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Archive for the ‘ecology’ Category

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Doug Chadwick, wildlife biologist and author, spoke last night at the Patagonia store in Westport CT, sharing excerpts from his new book, Tracking Gobi Grizzlies. I enjoyed Doug’s last book, The Wolverine Way, which I wrote about in 2010. I was excited to hear about his work with the Gobi Bear Project, and I’m looking forward to reading more about the Gobi Grizzlies, what he calls “the dustiest, thirstiest, and rarest bears in the world.”

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Theirs is an improbably existence, in a wind-swept rocky and mountainous desert that ranges from -40 in the winter to about 120° F in the summer. There may be as few as 35-40 of these bears in the world, and they are the only bears that live exclusively in deserts. The Gobi Grizzly is the same species as the North American Grizzly Bear, Ursus arctos, but a smaller subspecies, called Ursus arctos gobiensis.

The study and conservation work takes place in southern Mongolia, and efforts are focused (not surprisingly) on minimizing conflicts with humans and livestock, and reducing both competition for water resources and impact of land development and mining operations. The bears’ current range is contained within the “Great Gobi Strictly Protected Area”, which is about 5 times the size of Yellowstone National Park. Efforts of biologists from the project are focused on learning more about the bears, protecting the ones left, and protecting wildlife corridors for the bears to move back into habitat that may have been in their historical range, but is now separated by land that may be developed for mining. This is similar to work that Doug has been promoting for some time now, with the Freedom to Roam and the Yellowstone to Yukon initiatives.

I enjoy Doug’s writing voice, and it was nice to hear his storytelling voice as well. He’s a self described optimist, and while he recognizes the obstacles and hard work ahead, he has hope for conservation efforts to support biodiversity in the long run. Doug heads back West soon with upcoming talks in Dillon, Montana and Seattle, Washington, and if that’s your neighborhood, it’s worth popping in to say hi and give a listen. I’m looking forward to reading this book.

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img_1053Not too many people at the Nature Center on rainy Sunday mornings. But we’re glad to get out of the house and into the woods, rain or shine. On a recent outing, the kids noticed a few rotting logs with different kinds of fungus growing. This is not something I know a lot about, but we set out to explore and see how many different varieties we could find. It’s always good to take a closer look.  (more…)

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It’s always good to get outside. And having the Long Island Sound 15 minutes away makes partnering with the Maritime Aquarium a great fit. Their new research vessel RV Spirit of the Sound is gorgeous. A plankton survey, benthic bio dredge, and otter trawl gave us plenty to measure and discuss. Students and teachers alike were happy to be out and getting their hands dirty!


 

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I had the opportunity to spend this week in Montana and Wyoming through Montana State’s MSSE program, studying the biology of the thermal features in Yellowstone National Park. I met science teachers from various states and countries that are all working towards using this material in their classes, and I was happy to be a part of such a rich discussion of content and pedagogy.

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I just finished up a week in Montana and Wyoming with a group of ninth graders, studying the history of wolf reintroduction in Yellowstone, learning a bit more about the wildlife while we were here. We booked part of our program with the Yellowstone Association, the education arm of the park, and I would highly recommend them for educational groups or for any visitors looking for informative and helpful guides. They were like classroom/field trip teachers for three days; they got to know our students, and they really knew their stuff when it came to natural history, archaeology, geology, and ecology of the region. They also provided transportation in short tour vans, binoculars, and spotting scopes. As our students had been studying wolf reintroduction, the Association arranged for us to meet with two ranchers up in the Gardiner Valley, Martin Davis and Bruce Malcolm. The conversations with these gentlemen helped us all to gain some perspective on the complexity of the issues surrounding wolves, hunting, ranching, ecology, and economics; the students and teachers alike were moved by their equanimity, common sense, and insight. The ranching life is not one that too many of our students are familiar with, and it was eye opening for them (and me).

The week started out snowy and in the 20s, but got a bit warmer and sunnier each day. It is April in Northern Wyoming!

It was a pretty incredible trip.

Roosevelt Arch Yellowstone 4-22-13

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mammoth springs in snow 4-22-13

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group photo mammoth springs 4-22-13

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scanning for wolves 4-23-13

moose and calf Lamar Valley 4-23-13

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Image: W. W. Norton & Company

So, there IS a new David Quammen book! This one deals with the crossover of infectious disease into humans; a fascinating, terrifying, and all-too-common process called zoonosis. Diseases such as bubonic plague, swine flu, HIV, and Ebola fall into this category. It’s important to note that transmission by an organism doesn’t make a disease zoonotic; rather, zoonoses involve a “jump” of a species-specific pathogen to a new species (in this case humans). Swine flu is a good example. Normally, we don’t catch the flu that pigs catch — the virus is great at infecting pig cells, not ours. But when that influenza virus mutates (which it does often), some of those mutated versions may be able to infect us (note: some of those mutations might also be harmless to us; some mutations will render the virus ineffective entirely — but we don’t hear about those versions. This is natural selection, of course.). This situation can be especially problematic because that recently mutated virus, in addition to being “new” to the world, is also totally “new” to our immune systems (advantage: virus). Throw in the fact that we’re putting ourselves in contact with more and more potential “new” pathogens all over the world (travel, exploration, destruction of rain forests, etc.) and we end up with a lot more potential diseases to combat. My seventh graders do a project on infectious diseases after studying bacteria and viruses, and the subject of this book ties in nicely with that project. So, in addition to new books this fall from Chabon, Helprin, McEwan, Ruhlman, and Kean, now I’m looking forward to finding some time to read Quammen’s “Spillover.”

Here’s the trailer for the book from the publisher, W. W. Norton:

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Ready to Fledge

Well, just about ready. In this fairly non-scientific estimation (not actually counting days since hatching, nor counting pin feathers), I think these 4 little Carolina Wren chicks nesting on our back porch garden shelf are about ready to leave the nest.

This is the second time wrens have built a nest here on our porch. They seem to have become desensitized to the opening and closing of our screen door. A clutch of chicks fledged in 2010; they took last summer off (started a nest and then abandoned it), and they’re back. Curious to know if it’s the same pair.

Some interesting bits about Carolina Wrens from the Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior:

  • Most wren species are monogamous. They defend all-purpose territories, and they usually pair for life.
  • Male Carolina Wrens sing an individual song over and over, in bouts of anywhere from five to 250 repetitions, before switching to another. (I can attest to that.) They average about 32 songs per male, which is not quite as many as the Marsh Wren who clocks in around 50 songs.
  • Winter and Carolina Wrens are perhaps the most catholic of wrens in their nesting preferences, placing their cup nests in crevices, low vegetation, or even on the ground [or on porch shelves].
  • Wrens in N. America lay an average of 4 to 6 eggs (subelliptical to oval; white, cream, or pink with brownish mottling); the female incubates the eggs from 12 to 15 days.
  • The altricial young have natal down when they hatch, primarily on the head and back. They are usually fed by both parents until feldging, which occurs at 10 – 17 days in the small-bodied species… Both parents continue to feed the young for about two weeks  after fledging, unless the female begins another clutch, in which case the male often takes sole responsibility for the brood.

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