Hello, hello. It’s time yet again for me to share some of the cool ecology (or conservation, or just cool science!) related news and media I’ve been taking in recently. As it has been over a month from the last EcoNews segment I posted, this will cover some of my highlights from the past 8ish weeks. Onward!
|African Elephants. Kenya, 2008.|
I’ll start with something less obviously “science,” but still totally science related in my mind. As you probably remember from my post about my morning routine, I bike to work/campus nearly every morning. On this bike ride I generally listen to a bunch of different podcasts (only one headphone, and the one that isn’t near to traffic, plus I’m on a bike path 50% of the time…okay, it’s not super safe. Guilty.). One of my favorites is Stuff You Missed in History Class. Obviously, this is a history focused podcast, but they often talk about science history or discuss other things which my brain instantly connects to science. The latter was the case with their shows in early April about The Great Emu War and Australia’s Rabbit-proof Fence. The Great Emu War (great may be a bit hyperbolic) is a classic case of human-wildlife conflict. Humans plant wheat, emus eat wheat, humans want to shoot emus with machine guns. I don’t mean to make light, the description of the occurrence made my little veggie heart tremble, but it instantly struck me how similar this situation was to other cases still happening today. An example from my personal research experience is the impact of elephants on subsistence farmers in Kenya. Elephants can trample an entire farm, which supports a family, and afterward there is a tendency to want to destroy the “problem elephant.” From a western perspective, the idea of killing an individual member of an endangered species seems reactionary, but from the perspective of people who support their entire lives with small plots of land easily dispatched by the said individual, the choice is not so clear. Understanding how to mitigate these conflicts is a key area of research in conservation biology.
The Australian Rabbit-proof Fence is interesting because it discusses the issues around managing invasive species. I don’t recall if they use that specific term in the podcast, but Australian rabbits are a classic example in invasion ecology. An interesting note, which they bring up in the podcast but do not expand upon, is the potential to introduce a virus to control rabbit populations. This is another classic example in the scientific literature concerning biological control. Biological control can be defined many ways, but the definition I currently like best can be found in Eilenberg et al. (2001): “The use of living organisms to suppress the population of a specific pest organism, making it less abundant or less damaging than it would otherwise be.” And though this definition technically excludes viruses, I very much doubt the authors would dispute the fact that the use of viruses to control pest populations is, in fact, biological control. The virus referenced in the podcast is one of a group of myxoma viruses, which have been used to control rabbit populations in Europe. One one level, the argument for biological control is that it helps us avoid potentially more harmful control measures (like poisons or pesticides) and it may be naturally sustaining (such as a virus which has natural cycles within the population) making it more cost effective. More cost effective, say, than continually up-keeping a fence to exclude rabbits. However, biological control isn’t always perfect and introducing a biological control agent to control another introduced species can have a run-away effect. These sorts of decisions are heavily researched and the literature surrounding the study of biological control is very interesting.
Another really cool podcast I heard earlier this month was from my favorite podcast of all: Science Friday. It was a discussion with Michael Pollan’s about his new book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. In the interview, he discusses the ecosystem inside your guts. I don’t know about you, but I love, love the idea of thinking of myself as an ecosystem where I am the manager and I have to care for the populations. Oh wait, you didn’t realize I was that nerdy? He also talks about fermented foods and how there is a process of ecological succession among the communities of bacteria growing in your sauerkraut or kombucha. I found this section exceptionally fascinating and plan to ferment some stuff over the summer. Science plus cooking, I love it.
|I tried to find a picture of Meridith, Colin, and I, but I’m
not sure I have one! You’ll have to settle for Colin
and Meridith as biology babies (2007).