Wednesday, May 29, 2013

EcoNews Round-up: May 29, 2013

Hello, hello.  It's time yet again for me to share some of the cool ecology (or conservation, or just cool science!) related news and media I've been taking in recently.  As it has been over a month from the last EcoNews segment I posted, this will cover some of my highlights from the past 8ish weeks.  Onward!

African Elephants.  Kenya, 2008.
I'll start with something less obviously "science," but still totally science related in my mind.  As you probably remember from my post about my morning routine, I bike to work/campus nearly every morning.  On this bike ride I generally listen to a bunch of different podcasts (only one headphone, and the one that isn't near to traffic, plus I'm on a bike path 50% of the time...okay, it's not super safe.  Guilty.).  One of my favorites is Stuff You Missed in History Class.  Obviously, this is a history focused podcast, but they often talk about science history or discuss other things which my brain instantly connects to science.  The latter was the case with their shows in early April about The Great Emu War and Australia's Rabbit-proof Fence.  The Great Emu War (great may be a bit hyperbolic) is a classic case of human-wildlife conflict.  Humans plant wheat, emus eat wheat, humans want to shoot emus with machine guns.  I don't mean to make light, the description of the occurrence made my little veggie heart tremble, but it instantly struck me how similar this situation was to other cases still happening today.  An example from my personal research experience is the impact of elephants on subsistence farmers in Kenya.  Elephants can trample an entire farm, which supports a family, and afterward there is a tendency to want to destroy the "problem elephant."  From a western perspective, the idea of killing an individual member of an endangered species seems reactionary, but from the perspective of people who support their entire lives with small plots of land easily dispatched by the said individual, the choice is not so clear.  Understanding how to mitigate these conflicts is a key area of research in conservation biology.

The Australian Rabbit-proof Fence is interesting because it discusses the issues around managing invasive species.  I don't recall if they use that specific term in the podcast, but Australian rabbits are a classic example in invasion ecology.  An interesting note, which they bring up in the podcast but do not expand upon, is the potential to introduce a virus to control rabbit populations.  This is another classic example in the scientific literature concerning biological control.  Biological control can be defined many ways, but the definition I currently like best can be found in Eilenberg et al. (2001):  "The use of living organisms to suppress the population of a specific pest organism, making it less abundant or less damaging than it would otherwise be." And though this definition technically excludes viruses, I very much doubt the authors would dispute the fact that the use of viruses to control pest populations is, in fact, biological control.  The virus referenced in the podcast is one of a group of myxoma viruses, which have been used to control rabbit populations in Europe.  One one level, the argument for biological control is that it helps us avoid potentially more harmful control measures (like poisons or pesticides) and it may be naturally sustaining (such as a virus which has natural cycles within the population) making it more cost effective.  More cost effective, say, than continually up-keeping a fence to exclude rabbits.  However, biological control isn't always perfect and introducing a biological control agent to control another introduced species can have a run-away effect.  These sorts of decisions are heavily researched  and the literature surrounding the study of biological control is very interesting.        

Monday, May 27, 2013

Low Impact Travel: Snow Mt. Wilderness

Preamble: I feel some of these "Low Impact Travel" posts are going to get a little repetitive in their environmental action content.  Unless I have a striking new tip or experience, I'll just include ways I generally lower my impact into the narrative and sum up at the end.  As I do more different kinds of travel this summer (travel for conferences, going home to Kentucky, or driving for work) I'll write more posts with more specific tips.  As suggested in the comments, I'll bold some of the basic tips/suggestions throughout the post.


I wrote on Wednesday that I needed to re-up my commitment to make time for nature before the month ended and I inadvertently killed my 2013 streak of monthly nature outings.  In the middle of writing that post, I sent an email out to a group of my friends about organizing a hiking trip or adventuring some other adventure.  I got a reply from two of these pals about a potential camping trip already in the works with a few mutual friends.  I'm super duper shy and was a little nervous about spending the weekend with numerous people I don't consistently spend time with (but I did know almost all of them...super duper shy).  But, my friend A (who I went to the snow with) and another friend J were going to be there, and honestly I knew everyone else going was fun and nice, so I decided to get over my irrational reservations and do what I wanted to do:  go camping!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Eco-Inspiration 7: Making Time

Echo Lake Snowshoeing Weekend, Feb. 2013
Don't worry, this post isn't just complaining about being busy, there is totally a point!  But, these past two weeks have been tough for me.  One of the hardest parts of graduate school (in my own opinion, and I think others would agree) is applying for grants.  Grant writing is an art.  You have to propose enough work that it sounds like you will get interesting results, but you can't propose so much that the granting agency knows you will never be able to accomplish your stated objectives.  Then, after you figure out the question you want to ask and how you want to address it, you have to tell the reviewers a nice story. 

The usual. Eva' day.
This is what science is all about really, and I don't think many people realize it.  Just like in many other fields, at the end of the day, I'm a story teller.  Sure, I support the details of my story with data and I do my very best to remain objective, but unless I can convey why my work matters and how it fits into our current understanding of things, I'm basically wasting my time.  Because, you know, lab and field equipment don't grown on trees and I need someone to pay for this stuff.  True story, I'm not independently wealthy.  But, I digress. As the summer (and the field season) roll in, I've been putting all my creative efforts into writing grants and developing project that could eventually end up as chapters of my dissertation.  The result of this, however, is me sitting at my desk for hours and hours each day reading, writing, drinking coffee, and repeating.  

Don't get me wrong, I'm totally academically stimulated (and slowly becoming some sort of zombie creature), but this time last year I was finishing up my MS and getting ready to head out on an epic summer road trip!  In fact, my partner in crime from last summer, Meridith, is heading out again in just a few days.  This summer, she's solo traveling around Europe for three months.  Can I just say how insanely jealous I am and how all of you should read her blog because she is beautiful, brilliant, and hilarious!  At the same time, my little sister (who just graduated with a BS in Biology!) is about to head off on a two month adventure to hike the Appalachian Trail.  Jealous again.  Jealous, jealous, jealous!  So, after stewing in this little pot of extreme stress (looming grant deadline) and mild (or less than mild...) travel envy for a few days, I realized what the heck my problem was.  

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things 
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
— Wendell Berry