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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 Tag: animals

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?


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!

 

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

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