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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: science as leisure

Science as Leisure: A Leisurely Primer

Many people ask me to explain my concept of "Science as Leisure".

It's pretty simple:

If you're taking part in a leisure activity that requires an understanding of activity-related scientific concepts to continue in said leisure activity, you're doing science as leisure. 

Science itself is a "way of knowing". You can also know by faith or other methods, but most of those have risks and pitfalls if you're trying to do one of these science as leisure activities. 

Take, for example, fish-keeping. To keep a fish alive, it's actually pretty complex. These animals do not live on land so their requirements and ways of living are vastly different than our own. Someone attempting to keep a fish alive in an aquarium doesn't only need to understand a baseline level of fish biology (e.g. (most) fish have gills) but also ecological processes. An aquarist needs to understand various concepts in biology and ecology for a fish to live. Aquarium keeping is thus a science as leisure activity. 

So what happens if the aquarist doesn't learn science?

Well, their fish dies.

This is  Paracheirodon innesi , the neon tetra. It is a species that is highly colored and thus highly sought after by aquarists. It is also the most commonly murdered aquarium resident (per. obs.). Luckily, that pressure lead to captive breeding and more careful vetting of aquarists during purchases (all ethics pushed by industry, not government). If you want to poo-poo the trade, please fund IUCN's fisheries assessment team. This fish, which is sold to aquarium stores by the hundreds, has not even been assessed! Photo:  Rachel O'Leary

This is Paracheirodon innesi, the neon tetra. It is a species that is highly colored and thus highly sought after by aquarists. It is also the most commonly murdered aquarium resident (per. obs.). Luckily, that pressure lead to captive breeding and more careful vetting of aquarists during purchases (all ethics pushed by industry, not government). If you want to poo-poo the trade, please fund IUCN's fisheries assessment team. This fish, which is sold to aquarium stores by the hundreds, has not even been assessed! Photo: Rachel O'Leary

And here is where things get sticky. Many aquarists will give up after this initial attempt at keeping a fish in captivity. After all, who wants to kill cute little neon tetras? But others persevere and continue after having been, essentially, a fish murderer. The fish must be taken care of by the owner or it won't live; if it dies, it's most likely you're fault.

This is, however, a very important learning experience. A fish's death is feedback to the aquarist. "AHhhhh... I did something wrong! I wonder what it is?"... and BOOM, we have a budding scientist right there. Next steps: Observation, Hypothesis, Data Collection, Analysis, Results, Conclusion. Of course most aquarists do not keep a log of this, or even think of their aquarium or their learning process in this manner. But that doesn't mean it isn't happening.

To keep an aquarium, the aquarist must understand a baseline level of scientific concepts, be able to implement them, and reformulate after failure to try again. This is a science as leisure activity and it only exists when the participant understands activity-related scientific concepts.

science as leisure

Attention Percula Clownfish Breeders!

I'm in need of:


Data collected from clownfish breeders will be used to create an economic model for this purpose:


Private breeders, responding to market forces, are responsible for a surprising amount of conservation of endangered exotic species occurring within the United States. Tropical birds, African ungulates, and marine fish are being raised to provide animals for pets and wild game hunting.  These private actions can play a critical role in biodiversity protection, supplementing conservation in native habitats and zoos. Breeders who are active in these markets, however, have often complained that the Endangered Species Act (ESA) can create obstacles that make breeding uneconomic, actually increasing the likelihood of extinction. In this paper we consider the conditions in which ESA and ESA-like regulations can have perverse impacts, harming prospects for ex-situ conservation without meaningfully impacting wild animal populations.

Motivation and Three Cases:

The paper is motivated by three cases (hyacinth macaw, antelope, clownfish)  in which breeders play a role in protecting endangered species, but the economic viability of those enterprises is threatened by proposed or existing policy.

I need data to run this model! 

If you are willing to share information on your percula clownfish breeding operation, please fill out this survey with as much information as you can. It is understandable that some people may not want to share their secrets to success, but hopefully these are fairly benign questions.

The information you provide will be used to create an economic model that, in turn, will start a few publications on the complex nature of the ESA and captive populations of fish bred by aquarists.

Again, the survey can be found by clicking this link: SURVEY

Thank you for your consideration!



As someone who studies the intersection of science and leisure, I feel the need to participate in those leisure activities. When a friend and comic creator on Twitter (@BlackMudpuppy) started the #TinyTankCahllenge, I had to join in. 

The rules of the challenge are to create an aquarium that is equal to or under 5.5 gallons of water and costs $100 or less to set up. Quite the challenge!

To follow our progress, please consider checking out our collective blog at Parlour Oceans and checking out the hashtag on twitter: 


Amateur Hour: Fish Drawings Desired

I'm creating an online collage of people's renderings of fish! 

So, if you have a spare few minutes:

  1. Think of fish. What do image pops into your mind?
  2. Attempt to portray that image on paper or an app (whatever works for you).
  3. Send me your fish image and...
  4. Send me any information regarding your familiarity with fish. For example, do you study them? Keep them? Fish them? Eat them? Whatever helped you think of an image of a  "fish", let me know! 

Send to: or @LizMarchio on Twitter.

New Fish Named after a Fish Hobbyist

Science can be a profession or a leisure activity. 

Anyone can be a scientist, anyone can observe and discover new things.

One aquarium hobbyist, Gary Lange,  has been at the forefront of finding new, exciting species of rainbowfish from Australia and New Guinea. It started out as a leisure activity: keeping fish and catching them while abroad. Then, it became a passion. As Gary progressed through the aquarium hobby, he became more interested in science and scientific discovery- I remember meeting Gary and trading rainbowfish eggs for scientific literature on describing species.  He really wanted to learn taxonomy and reach the pinnacle of both his natural history and his fish keeping interests.

While I don't think Gary has described a species himself, he was honored in a recent publication in the Fishes of Sahul, a publication of the Australia New Guinea Fishes Association. The honor consisted of describing a new species of rainbowfish after Gary, Melonotaenia garylangi.

Photo of  Melonotaenia garylangei  from  .

Photo of Melonotaenia garylangei from .

While I am not a fan of naming fish, or any species, after people... I'm proud to be hypocritical here. It's a much deserved honor and one that I hope many hobbyists will strive for. 

Congrats to Gary! 

7 Ways Twitter is for Scientists

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

liz marchio

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. 


 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

5 Reasons YOU Should Engage in Citizen Science!

If you don't identify as a scientist, do you sometimes want to learn more about a science subject? Maybe get more involved? Taking part in "citizen science" might just be for you! 

If you do identify as a scientist, do you want more data? Reach more people with your work? Communicate better with non-professional scientists? Then guess what?? Taking part (involving) "citizen scientists" might be right for you! 

DATA! Photo credit: Kelsey Neam

DATA! Photo credit: Kelsey Neam

So just what is this "citizen science"? Check out my colleagues' work in Central America to see how they engage citizen scientists and what positive outcomes stem from that inclusion. Here is their blog post on the subject:

The only photo you get from a sloth is a butt-shot. Photo by Kelsey "Sloth Lover" Neam

The only photo you get from a sloth is a butt-shot. Photo by Kelsey "Sloth Lover" Neam

Want to get more involved in science? Send me an e-mail and I can point you in the right direction! 

Also, check out twitter #citsci for the most up to date information and news about citizen science! 

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:

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

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:

Trimaculatus cichlid x ??? x Parrot cichlid = "parrotfish" Photo credit:

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?

What is a species?

You know what a species is, right?

Duh, yeah, of course you do! 

OK, let's put it into words. A species is: a... uh... group of animals, er, I mean organisms, that can interbreed and make fertile babies. 


So, this definition of species is actually one of many.

Yep. One of many! Is your mind blown yet? 

It is true that many organisms pick out others "of their own kind" to mate with. We see this all around us; we hear frogs calling, birds chirping, and crickets... uh... cricketing. This "selection" for a mate is done by either the male or the female and they make sure their potential mate has certain attributes or characteristics. Some of these attributes help identify those of the same species; for example, a certain call or smell. However, some species can't select a mate because they do not have males and females!

Ever heard of an asexual? An asexual ('a' = without; 'sexual' = gender) can be thought of an individual without gender, or it can be thought of as one that just does not need a mate to reproduce! 

Perhaps you've heard of asexual-ness and "virgin births" from tabloids or other reading material. It's not just a story, it can actually happen. These "virgin births" as a result of parthenogenesis ('parthenos' = virgin; 'genesis' = creation or genesis). Believe it or not, this process occurs in fish, lizards, and of course the creepier crawlies such as daphnia ("water fleas"). The process of parthenogenesis can be divided into further types, but to keep it simple, here is daphnia's parthenogenic process:

Daphnia's default lifecycle is "virgin birth". If necessary, they can produce males.  That's right, males just are not necessary...! Photo from"

Daphnia's default lifecycle is "virgin birth". If necessary, they can produce males. That's right, males just are not necessary...! Photo from"

With our definition of species above, are parthenogenic organisms actually "species"?

 They violate the definition after all! 


It turns out that the definition I gave is one under the "biological species concept". This is basically what we, the entirety of the United States (and maybe the world), uses to describe species. There are other species concepts that I can go over later but this gives you a good idea of just how complex describing a species is! We straight up ignore the fact that daphnia, and other pathenogenic organisms, don't follow the rules. Did you even know about this? Pretty crazy!

There is another glaring issue with the biological species concept. Can you figure out what it is? 

Academic Papers: Aquarium Species v1

As an academic I need to stay on top of my field. To do this, I subscribe to updates through Google Scholar.

This subscription allows me to send myself new publications on papers I *should* find relevant. 

I get a lot of new papers I can't really use but know others who may find the material interesting, even if it is just the abstract. So, I am going to try to post some links to BRAND NEW information on aquarium species of fish, mainly. 

If you're interested in more information on each paper, please contact me

Here is v1:

1: Evaluation of decompression and venting and its affect on stress and mortality in the Yellow Tang (Zebrasoma flavescens). Click here for the abstract. 

marchio yellow tang fish aquarium

2: The relationship between the numbers of spot, sex and size of the spotted barb, Puntius binotatus was investigated in order to develop a phenotypic sex identification method for the broodstock management of this species.  Click here for the paper (I think this will work) 

marchio barb aquarium fish

3: Ecological and Evolutionary Applications for Environmental Sex Reversal of Fish DNA. Click here for the abstract.


3: Barcoding in Pencilfishes (Lebiasinidae: Nannostomus) Reveals Cryptic Diversity across the Brazilian Amazon. Click here for the PAPER! Yes, open access! 

Photo by  Rachel O'Leary

4: Growth of mycotal fungus on carp eggs in differing environments. Click here for the PAPER!



Well, I hope this was helpful! Please give me feedback in the comments or via e-mail

Starting an Aquarium uses SCIENCE!

I've told people how I became a scientist and that a lot of it has to do with keeping aquariums.

science bitch.jpg

So... What does science have to do with keeping an aquarium?! 

Here is a teeny, tiny illustration of this phenomenon:

First of all, an aquarium is an ecosystem. Period. Accepting this is absolutely a key to success- if you cannot think of the aquarium or "tank" as a small slice of a wild counterpart (ocean, swamp, river, etc.), you're going to fail over and over.

Aquariums are biological recreations of the real world. 

Sometimes aquarists accidentally accept this fact. They may not recognize the hobby as "science" or that utilizing science will help them succeed; however, interestingly they actually use the scientific method of falsification in order to obtain success- another form of science in the hobby! Simply put, falsification is hypothesis testing: You make a prediction and if it fails, you know that's not right and you alter your prediction and try something else. Eventually you get a billion and one ways of doing something wrong and you forge a tiny little path into success. If aquarists stick to falsification long enough (have enough cash to blow, are stubborn, etc.), they eventually "accept" the ecosystem phenomena, whether they know it or not.

The hobby, accepted as science or not, utilizes it to just keep fish alive in an aquarium.

Other times, repetitive failure ends in quitting the hobby. And, of course, it's not this simple... understanding the hobby as science won't immediately make you succeed at keeping fish in a tank, but I bet it will get you there faster. Part of the hobby is figuring it out, taking chances, doing something crazy and seeing how it works. Failure keeps it challenging.

As I said, the hobby uses science just to keep fish alive in an aquarium. Another important and major science-understanding obstacle of keeping an aquarium is what aquarists call, "The Cycle". This concept may strike fear into a newbie- there are a lot of big, strange words. In the end, this cycle is the core of keeping aquatic animals alive in captive environments. The concept is important and its utilization essential

nitrogen cycle.png

The cycle is basically answering "where does the poop go?". Maybe when you flush the toilet, you never think about your own "creation" and where it goes... but when you keep an aquarium, you not only have to think about poop (a lot), you have to physically remove it with your mouth. 

Wait, what?? With your mouth? 

Yep. Well, it is one way to remove waste from an aquarium. And, technically, you aren't removing poop; you're removing nitrate (see image above). 

As you can see, just getting an aquarium started takes you through a lot of science concepts and can accidentally make you more science literate.

I'll post more science-phenomena about aquariums in another installment. I hope this was informative and enjoyable. Have a bone to pick with me about this? Please send me an e-mail and let's talk. 

The Environment is Caching in on Geocaching

When I was a kid I really liked playing in the woods. I climbed trees and played hide and seek with my friends. Once, I found a small wet box with little trinkets inside. My imagination told me this was most certainly a treasure! 

Little did I know that yes, this was a treasure! A treasure for a scavenger hunt!

Photo credit:

Photo credit:

This scavenger hunt is global game called "geocaching" ("geo" = earth; "caching" = hides).

When you join the game, you use clues, namely GPS coordinates, to locate caches. You sometimes have to walk far distances, climb over logs, look under and inside natural objects, and always, always keep your eyes open and searching. There are urban caches as well, hidden in plain view.

I'm sure you've passed by multiple caches every single day.

How crazy is that?!

Check out the introductory video from

As with most leisure activities, you can "get serious" and advance. As you progress you get better at finding caches, you create your own for others to find, and you may even join in geocaching events. Many advanced geocachers participate in CITO® events, which means "Cache In, Trash Out" which is exactly what it sounds like. You go in for the cache and you bring trash in the area out. Literally, bags of trash are brought out by geocachers with the ultimate goal of keeping the environment clean and giving back to the local communities they use. 

The geocaching website states, "Cache In Trash Out® is an ongoing environmental initiative supported by the worldwide geocaching community. Since 2002, geocachers around the world have been dedicated to improving parks and other cache-friendly places. Through these volunteer efforts, we help preserve the natural beauty of our outdoor resources!"

Now, is geocaching itself to blame for this trash? Are the caches really just hidden trash? Of course some people may see the negatives in the game and understandably so. That's critical thinking, right? Well, there is, with everything, always a trade off... if getting people outside helps improve environmental concern and stewardship (which CITO does), it seems the positives outweigh the negatives. National parks deal with the same kinds of issues; a recent article tells how the hot springs in Yellowstone National Park have been discolored by humans simply visiting the site. Carlsbad Caverns National Park regularly has volunteers go through and pick fuzz off formations. So what do we do? Ban people from nature? 

One of the best things I think we can do is promote environmental stewardship through leisure activities that get people invested and involved in the environment. Makes sense, right? Well... now it's your turn. After reading this blog, head over to, make a free account, watch some tutorials, download the app to your smartphone (or use a GPS), and go out into the world to explore, invest, and get involved! I promise you will find places you never knew existed. 

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