Shorts & Flip Flops in March

Lilacs

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.

Strawberry Squid…Forever

strawberrysquid2

The “Strawberry Squid” or Histioteuthis heteropsis is a deep-sea squid that is known for it’s resemblance to a strawberry and it’s mismatched eyes. It is also affectionately called the cock-eyed squid by it’s squid friends and a few marine biologists. Particularly after it’s had too many strawberry daiquiris 😉 Sorry, I couldn’t help myself…

Recently researchers at Duke University determined why the Strawberry Squid has a large, light colored eye that is angled upwards and a smaller, darker eye angled downwards. After analyzing hours (and hours) of underwater footage from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, Duke graduate student Kate Thomas determined that the larger eye evolved to detect marine life in the water column above it while the smaller eye evolved to detect bioluminescent light from marine life found below it. So one eye looking out for predators and one eye looking out for prey.

In the past, studying and observing organisms that inhabit the deeper parts of the ocean was challenging. But with the advent of remotely operated vehicles (ROV)  and and other related technology, researchers can get to know some of the odd fellows that populate the deep, deep sea. If you are curious about what MBARI finds at the bottom of the ocean, check out their YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/MBARIvideo. Another favorite is NOAA’s Ocean Exploration and Research YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/oceanexplorergov. And you thought YouTube was only good for watching cat videos.

 

Happy Darwin Day!/Get To Know A Living Scientist

IMG_2732

On this day in 1809 Charles Darwin, the English biologist and geologist, was born. He is best known for his contributions to the theory of evolution. In this illustration I have him posed in front of a cladogram (a diagram indicating the evolutionary relationship between organisms) of finches of the Galapagos. The most well known subject of his research into the theory of the evolution of species. So Happy Darwin Day!

Okay, that was my post from last year. I am adding on to it this year by suggesting you become acquainted with a living scientist. Don’t get me wrong, Charlie deserves his own day and eternal admiration. However, knowing present day scientists will help you better understand how far science has gone and where it is going. How do you do that you ask? Dr. David Steen, a wildlife biologist, made it easy for you by creating the Twitter hashtag #actuallivingscientist. This came out of the concern that most Americans could not name a living scientist. So now scientists all over the world and from different disciplines are tweeting about their research and a little bit about themselves. It is fascinating to read and it is critical, in these crazy times, to get to know a scientist.

Just The Facts Jack

fullsizeoutput_1424

In this age of fake news and science illiteracy I cannot stress enough the need to read unbiased, factual science journalism (really any kind of good, truthful journalism). In addition to reading it may I also stress the need to pay for it. A soy latte doesn’t come free, news and facts should not be free either. Before I get off my soapbox here are some suggested sources of scientific information. Please share any that I missed via the comments section.

Scientific American: https://www.scientificamerican.com

Popular Science: http://www.popsci.com

New Scientist: https://www.newscientist.com

American Scientist: http://www.americanscientist.org

Science: http://www.sciencemag.org/news

Nature: http://www.nature.com/news/index.html

New York Times, Science Section: https://www.nytimes.com/section/science

Science News: https://www.sciencenews.org

About the Illustration: Mixed Media-acrylic paint, acrylic medium, paper. I call it “The Tip Of The Iceberg”-for obvious reason.

 

 

Sugar in the Morning, Sugar in the Evening

fullsizeoutput_13d3

Back in the 1960’s the sugar industry, under the guise of the Sugar Research Foundation, funded research by Harvard scientists to basically dismiss sugar as a serious health concern and instead point their fingers at fat. This went on for years. At the time of these studies researchers were not required to disclose funding sources to peer-reviewed journals so no one knew the truth. A recently published paper in the  journal  JAMA Internal Medicine uncovers this sweet (or rotten) tale.

Today with dwindling federal research dollars, corporate sponsorship of research is even stronger. In some cases that is not a cause for concern but when corporations stand to benefit from that research it can be a different story. One well known example being Coca Cola funding obesity research that, surprise surprise, questions the role sugary drinks plays in obesity.

 

About The Illustration: Watercolor, gouache, acrylic ink, micron pens-I used all the stuff. Unfortunately it scanned a bit funny. I will fix it…at some unknown time in the future when I have the time.

On My To Read List: The Case Against Sugar by Gary Taubes. His book focuses on how sugar impacts our health and the sugar industry’s role in shaping the American diet through the years.

Going, Going, Gone

img_7247

The remaining portion of the Antarctic ice shelf called ” Larsen C” is showing signs of disintegration and may be no more by the end of the decade. This is deeply concerning since ice shelves help hold glaciers in place. Without that support the pace of glacial movement out to the ocean increases and therefore increases the pace of sea level rise. This particular ice shelf supports three glaciers named Leppard, Flask and Starbuck (anyone recognize the Moby Dick connection?). In 2002 a portion of Larsen C collapsed, it looks like what remains of the  10,000 year old ice shelf will soon be gone. The ice shelf Larsen B collapsed in 2002 which led to the increased flow of supporting glaciers. But Larsen C is 10 times the size of Larsen B and the fourth biggest ice shelf in Antarctica. What this could mean for coastal areas around the world is unknown.

Scientists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory recently made this discovery through the use of data from NASA’s Operation IceBridge (a six-year airborne survey of the Earth’s polar ice, the largest of it’s kind).

Interested in what’s going on in the Antarctic? Other aspects of climate change? Consider subscribing to Climate Central: http://www.climatecentral.org “An independent organization of leading scientists and journalists researching and reporting the facts about our changing climate and its impact on the public.” Facts still matter.

About the Illustration: Micron pen on vellum paper.

Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright

tiger-tiger-burning-bright

A bright note from the conservation world in 2016!  Wild tiger populations are on a rise for the first time in a century, an estimated 3,890 now roam the earth-up from 3,200 in 2010. India houses most of the world’s wild tigers. The country has taken tiger conservation seriously. Russia, Nepal, and Bhutan are also seeing conservation successes.

Although this is encouraging these numbers do not indicate habitat quality (i.e. habitat fragmentation) or the status of subspecies. Populations in some countries are not well accounted for at this time and in places like Indonesia habitat destruction for the palm oil industry are negatively impacting tiger populations. Poaching for the black market (mostly for Chinese traditional medicines) and habitat destruction and fragmentation are the major causes in the decline of wild tiger populations in recent years. They are still a concern but coordinated conservation efforts and enforcement are helping tigers make a come back after a path towards extinction.

For More Information:

http://www.worldwildlife.org/stories/for-the-first-time-in-100-years-tiger-numbers-are-growing

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/extinction-countdown/tiger-populations-increasing/

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/04/160410-tiger-numbers-rise-wwf-conservation-double-population/

About the Illustration: Watercolor ink on bristol paper. This illustration can be purchased through my Etsy shop: https://www.etsy.com/shop/ScienceStories