family time and very little time to herself. It was evident these women did not have a decent work-life balance

This is not helping keep women in science.


Maybe that is the reality of the situation. If you want to be an academic researcher and lead and teach the next biologists you have to give up family and home life. 

However, we know this isn't true. If males can do it.... 

...or can we?

The last straw to this whole unfair ordeal is that the very women who took academic positions and kept up with their male counterparts are now maintaining the status quo: if they gave up family and a work-life balance, so must the next generation of female scientists.

Not only are we, the next generation of female scientists, paranoid we are going to have to give up family and a "real life", the women in positions of power over us, the ones we need the leadership and support from, are pushing us into believing just that. If we don't give up on family time, we just don't cut it. Our passion for the work is being murdered.

We don't have to choose between family and work.

Maybe the fix to keeping women in science is to promote diversity of lifestyles in current female scientists and academics. Maybe it is shoving more women towards the "pipeline" into science. Or maybe it's just females supporting and leading other females into new and better science-based positions. 

Stop the female intrasexual competition.

 

The Joy of Science-ing

During debates over the value of science, the words "it's just a theory" is thrown around quite a bit. Try as they might, brave souls such as Bill Nye try to explain scientific theory and why it has value, even if we can't be 100% positive we know what is going on. After all, how can we know every single thing about even a tiny part of the world? 

However, sometimes theory is shown to be a valid foundation to our understanding of the world. These are dream events that are often never seen by those who laid that groundwork. Darwin never saw his theory of natural selection popularized... we now have specific degrees in evolutionary studies! A life's work... a satisfaction he never got. 

The life of a scientist. 

Sometimes, just sometimes, advancement in a field of study can happen unexpectedly.  That is exactly what happened this week: the first direct evidence for the ultra-rapid expansion at the dawn of the universe was found. The Big Bang.

Besides the immense social and scientific impacts of this finding, one man who laid that groundwork was able to see his theory confirmed. His life's work is not only supported theoretically, but with undeniable proof. The satisfaction of a job well done was caught on video here: Andrei Dmitriyevich Linde's Inflationary Universe Theory is Confirmed

The true joy of being a scientist, professional or novice, is the exploration and discovery of something new and amazing. 

As Andrei Dmitriyevich Linde states at minute 1:46 of the video:

"I leave with this feeling, what if I am tricked?... what if I believed [my theory] just because it is beautiful?"

He then thanks the young scientist who gave him the news because now he knows the theory isn't just beautiful, it's true.

Link to the research: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/03/17/290866227/scientists-announce-a-big-bang-breakthrough

Results of their analyses: http://bicepkeck.org/

bigbang2_lizmarchio.jpg

Citizen Science: Be a Squirrel Monitor

Citizen science is a way for people with no special training to participate in activities that promote exploration and discovery.

Most of the activities that have a citizen science component available are activities that people are doing with their leisure time anyway. One of the most popular citizen science initiatives is eBird.com which allows birdwatchers to report their sightings (more on that site later)!

I will be posting citizen science (cs) programs/opportunities periodically so you can see all the awesome data people just like you collect in their own backyard! Literally! 

The first cs program I'd like to tell you about is Project Squirrel (http://projectsquirrel.org). This program is out of Chicago but they collect data outside of Chicago too! It started in 1997 and have 1000+ people participate so far. That's not a whole lot for a cs program, I think they need some help! 

YOU!

If you see grey or fox squirrels in your yard, on campus, or wherever you may be you can add data to Project Squirrel! Below are the ways you can participate. This information was taken directly from the Project Squirrel website:

  • Record Your Squirrel Observations
    • Become a Citizen Scientist. Click here to tell us about squirrels near you. You can submit a single observation but, if you can, make at least four observations per site per year. If you are in an area where it seems like there should be squirrels but aren’t, please report that too.
  • Share Your Squirrel Stories
    • We will post your stories and observations as appropriate on this site. Click here to read what other people have seen. Click here to submit a story.
  • Share Your Squirrel Photos
    • We will post your squirrel photos as appropriate on this site. Click here to see what other's photos. Click here to submit a photo.

Video: http://youtu.be/8b1UCz-f4qc

I hope you take a minute to check out this citizen science opportunity.This could be a great project for someone who is at home constantly and can't get out much (elderly, home bound, home schooled kids, etc.). 

I'd like to thank my Aggie students in RPTS 301 for finding this citizen science project! 

As always, feel free to comment! 

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