Tuesday, May 21, 2019

A Predator at Work

Environmental & Science Education
Biological Evolution
Edward Hessler

I posted about a lake management study recently in which one of the featured players were Daphnia.

Daphnia have their predators, too, one of which is the phantom midge larvae. According to a recent report in Science (March 27, 2019) by Erik Stokstad the "predators—phantom midge larvae, also known as glassworms—are common in lakes worldwide. Now, scientists trying to learn how the neckteeth work have captured the first high-speed footage of a glassworm attack—and they have discovered that it is one of the fastest in the animal kingdom."

See the article with a short movie of a nasty looking predator at work. It reminds me of the predator in the 1986 movie Aliens.

Monday, May 20, 2019

A Game About Birds

Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

In Wingspan (Stonemaier Games), a card-driven board game, players compete to discover birds and attract them to wildlife reserves.

It is for 10 yo and up.

You may learn more about it here which includes videos of the release trailer (released March 8 2019), how to play the game, watch an unboxing and link to the gorgeous prints of the featured birds by Natalia Rojas.

The game was designed by Elizabeth Hargrave (Maryland).

Stuart West (University of Oxford) tested the game with a team of academics, graduate students, a biodiversity analyst and "older" children (my emphasis--wish he'd been more specific). "What makes Wingspan special," West wrote in Nature," is how science infuses it. You can't play without painlessly absorbing some zoology. Perhaps a bonus card nudges you to hunt for woodland species, or you focus on species that gain points through predation. Or maybe you're just pleased to get a paricularly stunning species...."

Saturday, May 18, 2019


Environmental & Science Education
Early Childhood
Edward Hessler

Brian Doyle was a remarkable poet, essayist and writer.

I dearly miss his wise words but find myself revisiting them occasionally.

Here he lists his children's rules for nature, all 21 of them.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Today's poem is a week later than it should be. Dandelions are already blooming no matter where one looks--N, E, S, W and all points inbetween.

So a poem about dandelions by Julie Lechevsky.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

The Wood Wide Web

Image result for tree roots

Environmental & Science Education
Climate Change
Edward Hessler

I'm a fan of the BBC's short videos.

Here is one about how microbial communities connect trees (and why this is important).

And here is a short essay from Science (AAAS) on mapping the "wood-wide web."

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Ice Stupas

Image result for ice stupaEnvironmental & Science Education
Water & Watersheds
Edward Hessler

Elizabeth Kolbert begins her recent New Yorker article by providing some useful information about stupas. "The word comes from the Sanskrit, meaning 'to heap' or 'to pile up'—is a Buddhist monument that often houses a relic. Over the millennia, stupas have been built from many materials—wood, stone, earth, clay, brick—and have taken many forms, from simple domes to ornately tiered towers.

"The first ice stupa was created in 2013, in Ladakh, in Kashmir. 

"Villages in Ladakh, a high mountain-desert region bordered by the Himalayas, largely depend on glacial runoff for water. As the glaciers recede, owing to climate change, the flow of water has become more erratic. Sometimes there’s too much, producing flash flooding; often, there’s too little. The ice stupa, a kind of artificial glacier, is the brainchild of a Ladakhi engineer named Sonam Wangchuk. In a way, it, too, is designed to house relics.


"The stupas are created in winter, using runoff or spring water that’s been piped underground and downslope. The water is released at night, when temperatures can drop below zero degrees Fahrenheit. It shoots through a sprinkler into the air and freezes. In the course of the season, elaborate conical structures take shape, with the contours of the drip castles that kids make on the beach.

"Ice stupas can reach the height of a ten-story building. They start to melt in March, and at higher elevations—some villages in Ladakh sit more than fifteen thousand feet above sea level—the process can last through July. The meltwater helps farmers get through the crucial spring planting season, when they sow vegetables, barley, and potatoes. (Rainfall in the region averages only around four inches a year.)"

Kolbert's essay appeared in the print edition of the May 20, 2019 The New Yorker.

Here you can watch a short video--not narrated unless you know the local language. I read the essay first--beautifully written and photographed. It includes diagrams on how stupas are constructed as well as a link to the video which begins with kids at play.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

A Story Of A Lake Study

Image result for daphniaEnvironmental & Science Education
Nature of Science
Water & Watersheds
Clean Water
Edward Hessler

I try to attend the weekly biology seminars at Hamline.  The fall features invited speakers from local institutions: colleges (sometimes HU), the University of Minnesota, health departments, etc. In the spring (it is really winter!) students are the featured presenters. They have several choices: a report on a scientific paper, a design for a research study, and original research.

I've intended to write about several seminars that have been about a wildlife management issue and had been keeping notes. They focused on the question of stocking rainbow trout and its effect on water quality (area residents were concerned about diminishing water clarity) in Square Lake, a metropolitan lake noted for its outstanding water quality. Good intentions, I've been told more than a few times, lead somewhere. In my case I missed the boat but a newspaper article provides the prompt to write a short post about this fisheries management question.

Intern Zach Walker of the St. Paul Pioneer Press (May 13, 2019) writes about this research. Professor Leif Hembre, a member of Hamline University's Biology Department has been studying Square Lake since 2003. He has kept tabs on the ups-and-downs of the population of Daphnia or water fleas (trout like them) and the lake's overall water quality. 

Hembre's research has many dimensions, one of them, of course, is in the making of an evidence-based decision on managing fisheries in a lake. The research resulted in a short, compelling tale of how nature works and how humans often conspire against it. It is also a story about resolving competing interests, a central issue that state departments of conservation/natural resources face in most of their decisions. And it is also a story about the nature of science.

You may recall Daphnia from a bio course, high school or college but if not, here is the Wiki entry and a short video on their care and handling from Carolina Biological Supply Company.

Square Lake has had a long history of stocking trout, a favorite fish for many anglers. It is also one of only three trout lakes close to the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. In 2012, trout stocking stopped, a decision that has been controversial. Eventually, plans were made to renew a somewhat limited stocking program in 2017.

Fortunately, Hembre had comparative data: during stocking trout (from 2003 to 2012) and after stocking trout (from 2013 to 2015). He did not have to design an elaborate laboratory study; the lake had already done that for him. That he would be studying Daphnia to begin with is not a surprise. These critters were a focus of his graduate school work.

Below is what he found.

Following stocking the Daphnia population increased and water quality (clarity and oxygenation) increased. Daphnia are known algae foragers. There was a surprise, too (there almost always is). As Daphnia numbers increased, phosphorous levels in the lake decreased. It is suspected that phosphorous might be ending up in the bodies of Daphnia, a research opportunity for future bio majors.

Walker ends his reporting by writing, "The DNR has no immediate plans to resume trout stocking." One word in this sentence troubles me: immediate.

I hope you will read Walker's story for additional details. It is a great story well told. Unfortunately, I've yet to find it on the web. The headline is "Study: No trout helped clear up lake: Stocking halt allowed comparison."

Monday, May 13, 2019

The Pap Smear

Image result for pap smearEnvironmental & Science Education
Nature of Science
History of Science
Edward Hessler

Today marks the 136th year of the birthday of Dr. Georgios Papanikolaou who developed the life-saving cervical cancer test, aka the Pap smear or Pap test.

In honor of this contribution to medicine and women's health, today's Google Doodle shows him with his microscope and some cells. 

Here is an excellent article about him and his wife. It is in list format so it is easily and quickly read. There are two videos embedded, one of his life and the other of a self-screening program. A few highlights of a remarkable career.

--In 1898, aged only 15, he managed to get into the School of Medicine of the National University of Athens and, after graduation, he worked in the military as an assistant surgeon for a short time. In 1904, he graduated with top honours. 

--In October 1914, Papanikolaou was recruited as a researcher at Cornell University, he would work there for the next 47 years.

--He devoted his entire time to research on early cancer diagnosis through recovery and identification of exfoliated cancer cells.

--The first time Papanikolaou identified the cancerous cell in a sample from a woman with cervical cancer, he confessed it was one of the most important experiences of his career.

--In 1961, despite the fact that he was 78 years old, he decided to leave New York and settle in Miami. He planned to undertake the organisation and management of the Miami Cancer Institute.

--However, he did not have the chance to inaugurate the institute himself, he died suddenly of a heart attack on February 19, 1962. The institute was renamed the Papanikolaou Cancer Research Institute in his honour.

--Mary, his wife, continued his work in Miami until her death in 1982.

--One of the most important examples (of his work) is the famous Atlas of Exfoliative Cytology. The book is considered by many a milestone in the science of cytology.   

And for access to the Google Doodle see this link

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Big Pictures

Image result for biodiversity

Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

Entrants in the California Academy of Sciences' 2019 Big Picture Natural World competition "were invited to submit images that showcase Earth's biodiversity and show some of the mounting threats to the natural world."

The Atlantic posted 11 splendid images.

Friday, May 10, 2019