Thursday, November 26, 2015

What's the most common vertebrate on the planet?

Fish are the most species rich group of vertebrates and there might be over 200,000 species once we're done exploring. But what species is the most abundant. If you look around you it can't be seen. You need to look in the oceans but even a boat won't help. The most abundant vertebrate is a tiny fish deep in the ocean. Here's an excellent story in the NYT about them and deep ocean research. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Watercolor of Darwin and crew on the Beagle

This is an interesting story in There was an artist commissioned on the H.M.S. Beagle that painted a picture of the crew. 

Unfortunately the story doesn't tell us what Darwin is saying. 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

A visit to the bird collection at the American Museum of Natural History

Yesterday, I went into NYC to see the collection as the American Museum of Natural History. I didn't go through much of the collection. I decided to sit and work for all but the last 30 minutes of my stay. 

Hard to believe, but despite the view of Central Park and being in the presence of the greatest collection of birds in the world, I reviewed a manuscript that I'm on. What was I thinking????  I've learned that I need to take advantage of those moments when I can concentrate. So it goes. 

Before, I was left to work, one of the bird curators showed my chair, his wife, and the dean's receptionist the type and extinction room. This is the second time I've been around Ivory-billed Woodpeckers and it was just as exciting. Below is a pair of Ivory-bills. The male was from Madison Parish, Louisiana, which is along the Mississippi River near Vicksburg, MS.

The other bird I wanted to see was Topaza pela, the Crimson Topaz, of the Amazon Basin. The males of this species hover over ponds and show off their brilliantly green gorgets and crimson bellies. I saw one of these leks near a pond near a camp called Dimona, north of Manaus. 

After the museum, I met back up with colleagues and visited the 9-11 Memorial. Beautiful but the horror still resonates within my brain. They planted swamp white oaks near the site and we picked up a few. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Pigeons trained to detect cancer

A paper just came out in PLOS ONE that showed that pigeons can be trained to look at histological slides and diagnose cancerous cells. Amazing stuff. 

The authors, however, make a crucial mistake by saying that they have vision like ours. They don't. Birds' eyes are superior in many ways including spatial resolution, color resolution (they have UV and see more gradations than we do), and a higher flicker rate. 

Knowing this perhaps they could incorporate higher res images that include UV and they could increase single bird efficiency.  Though, even with standard images, a flock of pigeons are 99% accurate! Amazing. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

because I can't resist being a smartass

Some context: 129 people were killed by ISIS in coordinated attacks throughout Paris on November 13, 2015. 

168 people were killed by Tim McVeigh and Terry Nichols - both of Scottish descent - in April 1995. Using Facebook logic we should (1) demand Scots to apologize for their actions and (2) have a moratorium on Scots immigrating to the US.


Friday, November 13, 2015

Happy Friday the 13th

Last week I was walking down the hallway and saw a bunch of crows flying just next to the building and I went out to investigate and saw this. 

I didn't want the bat to get stepped on or bite a pedestrian so I let it bite a stick and then I lifted it up and off the sidewalk. Of course I picked the stick back up before realizing (like an idiot) that the bat might have rabies and that I might have just exposed myself. 

So I washed my hands and crossed my fingers. One week and feeling (mostly) fine. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

The weevil inside you must die!

So I just learned how to do survivorship analysis. I had no idea how flexible they are. I thought they were just for looking at the effect of some treatment on survivorship rates but they can be applied to such things as time until you have your first child, the effect of being on unemployment on getting a job (here, if you are "killed" you get a job), and anything that is modeled in terms of "time to X".

I was given a data set that was weevils placed in different soils and monitored for 8 weeks - most had died at that time. A previous study showed that weevils survived much better in soil with oak matter so we did another test. Not super happy with it and I'll explain after I impress you.

So weevils do survive much better with soil associated with oaks - and white oaks are not very oaky - in terms of the amount of tannins they produce. In soil from under a black walnut the weevil larvae are whacked. 

Significant results!  Yayyyyyyy.

Hold on a moment. Weevil larvae stay in the soil from October until August so why are all ours dead after 8 weeks?  I'd say the whole experiment is amiss. Unless of course, millions go into the soil and only hundreds emerge. Nobody freaking knows.