17 July, 2014

A handful of city soil contains more biodiversity than is found on all the dead planets of the solar system….

Biodiversity conservation and the extinction of experience

2 June, 2014
The more you learn about an animal’s behaviour, the more you feel personally invested in its survival. (via Towards an integrated conservation ethology | Biodiversity Conservation)

The more you learn about an animal’s behaviour, the more you feel personally invested in its survival. (via Towards an integrated conservation ethology | Biodiversity Conservation)

22 May, 2014

Redeeming the Sea Lamprey

image

Quick notes on unloved, unappreciated sea lampreys, since Joe Kernan’s mouth-breathing put them in the news cycle:

> They’re generally described as an invasive species, but there are places — most notably, Lake Ontario, as John Waldman showed — where they are actually natives.

> Where they are natives, they can play an extremely valuable ecological role. To quote an OnEarth Magazine article of my own on Penobscot River  restoration, from a section about research on migratory fish by Steve Coghlan and colleagues at the University of Maine:

Coghlan came to Maine from upstate New York, where it wasn’t uncommon for biologists to poison entire streams in hopes of exterminating lamprey. At Sedgeunkedunk, he has found them to be, unexpectedly, a keystone species: to build spawning nests they thrash rocks into place, in the process dislodging fish eggs and invertebrates for other creatures to eat, and loosening gravel for salmon to build their nests. When lamprey die, their decomposing bodies provide a burst of food for insects and microorganisms at the food chain’s base.

Downstream from the lampreys’ carcasses, Coghlan has discovered, biological productivity explodes. That productivity may extend onto land: alewives and lamprey fattened at sea may once have constituted a biomass comparable to the northwest Pacific salmon runs, which are thought to have fertilized the region’s great forests.

Something that didn’t fit in that section: all that thrashing also creates habitat. As Coghlan and colleagues recently wrote, “spawning sea lampreys are ecosystem engineers.” People hate them for killing fish — but in a sense, they bring those fish to life in the first place.

Photo: T. Lawrence, GLFC

9 April, 2014

We report a survey of climate-blog visitors to identify the variables underlying acceptance and rejection of climate science. Our findings parallel those of previous work and show that endorsement of free-market economics predicted rejection of climate science. Endorsement of free markets also predicted the rejection of other established scientific findings, such as the facts that HIV causes AIDS and that smoking causes lung cancer. We additionally show that, above and beyond endorsement of free markets, endorsement of a cluster of conspiracy theories (e.g., that the Federal Bureau of Investigation killed Martin Luther King, Jr.) predicted rejection of climate science as well as other scientific findings. Our results provide empirical support for previous suggestions that conspiratorial thinking contributes to the rejection of science.

NASA Faked the Moon Landing—Therefore, (Climate) Science Is a Hoax

8 April, 2014

I’ve been raising chickens for eight years, and since I let them roam across our five acres of pasture, forest and brush, I get to observe them all the time. Even though they have tiny brains, there is a lot more going on inside those brains than people give credit. When one of the hens laid and hatched a clutch of eggs under a porch, she changed my understanding of chickens as I watched her raise her chicks. I hesitate to use words like loving and caring, but the way she looked after those chicks and the way they responded to her is difficult to describe without using words like love and caring.
So now I replenish the flock by letting mothers hatch and raise chicks. After watching how much richer chicks’ lives are when they have a mother, I want all the chickens I have to have the experience being raised by a mother. It’s odd using terms like emotional stability and self confidence with animals like chickens, but you end up resorting to those terms when you compare mother-raised chickens versus chickens which grow up without a mother. Since humans and chickens have a common ancestor somewhere back in time, it’s not surprising that there are some ancient behavioral traits that are shared by both. And jumping into sexual politics, I sometimes joke that watching rooster behavior has given me an understanding of straight men and the way they compete with each other. They just can’t help it. It’s as hard wired in their brains as it is in roosters.

— A comment on Dogs and Cats Are Blurring the Lines Between Pets and People

2 April, 2014

In recent years, the landscape has been reconceived as a dynamic system composed of matter, structured energy, information and meaning…

Avian soundscapes and cognitive landscapes: theory, application and ecological perspectives

2 April, 2014

Officials at England’s Gloucestershire Airport had been using recordings of avian distress calls to frighten birds away from landing strips, with only limited success. However, when they switched to recordings of rock star Tina Turner’s voice, there was an immediate and dramatic effect. “What the birds really hate is Tina Turner,” said Airport Chief Fire Officer Ron Johnson.

The Loss of Natural Soundscapes

28 March, 2014

Shifts in species’ distribution and abundance in response to climate change have been well documented, but the underpinning processes are still poorly understood. We present the results of a systematic literature review and meta-analysis investigating the frequency and importance of different mechanisms by which climate has impacted natural populations. Most studies were from temperate latitudes of North America and Europe; almost half investigated bird populations. We found significantly greater support for indirect, biotic mechanisms than direct, abiotic mechanisms as mediators of the impact of climate on populations.

Mechanisms underpinning climatic impacts on natural populations: altered species interactions are more important than direct effects - Ockendon - 2014 - Global Change Biology - Wiley Online Library

24 March, 2014

How do geese know when to fly to the sun?
Who tells them the seasons?
How do we, humans know when it is time to move on?
As with the migrant birds, so surely with us, there is a voice within if only we would listen to it, that tells us certainly when to go forth into the unknown.

— Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, from Light Pollution Kills Birds in the Environment

22 March, 2014

Males dug valleys at various angles in a radial direction, constructing nests surrounded by radially aligned peaks and valleys. Furthermore, they created irregular patterns in the nest comprising fine sand particles. The circular structure not only influences female mate choice but also functions to gather fine sand particles in nests, which are important in female mate choice.

Role of Huge Geometric Circular Structures in the Reproduction of a Marine Pufferfish : Scientific Reports : Nature Publishing Group

21 March, 2014

We find that the times to the most recent common male ancestor of chimpanzee communities are several hundred to as much as over two thousand years.

How old are chimpanzee communities? Time to the most recent common ancestor of the Y-chromosome in highly patrilocal societies

14 March, 2014

More Thoughts on Love Without a Body

Inspired by the movie “Her,” I recently wrote an article entitled, “Can a Computer Fall in Love if It Doesn’t Have a Body?” The movie’s premise is that an artificial intelligence can feel love; but research on embodied cognition suggests this might not be such a straightforward affair. Love is not abstract; it’s very much shaped by body and biology, and computers are largely disembodied. 

Arriving after the article’s publication were these comments from Eiling Yee, a cognitive scientist at the Basque Center on Cognition, Brain and Language (and author of this really neat paper on how manual experience shapes the way we think about things):

Q: Could a disembodied human brain could understand physical love?

EY: With respect to the first question, I would guess that a body isn’t necessary to achieve something like the kinds of experiences that embodied brains experience. The research line that seems related to this is the stuff on mirror neurons (e.g., Rizzolatti & colleagues — you’re probably familiar with this) — the main related finding is that when one monkey sees a second monkey reach towards, e.g., some food, neurons fire in the first monkey’s motor cortex that would control the kind of reaching motion that he is watching. The critical question, which this research doesn’t address, is whether a monkey that had never reached for anything (e.g., a paralyzed monkey) would also activate these same motor cortex neurons. (Sian Bielock’s work on professional athletes and fans may be semi-related too.) And then even if those same neurons *were* activated in the paralyzed monkey, what would that monkey be experiencing? That is, we know that the brain is plastic enough that congenitally blind people activate visual cortex when reading braille — and we wouldn’t interpret this as them experiencing what a sighted person experiences when activating the same parts of visual cortex.

Q: Could an artificial brain love?

EY: Something that seems related is the behaviorist perspective on psychology — if a computer acts exactly in a way that appears to be love, how is that different than love? We have the intuition that it is, but what really makes it different? This is also indirectly related to the Turing test — if a computer could completely convince its correspondent into thinking that it’s human (and in this example, that it is in love) would it be? Would the programming necessary to create that “illusion” constitute love? How can we know that our partner loves us other than through their behavior?

I thought my friend Paul Allopenna [a cognitive scientist at Brown University] would find this interesting, so I passed along your question and he had this interesting comment:

"So, what I would want to know is, could an embodied brain really be "embodied" if it didn’t need to survive? That is, how much of a functional role to our biological (particularly metabolic) predicates play in motivating/organizing/ and executing our behaviors (including our emotive behaviors)?"

So as I understand it, Paul’s question essentially comes down to: if, despite having a body, a brain didn’t need that body to provide it with anything (e.g,. fuel) to survive, what kind of behaviors would it instruct that body to perform? That is, would it demonstrate love (or anything else we normally demonstrate)?

4 March, 2014
The squid uses the light emitted by the bacteria to obscure its silhouette during its nocturnal wanderings of the moonlit ocean, which helps it avoid being spotted by predators. In return, the squid provides the bacteria with sugars and other nutrients (via A twist in the tail | eLife)

The squid uses the light emitted by the bacteria to obscure its silhouette during its nocturnal wanderings of the moonlit ocean, which helps it avoid being spotted by predators. In return, the squid provides the bacteria with sugars and other nutrients (via A twist in the tail | eLife)