Archive for the '[Biology&Environment]' category

The history of the Joshua tree, threats new and old

Aug 25 2010 Published by under [Biology&Environment]

And the LORD said unto Joshua, Stretch out the spear that is in thy hand toward Ai; for I will give it into thine hand. And Joshua stretched out the spear that he had in his hand toward the city.

And the ambush arose quickly out of their place, and they ran as soon as he had stretched out his hand: and they entered into the city, and took it, and hasted and set the city on fire.

And when the men of Ai looked behind them, they saw, and, behold, the smoke of the city ascended up to heaven, and they had no power to flee this way or that way: and the people that fled to the wilderness turned back upon the pursuers.

And when Joshua and all Israel saw that the ambush had taken the city, and that the smoke of the city ascended, then they turned again, and slew the men of Ai.

And the other issued out of the city against them; so they were in the midst of Israel, some on this side, and some on that side: and they smote them, so that they let none of them remain or escape.

And the king of Ai they took alive, and brought him to Joshua.

And it came to pass, when Israel had made an end of slaying all the inhabitants of Ai in the field, in the wilderness wherein they chased them, and when they were all fallen on the edge of the sword, until they were consumed, that all the Israelites returned unto Ai, and smote it with the edge of the sword.

And so it was, that all that fell that day, both of men and women, were twelve thousand, even all the men of Ai.

For Joshua drew not his hand back, wherewith he stretched out the spear, until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai.

Only the cattle and the spoil of that city Israel took for a prey unto themselves, according unto the word of the LORD which he commanded Joshua.

And Joshua burnt Ai, and made it a heap for ever, even a desolation unto this day.

And the king of Ai he hanged on a tree until eventide: and as soon as the sun was down, Joshua commanded that they should take his carcass down from the tree, and cast it at the entering of the gate of the city, and raise thereon a great heap of stones, that remaineth unto this day.

-Joshua 8: 18 - 29

ResearchBlogging.orgWhen Captain John C. Frémont first beheld the Joshua tree, he saw not what the Mormons are purported to have seen in its limbs: the spear-tip of Joshua in its sharp leaves, bent and raised at the enemies of God, relentlessly held aloft until the inhabitants of Ai were slain, stones of the city were heaped the scattered desert rocks and their king was dangled from the upper reaches of a tree perhaps not so different than the giant yucca itself. Frémont noted only “their stiff and ungraceful forms” and declared the Joshua tree “the most repulsive tree in the vegetable kingdom.” His contempt was mild compared to the violent myth behind the honorific given by the Latter Day Saints.

When a pack mule toppled over a cliff, Frémont lost his botanical collection, including the information gathered regarding the Joshua tree. The yucca was finally described by modern science in 1871 after samples were collected during a War Department railroad survey of the Southwest.

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Environmental framing again, a clarification

Aug 20 2010 Published by under [Biology&Environment], [Science in Society]

Matt Nisbet has a post up at Big Think referencing a brief interview with Peter Groffman regarding the recent open-access science communication issue of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. Both are worth a read. I was linked in the article (this post, a brief review of some of the content), and while I appreciate it, I do want to clarify and perhaps expand the gist of my post.

Nisbet’s post stated that I feared the “dumbing down” (his words, not mine, despite the quotation marks) of the science for public consumption. I think that certainly represents one of the concerns of framing critics, especially those in the scientific community. Personally, that’s not high on my list. I’m sure the ESA and associated scientists will be able to represent the science behind the problems and potential solutions plainly and efficiently.

The post I wrote was an attempt at expressing a general aversion for comprehensive marketing schemes and questioning, when it comes to the “humanities” portion of the plan, whether or not honesty – in worldview, philosophy or fiction – was important enough to preserve in its entirety. Some of the papers in the publication sounded like every business case, proposal and requirements doc I’ve ever read or written, which is fine, by the way; it’s typical. I’m sneering because documents like those are mostly industry fluff and setup language for the real meat, which can be boiled out rather easily and comprises a very small portion of the actual verbiage. We toss charts and graphs into technical documents to fill them out and give a visual for the sake of color or flow (or because it’s a standard) instead of representing an accurate depiction of process.

I’m being stubborn. Ultimately I think it’s sad and reflects poorly on us that people in positions of influence believe these kinds of campaigns are the key to reaching "the public," that only through demographical media saturation can we ever hope to teach science and instill environmental stewardship. Advertisers have to petition tribally to encourage us to buy; McDonald’s runs unique, culturally stereotypical commercials for WLITE 101.3, WURBAN 105.7 and WROCK 99.1 and it’s permissible to assume that the listeners to those stations are okay with being pigeonholed. I’m usually told something along the lines of “What do you expect?” or “You think this is new?” or “It’s just personal preference. I actually like that commercial,” and probably rightly so. It just doesn’t sit well with me.

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Refounding Appalachia: The scars of heritage and history

Aug 12 2010 Published by under [Biology&Environment]

As I've mentioned before, I went to college in a small Appalachian town. It was crowded through the long winter and barren through the summer, always cool and damp, quiet for those of us who choose to live and work there while the rest of the student population radiated back to their homes in the city. Our apartment was on the outskirts of the town, in the middle of a large brick building sitting on the rim of the valley, one of five in the complex. They were old, built perhaps in the 1940's, collectively named after a famous Civil War general, Braddock, as is much in the area. There was no central air, and the windows would not accommodate a smaller AC unit, but it didn't matter; the summers were mild enough to go without, even on the hottest days.

Winter was anything but mild. In the very bottom of our building was an old iron furnace, yards from the two washers and driers stuffed in a nook called the Laundry Room stained black around their bottom frames. In early October, the building would start to warm, insulating our apartment with the heat from our surrounding neighbors - up, down and across the hall. Throughout the winter, we rarely had to turn our system on at all.

Every couple of weeks or a coal truck would pull up on the lawn in front of our building. The driver would yank the trap door to the coal chute and dump the fuel down slowly, sparkling shards amid a great cloud of black dust, which would eventually settle on the walk up to the front door. I'd run into one of the maintenance guys every so often in the basement shoveling the furnace full. Everything around us - the washing machines, furniture, brick, matte paint, carpets, hands - was dusted or smeared with coal dust. You'd brush your leg against the wrong wall in the staircase down to the basement and curse the ensuing stain, brushing it off the best you could.

Coal was a way of life for us, a constant, a mainstay. There was a coal mine further up the mountain, across from the entrance to our complex and the neighborhood behind us. On the way to class I'd sit at the stop sign waiting for the line of coal trucks to lumber up or down the rutted incline. No matter where you were in the town you could hear them gearing down, loud as jet engines, as they breached the top, heading down. Like the rest of the area, little white houses in coal country are never exactly white - they're mottled gray. Against a backdrop of a skeletal winter forest and persistent gray skies, it's no wonder students dubbed January through March in the area "The Suicide Months." For me, it's part and parcel of middle Appalachia's charm, indicative of a deep history. But that doesn't excuse the fact that coal has become more of a burden than a boon.

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Communicating environmental realities: framing and fiction

Aug 03 2010 Published by under [Biology&Environment], [Science in Society]

ResearchBlogging.orgI finally found the time yesterday evening to read through a few of the papers from the latest Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, which is focused on science/environmental communication this time around. The majority of the articles are driven by Nisbet's ideas about framing in general, but I don't really want to dive back into that mire of rhetoric, at least on a broadside.

I'll start out by saying that I do agree to some extent that the idea of stewardship is a good one in that it has been adopted by folks with very different worldviews. I think overall Wilson's The Creation took a good step of putting aside some of the more tedious ideological blockers between materialism and spiritualism in regard to feeling a connection to nature in any affectionate sense compelling enough to engender stewardship. Since it was published (and I'm sure before then) much work has been done to piece together a much more diverse, welcoming environmental movement.

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A hobbit's contemporaries: Biogeography and insular evolution on Flores

Jul 15 2010 Published by under [Biology&Environment]


ResearchBlogging.org
Painters create networks. The subject of the piece, even if it’s a simple splotch of color, garners the most attention, but without a descriptive background or other kinds of supporting elements to contextualize the portion of the painting where the artist wants you to look, the intended focus is lost. The subject loses a certain clarity of interpretation in the absence of those elements.

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Southeast Asia in the Pleistocene, from grassland to rain forest

Jun 09 2010 Published by under [Biology&Environment]

ResearchBlogging.orgI’ve been trying to keep up with the Gulf situation, so most of my reading of late has been dominated by those details, and the unread numbers in my RSS folders were a little intimidating, but I finally found some time to read some of the papers I’ve earmarked in the past month or so.

This study from the Journal of Biogeography attempts a new method to assemble the paleoecology and paleoenvironment of Southeast Asia in the late Pleistocene and runs a lengthy comparison against the results of previous studies, corroborating the evidences. The interest in reconstructing these environments is largely generated from more recent discoveries of hominins that lived there in the Pleistocene. Data regarding hominin-mammal interactions is important and can be used to determine evolutionary nuances. If the environments in which these hominins lived can be interpreted, it can give us more details about how they lived, how they continued to disperse and even give scientists better clues as to where remains and artifacts can be found.

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Decades later, how has the ecology of coastal Saudi Arabia recovered from the largest oil spill in history?

May 31 2010 Published by under [Biology&Environment]

As the Deepwater Horizon spill progresses, I've been tracking down the science that has been done as a result of other large spills, particularly the monitoring of ecosystem damage and recovery. It's a mixed bag, apples and oranges in some cases, largely dependent on the communities affected, the extent of the spill, the cleanup effort and the environmental/species composition of the affected area.

I went straight to the biggest first, the Gulf War oil spill, which started in January of 1991 and ended up leaking 11 million barrels of oil (one barrel = 42 gallons) into the Persian Gulf, which eventually washed up on to the shorelines of the area, invading the beaches, salt marshes and mangrove forests. In 2001 and then again in 2008, Dr. Hans-Jörg Barth of the University of Regensburg reported on the ecological effects of the spill, which are apparent to this day.

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Defining edge effects by resource and sensitivity

Apr 30 2010 Published by under [Biology&Environment]

ResearchBlogging.orgIn 2004 Leslie Ries and Thomas D. Sisk published a study in Ecology asking a simple and surprisingly unaddressed question: Considering the number of studies published describing habitat fragmentation and edge effects, why has the pattern and framework of these effects on ecosystems not been described? Ries and Sisk proposed a conceptual model in that paper that can account and predict, to some extent, the variability of an organism’s responses to different edges, usually indicated through an increase or decrease of abundance at the edge, or no change at all. The model is based on resources, predicting how organisms will be distributed across the edge between patches by the quality and quantity of resources available in the three zones (patch1 – edge – patch2).

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