Environmental Health

Happy Pollinator Week!

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June 19th-25th 2017 is designated as Pollinator Week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of the Interior! So go out and hug your local pollinator…or maybe just plant some native wildflowers. And lay off those pesticides.

To find out more about Pollinator Week and activities in your area: http://pollinator.org/pollinatorweek/

https://www.fws.gov/pollinators/

Or join a Citizen Science Project: Bumble Bee Watch Butterflies and Moths of North America

A print of this illustration can be purchased through my Etsy shop, ScienceStories: https://www.etsy.com/listing/523902966/bumble-bee-garden-85×11-inch-watercolor

Glow In The Dark Bacon

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Six years after the meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear plant, wildlife has taken over the the twelve mile exclusion zone around the plant. Most notably packs of wild boars have settled in to their new homes. Unfortunately for residents who are slowly planning their return to the area, these boars are highly radioactive (300x higher than the safety standards) and no longer intimidated by humans. Major hunts and special incinerators is the current answer to this situation but will it be enough? Will residents ever go back?

Note: A lovely article about the wildlife of Chernobyl. It is embedded in the article linked above  but I wanted to highlight it in case you missed it.

About This Illustration: Watercolor on Yupo Paper.

Shorts & Flip Flops in March

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In some regions of the United States it felt more like April or May during the month of February (and now March). Yay! Flip flops and shorts! What could be so bad about that? For some plants and animals an early spring (or really a pattern of earlier springs due to climate change) can cause ecological mismatches. Flowers may bloom before the arrival of pollinators. Certain insects that are a key part of the diet of a migrating bird species might emerge before the arrival of those migrating birds. Different species follow different environmental queues and in a changing climate different species adapt at a different pace. So those seasonal phenomena (migration, breeding, etc…) can be out of whack due to a shift in temperature.

The study of those seasonal phenomena within the context of climate is called phenology. The USA National Phenology Network or NPN (under the United States Geological Survey) focuses entirely on this subject through monitoring and research via scientists and citizen scientists around the country. You can become an NPN citizen scientist by joining Natures Notebook. Sign up and begin recording your observations today and your data will be used by scientists and land managers to better understand and manage for the biological implications of climate change. Sit in your backyard with a notebook and a pencil, an easy way to contribute to science.

About the Illustration: Lilacs and Swallowtails-acrylic paint and rice paper. The lilac is a host plant for the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.

Recently the NPN created maps of the United States that illustrate the arrival of spring across the country based on temperature data from NOAA and  extended spring indices-observations of the leafing out and blooming of lilacs and honeysuckles across the country are used as an indicator of leafing out of other plant species. Why lilacs and honeysuckles? Because they are both common flowering plants found across the country.

Washed Ashore

This past weekend we visited the Denver Zoo and among the animals were 15 different sculptures of marine life made solely from plastic trash found on beaches. A lot of plastic water bottles.

The sculptures were made by the Sciart non-profit The Washed Ashore Project who’s mission is to raise awareness about marine trash and conservation through art. Their exhibits travel around the country so check out this link to find an exhibit near you: http://washedashore.org/exhibit-locations/.

It is worth a visit. Their work is both heartbreaking and beautiful.

My Illustration for Lateral Magazine

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My recent illustration for Lateral Magazine, an Australian Science magazine. It accompanies an article about the Running River Rainbowfish, threatened species, and conservation action. http://www.lateralmag.com/articles/issue-16/watered-down

Two Heads Aren’t Always Better Than One

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Reports of two-headed sharks have increased through the years. Is it due to overfishing which reduces the size of the gene pool and allows for more of these genetic mutations to occur (think inbreeding)? Or is it just easier to report these observations (through scientific papers and social media)? It is a difficult topic to research since most of these sharks never survive. But it is a critical question that needs to be answered. Is it overfishing? Increased reporting? Pollution? Or something else entirely. Global shark populations are not doing well as it is, genetic mutations could be an additional silent threat.

And the Nobel Goes to…

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At the beginning of October Dr. Yoshinori Ohsumi won the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for his research into the genetic underpinnings of autophagy. Autophagy is the process by which cellular material is destroyed and reused. His work is crucial to understanding the molecular mechanisms behind cancer and other diseases. Mutations in autophagy genes have been linked to illness in humans.

About the Illustration: My illustration is an abstract version of autophagy where autphagosomes (an organelle-a specialized subunit of a cell that serves a specific purpose in the functioning of a cell) consume damaged organelles or other cellular contents and then fuses with lysosomes (another type of organelle) to degrade the cellular materials to be repurposed within the cell. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!

Other Nobel Prizes in the Science went to:

Nobel Prize in Physics-David Thouless, Duncan Haldane, and Michael Kosterlitz for  explaining strange phenomena in unusual phases (or states) of matter.

Nobel Prize in Chemistry-Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Sir J. Fraser Stoddart and Bernard L. Feringa for their development of molecular machines that are a thousand times thinner than a hair strand. Yes, you read correctly.

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So a starfish, now what does a starfish have to do with the Nobel Prize? In the 1960’s Dr. Robert Paine observed the impact of removing the ochre starfish (Pisaster ochraceus) from a small area of the Washington coast. Without the starfish present the diverse community devolved into a species-poor area. Based on his observations Dr. Paine formulated the theory of “Keystone Species“.  This is a species that has a large impact on an ecosystem and when it disappears that ecosystem essentially falls apart. A major theory that helped shape ecology, keystone species have been identified in a variety of ecosystems. Both terrestrial and aquatic.

After the Nobel Prizes in Science were announced an opinion piece came out in the New York Times about updating the Nobel Prize. The author, Gabriel Popkin, discusses the role of Dr. Paine in furthering the field of ecology and how the diversity of scientific disciplines has grown since Alfred Nobel created the Nobel Prize through his will. He writes about possibly expanding the Nobel Prize to include other fields such as ecology, climatology, geology, etc… So? So what? Consider that the Nobel Prize brings money and prestige and consider how that could be used in fields where there is little of either. Consider that funding for science in the United States is diminishing. Also consider that the ochre starfish is dying out due to sea star wasting disease. What does that mean for the ecosystem that it supports? What does it mean for us?  Had Dr. Paine studied the role of the ochre starfish  in coastal ecosystems in the current funding climate he may not have been able to come up with his monumental findings. There is still much to learn and discover but with shrinking funding some research will loose it’s seat at the table.