I am spending about half my week this week with about 1500 students, academics, and practitioners at the International Congress for Conservation Biology being held in Baltimore, MD. (One thing you should know right away is that the conference has a mascot, Clawdia the blue crab.) I’m attending as an exhibitor, which means I’m spending most of my time at the booth, but I still wanted to give you a sense of some of the cool ideas being discussed, so I’ve put together a Storify of tweets from Tuesday’s events.
One of the challenges of ecology is that its data take time to exist. If you want to study the offspring of some yeast cells you poked somehow, just take a long lunch break and they’ll be waiting for you in about 80 minutes. Go away for a full day and you’ll come back to the 18th generation of baby yeast cells. (That’s not to say yeast studies are easy, their time investments just come in different forms.) If you want to look over the same number of generations of a larger, longer-lived mammal, you need a longer data history.
So imagine if you had 55 years of data about wolves and moose on a small island. And now imagine if the wolf population was in trouble–small and inbred. Would you sit by and let the wolves die out, or would you try to throw them a life vest? And in either case, how does the value of your data change?
Those are some of the questions being asked on Isle Royale, a small island 15 miles into Lake Superior. But they’re also being asked of you.
In the 1960s, a guy named Bob Paine picked a small stretch of rocky beach in Washington state and evicted its sea stars, crowbarring them off the rocks and throwing them back into the ocean. Within a year, the beach’s demographics had changed dramatically: barnacles and then mussels replaced algae and limpets. Species richness, or the number of different species present, hadn’t gone down by the number of sea stars–it had halved.
Paine realized the reason behind the shift was that without the sea stars around to eat barnacles and mussels, their populations skyrocketed, and their demand for algae and limpets increased, causing those populations to crash. He called the three-step chain a “trophic cascade”; the sea stars at the top that shaped the chain he called an “apex predator.”
I’m fascinated by the relationships between species, particularly when you bring evolution into the picture. So I was pleased to meet a collection of birds like this charmer living along the southern coast of Brazil, courtesy of a recent Science article and its resulting coverage, and I wanted to share the acquaintance with all of you.
But first, let’s take a step back, this being lunch time, to…fruit!
This handsome beaver will become relevant later in this post, I promise. Just take a leap of faith and hit “Continue reading.” Photo by dw_ross via Wikimedia Commons.
If you pay any attention to environmental stories, you’ve likely heard the term “Anthropocene” bandied about, proposed as a name for a new geological epoch. Epochs are those long, long ago time chunks with the clunky names, the only one of which to ever be reliably remembered is the Jurassic, because I’m told there was a movie or something. The boundaries between epochs are written in stone, literally, and there is a committee in charge of them.
Sadly, the Bluefin Tuna Interpretive Centre was not yet open for the season. I wanted to learn how to interpret tuna! Photo by me.
When I was little, seafood didn’t do well with my taste buds. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten a little less picky, but haven’t really explored seafood, and it’s still pretty rare for me to eat. There’s no sole (teehee) reason for that, but a big part of the picture for the past three years has been a better understanding of state of fisheries as a not-particularly-well-managed resource. It’s a tricky number to calculate, but the standard number thrown around is that nine out of ten fish have disappeared from the oceans. Particular fishing methods, especially trawling, long-line, and shrimp aquaculture are especially problematic (the first destroys oceanfloor ecosystems and kills many non-target animals, the second kills many non-target animals, and the third destroys mangrove ecosystems).
Usually my opinions on seafood are a pretty moot point, but when I started planning a trip to Nova Scotia, it was something I knew I needed to think about. Fishing was historically a key sector of the economy there, and it’s still a major cultural factor. I could tell I would get a different sense of the place depending on whether or not I tried the seafood.
I began this piece in response to a recent Texas Tribune/New York Times article discussing a hundred iconic longhorn cattle Texas recently decided to sell, two thirds of the Big Bend Ranch State Park herd. The article cited a local park manager, a longhorn breeder, a Sierra-minded group, and an elected politician, with views much as you would expect (resignation, respect, distaste, pride). For this week I got derailed thinking about the emotions behind our relationships with animals, particularly when it comes to protecting them (or not).