Friday, June 2, 2023

Thursday, June 1, 2023

The Ivory Billed Woodpecker: A New Paper

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature, Wildlife, Biodiversity, Nature of Science, Endangered Species

Ed Hessler

Jilian Forstadt of WESA, Pittsburgh's NPR station provides an introduction to a recently published paper on the controversial question: extinct or not? -- the Ivory Billed Woodpecker (Campeplilus principalis). I am glad that they devoted some air time to this paper.

You will recollect that we are still waiting for an "official" determination by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service on whether it is dead or still lives. Make no mistake about it, the question is not easily answered today for this species is  elusive and the current populations, if it exists is a small one. The USFWS wants to get this determination right for many reasons, one of which Forstadt comments on: future habitat protection.

Forstadt begins by  linking readers to a recently published paper "in the peer-reviewed journal Ecology and Evolution (link provided by Forstadt), the group detailed over a decade of evidence they say showed the bird in its native, bottomland habitat in the southeastern United States. 
I want to emphasize that the paper was peer-reviewed - reviewed and critiqued by anonymous experts, which represents an important entry level requirement on whether a published paper is to be taken seriously.
The paper provides an example of what advances in technology bring to scientific investigations as well as in suggesting new research.

Steve Latta, the report’s lead author and the director of conservation and field research at the National Aviary, said the collection could help keep the black, red and white species on the endangered species list. Latta directs Project Principalis at the aviary which has devoted resources, research and time on the status of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker. The website represents a considerable effort.

Forstadt provides a link to the technical paper which I include here and then discusses the importance of documentation, standards of evidence and the implications of delisting for their habitat requirements. You will notice that some of the authors are observers - all are skilled and reliable - and I suggest you check all author affiliations. I was pleased that they were included as co-authors rather than merely attributing them. In addition each observer makes comments about their encounter(s). 

The paper is long but includes pictures and descriptions of behavior that suggests that these are Ivory Billed Woodpeckers based on characteristic behavior of this group of birds.

The paper follows these divisions and is illustrated.

-- abstract, 

-- introduction,

 -- materials and methods,

 -- visual evidence,

 --  audio recordings, 

-- trail camera imagery, 

-- drone videos,

 -- three results (visual, audio and trail camera imagery 

-- drone evidence,

-- discussion 

-- conclusion

This is the concluding paragraph.

"The report contained here is not the end of our efforts. We are encouraged and energized by what we have discovered and accomplished. We are optimistic that technologies will continue to improve our outcomes, including documentation through environmental DNA and other physical evidence. We believe that our intentional and systematic survey design is paying off through complementary lines of investigation. Our findings begin to tell a larger story not just of whether the Ivory-billed Woodpecker persists in Louisiana, but how it has survived and why its survival has been so difficult to document. Finally, we also believe that our methodologies can be translated to other sites, thus offering opportunities for additional documentation of the species. Our findings, and the inferences drawn from them, suggest that all is not lost for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker and that it is clearly premature for the species to be declared extinct."

The debate will continue on whether a final decision is based on science, one that follows the evidence to its logical conclusion or a bureaucratic decision. 

Based on this paper, what do you think? I sit atop a fence hoping to be knocked off in favor of the bird.

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

The Wallace Line

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Biological Evolution, Biodiversity, Nature, Wildlife

Ed Hessler

A PBS Eons video (9 m 24 s) discusses a well-known barrier between two of the islands of Indonesia--"an ancient line that is both real and...not real."

It was first noticed by Alfred Russel Wallace who also is known for independently conceiving of the theory of evolution by natural selection. This served as a kick-in-the-britches to Charles Darwin to publish his findings on the theory. Darwin had conceived the idea earlier, but was busy collecting more data in support of this revolutionary idea *. 

Wallace is also known as the father of biogeography.

* An HHMI BioInteractive (31 m 02 s) provides a "biography of Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace" tells the story of the "two independent discoveries of the natural origin of species." The video traverses the epic voyages and revolutionary insights...which changed biological science forever."

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Lyres and Lutes

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Culture,  Art & Environment, Models

Ed Hessler

Lee Lawrence, in her third Ingenuity Innovation entry for Aramco World, May / June 2023 asks what the following stringed musical instruments have in common: the Arabian ‘uds and European violins; Chinese pipas, Indian veenas; Indonesian rebabs, West African koras and American electric guitars and banjos—all are descended from lutes, a family of instruments whose shared DNA includes strings that run parallel across a flat soundboard or belly up a distinct pole or neck.

She notes that "there have been countless variations of lute forms over more than 4,000 years as people across the globe adopted, adapted and adjusted instruments to satisfy a preference, meet a need or indulge a curiosity. What if I … added strings? Modified the shape? Made the neck shorter? Longer? On and on—and along the way, some innovations proved as consequential as they were simple."

I'm delighted that she emphasizes the curiosity question: What if... a question routinely asked by inventors, designers, scientists, engineers but it has an added ingredient when it leads to Let's try it out, see what happens when the change is made.

A few highlights

--"At some point, an anonymous luthier doubled each of the four strings of an 'ud" which had effects on the instrument's design.

--In a treatise published in the 11th century BCE, the effects of doubling the number of strings on various parts of the lute was analyzed and recommendations were made on assembly and number of parts.

--"The oldest surviving lute was made around 1490 BCE in Egypt" --its construction is described. "Yet it was itself a descendant from far older instruments ...based on paintings, a cylinder seal.
and texts."

--There is a discussion of drums and stringed instruments, e.g., gourds  become stringed instruments when a "bridge and neck" are added.  This leads to a description of what bridges on stringed instruments do.

--The differences between lutes and lyres is used to shed light on pitches, rules of string length and frets, noticed long ago. This has led "Richard Dumbrill, co-founder of the International Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East (ICAANE)" to comment the exact similarity between and fret position over cultures and time to this implication. "It means that from Egypt to central Turkey, and probably in the rest of the Babylonian empire... they had a standard system."

--Innovations do repeat themselves and the example of coming up with the idea of a "floating bridge" after serious injury to a player when the fixed bridge snapped off. This occurred in 1957 but we learn that the musician buried with the oldest surviving lute which had a floating bridge  "around 1490 BCE."

The issue may be read here. The front cover of this issue features a picture of the living musical legend, Lakha Khan holding a hand-carved wooden sarangi.

Monday, May 29, 2023

Iberian Sailboats and Orcas

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Behavior, Nature, Wildlife, Learning, Nature of Science

Ed Hessler

An essay by Sasha Pare for LiveScience is recommended in the May 23rd Nature Briefing, a daily newsletter for the journal Nature. (The link to the essay is found at the end.) This is how Nature Briefing reported it.

"Orcas (Orcinus orca) have sunk three boats off the Iberian coast of Europe, and the behavior seems to be spreading. Biologists first noted the trend in 2020. They suspect that it is a defensive behaviour, which originated with a female orca nicknamed White Gladis after it experienced an unknown trauma. Iberian orcas (in Spanish and English) are critically endangered, and only 39 were recorded in the last census, in 2011."

A scientific report with multiple authors was published in Marine Mammal Science titled "Killer whales of the Strait of Gibraltar, an endangered subpopulation showing a disruptive behavior." The difference between the title of a scientific publication and a popular publication is not much for a change.  The senior author is Ruth Estaban. Just a smidgin of the article can be read but you can still learn more about the authors.

Sasha Pare reports on a recent attack and sinking of a sail boat, where orcas direct their attack, the skippers thoughts about the teaching he thinks is occurring (with another example), that the interactions are not uncommon (more than 500 since 2020 resulting in 3 sinkings), a couple of hypotheses - defensive behavior based on trauma or possibly a "fad "(those teenagers!). These whales are social creatures, observant and learn from the mother and siblings.

Pare closes with a quote from the scientific paper. "'If this situation continues or intensifies, it could become a real concern for the  mariners' safety and a conservation issue for this endangered subpopulation of killer whales.'" 
Here is Pare's reporting. Please read it.


Sunday, May 28, 2023

Kelp Forests

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Biodiversity, Nature, Earth & Space Sciences, Earth Systems, Sustainability, Science & Society

Ed Hessler

This "Where I Work" segment from the journal Nature features Loyiso Dungo. a conservationist and marine biologist who admits "I grew up deathly afraid of the ocean. But that changed in 2016, when I began mapping South Africa's kelp forests for my biology master's degree."

Dongo, who works for Parley for the Oceans, describes the experience of being in a kelp forest, South Africa's kelp forests, the mapping project, the growing demand for kelp - its use in toothpaste was a surprise, building sustainable kelp farms and his public advocacy work.
Life often surprises us, as it did Dungo.

Saturday, May 27, 2023

A Wonderful Extreme Extremophile

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Astronomy, Nature, Wildlife, Biodiversity, Earth & Space Science

Ed Hessler

Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) has a beautiful photographs - a microphotograph, of a tardigrade on moss. The Wiki entry tells us that they are commonly called water bears or moss piglets. Take your pick. The image is in crystal clear focus. And who can't help but fall in love with them. I can't.

This image has something to do with space as you will learn. I might have "known" this once but if I did I no longer recall it.

What charismatic animals. For more about them see this article by William Randolph Miller written for the American Scientist with another great image and diagrams.

Friday, May 26, 2023

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Bird Calls Transcribed to Musical Instruments

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Behavior, Wildlife, Nature, Biodiversity, Art & Environment

Ed Hessler

"Calls of the wild: A composer transcribes bird songs" is the title of CBS correspondent Faith Salie's conversation with composer Alexander Liebermann (Berlin). It was featured on CBS Sunday Morning for April 30, 2023. 

During the pandemic lockdown he turned to nature and listened to recordings of bird songs.  This led him to transcribe their complicated callas and translate them to musical instruments. This work is slow and I wish he had been asked to show us a page of the notations and make some remarks about their use.

You may be surprised by how little of bird songs we hear and how complicated they are. I found the transcriptions to musical instruments to be very pleasing and sometimes surprising.


Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Temperature Regulation in a Shark Species

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Biodiversity, Biological Evolution, Nature of Science, Models

Ed Hessler

Leslie Orgel's second rule, well known among evolutionary biologists, is that "Evolution is cleverer than you are."  If you are unfamiliar with the rules or it has been a while since you read about them, I urge you to read the Wiki entry for a short explanation of  their origin as well as their meaning.

This quote from Nature Briefing, May 12 provides an example and is linked to a short news item in Nature News by Bianca Nogrody (May 11) . "When diving for delicious squid in the cold ocean depths, scalloped hammerhead sharks (Sphyrna lewini) apparently ‘hold their breath’. Being fish, they don’t breathe as such, but they seem to shut off water flowing over their gills, to keep their bodies warm. It’s the first time such behaviour has been spotted. Heat loss from gills is a key weakness for diving fish, because gills are 'essentially just giant radiators strapped to your head', says shark researcher Mark Royer."

These sharks are deep fishers for squid, making up to six dives per evening of some 800 m (2624 feet) where the water is about 20 degrees Celsius colder (5 to 11 degrees Celsius) than surface waters.

Here is a description of the techniques used. "To understand how sharks were coping with the temperature changes, postdoctoral shark physiologist (Mark) Royer and his colleagues developed a device consisting of instruments that measured depth, water temperature, location and movement, as well as a probe embedded into muscles near the dorsal fin that recorded the shark’s core temperature. The device was designed to break off after several weeks, float to the surface and send out a signal to enable its recovery."

The essay includes  a discussion of the issue of heat loss, examples of solutions used by tuna and whales and other fishes - tuna, marlin and two shark species, and keeping warm. This is the first report of the use of this particular mechanism but one that researchers would not be surprised to find in other fishes although the mechanism is yet to be settled (not the use of the modifier "apparently" above). 

The original report is in the journal Science to which there is a link and where the full article may be read. I include this link again for insurance. It Includes an editor's summary, a very useful, diagrammatic figure of deep diving behavior. i.e., what happens during the dives, including times, and a detailed description of the descent, time at the bottom of the dive, and the ascent. You will notice the reference to the use and power of models, mathematical models, which indicated the "suspension of convective heat transfer."

The study has led to two hypotheses regarding the mechanism: shunting blood away from the gills OR active gill closing. These are considered in the discussion section of the paper where it is pointed out that there are distinct differences between high performance fishes (fast swimmers) and scalloped hammerhead sharks.
This is another example of what technology has made possible for scientists to investigate.