Tag Archives: plant

Down the Rabbit Hole

I’ve apparently become the go-to person at my office for questions about anything ancient. [Realistically, I was probably asking for it when I pointed out that a caption describing something as a statue of Julius Caesar (for unclear reasons—the text proper was only concerned with the church behind it) very much should have read Augustus.] But it’s all good, because if there’s anything I like being, it is definitely the go-to person for questions about anything ancient.

At any rate, a few evenings ago an editor asked if I had any idea who an old dead Greek dude named Androstene might be; the author insisted it was correct in Italian and the editor couldn’t find anything on the internet. I pretty quickly figured out it was a transliteration problem and sent the editor to Androsthenes—but by then I was down a research rabbit hole.

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The Food Chain of Evidence

Ask me about trophic cascades! Photo by Mike Baird via Wikimedia Commons. Creative Commons info.

Ask me about trophic cascades! Photo by Mike Baird via Wikimedia Commons. Creative Commons info.

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.”

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