Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Forbidden experiments

John Martin once famously said '"Give me a half a tanker of iron and I'll give you the next ice age." As the proposer of the Iron Hypothesis he was only half joking - fertilizing the oceans with iron will trigger massive algal blooms and potentially reduces atmospheric carbon dioxide. This sort of global geoengineering program still has lots of unanswered questions though.

That's why reports that people are carrying out such experiments without any oversight are a little alarming.

Harvard’s David Keith calls it the “goofy Goldfinger scenario” – a rogue nation, or even an individual, would conduct an unsupervised geoengineering experiment — and he confidently predicted in a story I wrote last month that it would never happen.

It took about a month for him to be proven wrong. In mid-October, the Guardian reported that an American named Russ George had dumped 100 metric tons of iron sulfate into the waters off western Canada, triggering a bloom of algae. George claimed he did it with the knowledge of Canadian authorities, using equipment lent to him by NOAA (which said it didn’t know of his plans).

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Back on the agenda?

As we enjoy another pleasant day here in California much of the North East of the country is being pounded by superstorm Sandy. Will this put climate change back on the agenda?

The problem seems to be the complex nature of climate change. It's very hard to say that climate change caused this storm.

George Lakoff is trying to reframe the debate by introducing the term systemic causation: Global Warming Systemically Caused Hurricane Sandy.

Yes, global warming systemically caused Hurricane Sandy -- and the Midwest droughts and the fires in Colorado and Texas, as well as other extreme weather disasters around the world. Let's say it out loud, it was causation, systemic causation.

Systemic causation is familiar. Smoking is a systemic cause of lung cancer. HIV is a systemic cause of AIDS. Working in coal mines is a systemic cause of black lung disease. Driving while drunk is a systemic cause of auto accidents. Sex without contraception is a systemic cause of unwanted pregnancies.

Fox News (what? I'm being fair and balanced) goes with the more predictable:  Did global warming cause Sandy? Boulder scientist says ‘not entirely’

Broome asked if global warming could have been one of those elements. To say that might be a stretch, Weber said.

“We’re going to have to study this for a long time,” Weber said. “Global warming could have factored into this, but there are a lot more factors in play – the atmosphere and ground cover, to name a few.”

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Ship > Whale

Whales are pretty big. Blue whales are about the biggest at around 30m long and 200 tons. But even this is dwarfed by your average container ship  - ten times longer and over a thousand times heavier. When ship meets whale it isn't even a contest. Is this a significant source of mortality for blue whales and what can we do about about it. What should we do about it? Are you prepared to pay more at Walmart or K-Mart for your cheap plastic crap if container ships have to go around whale feeding grounds?

Hmm, the embedded CNN video comes with an ad. It probably varies but the one I just saw was for .... cheap plastic crap from K-Mart. Oh the irony.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Climate Silence

From the Guardian Newspaper: US presidential debates' great unmentionable: climate change

The Pentagon ranks it as a national security threat and, left unchecked,climate change is expected to cost the US economy billions of dollars every year – and yet it has proved the great unmentionable of this election campaign.

Check out the Climate Silence website for both candidates statements, action and inaction on the issue.

"I'm all in favor of eliminating pollution. Now I know there is also a movement to say that carbon dioxide should be guided or should be managed by the Environmental Protection Agency. I disagree with that. I exhale carbon dioxide. I don't want those guys following me around with a meter to see if I'm breathing too hard."

Mitt Romney in a speech on 11/18/2011. He's just joking right?

Panda conservation is not 'greenwash'

This week, BBC checked in on the ongoing effort to save the Panda from extinction.  The Giant panda is a high profile endangered species and considered to be one of China's national treasures.  Due to continued habitat loss, a large number of pandas are bred in captivity.  It is no question that many dollars are being in spent in panda conservation efforts but not all conservationists agree this is the best course of action.

On October 15th, the Society of Biology held a debate at the Linnean Society called, "Do we need pandas? Choosing which species to save."  During the event speakers on a panel presented the case whether it is plausible to continue on spending the little funding that is available towards conservation on an animal that is charismatic and much adored by the public but at the expense of other endangered species that could be saved.  Pandas suffer from very low birth rates and has a history of many unsuccessful attempts breeding in captivity.  Scarce funds have gone towards trying to understand panda breeding in order to generate more successful attempts.

Biologist Simon Watt in particular spoke against what he considered to be 'greenwash.'  The article states, "Greenwash is the deceptive marketing of green public image, when more substantial environmental policies are not being implemented."  The argument made was that the money spent on a species that is difficult to save could be used to assist other species.  Others on the panel such as Iain Valentine, director of animal conservation at Edinburgh Zoo, argued that panda conservation is money well spent.

Read more: BBC Nature, The Guardian

Friday, October 26, 2012

Male Orangutans using landscape corridors

Orangutans, native to Indonesia and Malaysia, have been reduced to a population of an estimated 6,600 and to a patch of habitat in the northern tip of Sumatra due to habitat loss and degradation.  Habitat fragmentation is associated with increased isolation of patches and reduction of total area, which decreases population size and increases extinction rate.

One of the solutions proposed and implemented to increase movement between patches are landscape corridors, as we have discussed in lecture and section.  The topic of whether or not the corridors are actually effective or worth the monetary cost has been controversial.

 It seems that in this specific case, the corridors have proved to play a positive role in connecting the small patches in that they have been facilitating gene flow and movement within the Orangutans.  The study found that the females tend to settle in the areas where they are closest to their mothers and that it is the males who travel, across rivers or mountains, in search for a mate. 

Dr. Alexander Nater of the University of Zurich stated that the corridors give the Orangutans the chance to act like a large population. This case gives some hope to other isolated populations of species however, it's hard to know if other species would be as apt to using the corridors as the Orangutans.  The article ended on this note, emphasizing the need for protection of these corridors. The corridors aren't ideal, but they are effective so far in helping facilitating the continuation of genetic diversity of the Orangutans.  At this point, when there is so little of the Orangutan habitat left and little options remaining to keep them from entering the extinction vortex, the corridors have made a positive step forward.

The article can be found here on the New York Times.

Acid test

ACID TEST, a film produced by NRDC, was made to raise awareness about the largely unknown problem of ocean acidification, which poses a fundamental challenge to life in the seas and the health of the entire planet. Like global warming, ocean acidification stems from the increase of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere since the start of the Industrial Revolution.

Leading scientific experts on the problem, many of whom appear in the film and the outtakes below, believe that it's possible to cut back on global warming pollution, improve the overall health and durability of our oceans, and prevent serious harm to our world, but only if action is taken quickly and decisively.

Oh, and it's narrated by Sigourney Weaver. SIGOURNEY WEAVER!

Hyenas & Humans: Best Friends.

Hyenas have rarely topped the list when it comes to cute fuzzy animals that need to be preserved and protected. Apparently, though, they've decided to take manners into their own hands. Hyenas in Northern Ethiopia have faced severe environment degradation and fragmentation due to agricultural and urban expansion in the area. In turn, their traditional prey sources have been limited or removed entirely. The combination of these two events is a classic set-up for a population collapse, but they Hyenas had different ideas.

The wild dogs maintain significant population density in the affected areas despite the habitat alteration. They've done this by establishing an almost 100% anthropogenic (from man) diet; that is to say cows, sheep, and other livestock. These hardy hunters and scavengers have saved themselves by benefiting from the factors (us) that in the same circumstances might otherwise have wiped them out. Not only have they accomplished this though, but they have done it in such a way as to co-exist with rather than hamper the human communities they are dispersed through. By report from individuals living in the area, the Hyenas operate at a level and in a fashion that is not significantly disruptive to the agricultural endeavors of the communities and so are left widely unharmed.

In fact, the Hyenas even provide a service to the developing communities interloping on their former territory. The small residences that make up a majority of the overlapping area by and large have no waste disposal services, that is, expect for Hyenas. The scavengers do a decent job of clearing organic detritus from around the farms and homes in the area allowing them access to a food source without intruding into the human interests. In short, the Hyenas have adapted admirably to what could have been a disastrous situation. It may not be an ideal solution, and the animals are far removed from their "natural" behaviors, but they do still exist in good numbers. Fixes like this, though not intentional, could pave the way for some integration of large animals into human development areas rather than simply eradicating or displacing them.

From the Article:

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Snakes in a container

I put up two extra slides at the end of today's lecture. These summarize most of the main concepts we have covered (although they don't include the first class on the history of conservation biology). These might be useful in reviewing the course so far. Can you explain each concept in your own words? Can you say why it is of concern for conservation? Can you give example(s) as appropriate?

Here's a snake sniffing dog in action. I hadn't realized the dogs were laid off in 2009 as a result of budget cuts. But, according to KITV Honolulu, it looks like the funding has been found to bring them back: State bringing back canine snake detectors
$162K set aside for hiring of inspector-trainer, 3 dog handlers.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


I did say you'd be hearing more about this From NPR today:
When You're Almost Extinct, Your Price Goes Up

When a species gets rare, its market value rises. The higher its price, the more it's hunted. The more it's hunted, the rarer it gets. Not a happy cycle, and this keeps happening ...

The article links to an article in the latest National Geographic on Blood Ivory. Did you know that one of the main drivers of elephant poaching is now the demand for ivory for religious statues?

Although the world has found substitutes for every one of ivory’s practical uses—billiard balls, piano keys, brush handles—its religious use is frozen in amber, and its role as a political symbol persists.

Even the Vatican:

“Ivory, ivory, ivory,” says the saleswoman at the Savelli Gallery on St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City. “You didn’t expect so much. I can see it in your face.” The Vatican has recently demonstrated a commitment to confronting transnational criminal problems, signing agreements on drug trafficking, terrorism, and organized crime. But it has not signed the CITES treaty and so is not subject to the ivory ban. If I buy an ivory crucifix, the saleswoman says, the shop will have it blessed by a Vatican priest and shipped to me.

The home of a Filipino collector is lavish with ivory religious icons. “I don’t see the elephant,” says another Filipino collector. “I see the Lord.”

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Restoring Native Grassland Populations in Pacific Northwest

This is a very interesting article that describes a six-year research project done on how to better control an invasive plant species in the interior Pacific Northwest.  The article is based on a paper that was published just this year in the journal Invasive Plant Science and Management. This paper is relevant to our discussions of invasive plant species in lecture and focuses on how we can better control invasive species without harming the native species in the same area.
This particular paper is concerned with the invasive flowering plant Sulfur cinquefoil, which is threatening native grass species in the Pacific Northwest grasslands. Researchers wanted to know whether using herbicides at a specific time and in a specific way might reduce the mortality of native species and increase the mortality of invasive species. They were also interested in whether reseeding of native grasses would help the situation.
The researches found the most of the native grasses in the interior Pacific Northwest are dormant in late summer and early autumn. Using this knowledge and experimental control plots, they found that using herbicides during this time lead to increased mortality of Sulfur cinquefoil along with a recued mortality of native grasses. They also found that using herbicides just once was enough to control the invasive population during the entire six-year study. Finally, they found that although reseeding did not have an effect in the early years of the experiment, by the last couple years the plots that had been reseeded showed a 20% decrease in exotic grass cover.
In this case, the solution was a simple one and because we have seen in class that most cases are much more complicated, it is easy to dismiss it as a lucky break. However, it is imported to note that this simple change in the timing of herbicide use, made a dramatic difference in conserving a native species. This makes me wonder how many other little fixes in species conservation we are overlooking because we are so stuck on solving the big problems.

Here is a link to the article from ScienceDaily:

Here is a citation and link for the paper:
Bryan A. Endress, Catherine G. Parks, Bridgett J. Naylor, Steven R. Radosevich, Mark Porter. Grassland Response to Herbicides and Seeding of Native Grasses 6 Years Posttreatment. Invasive Plant Science and Management, 2012; 5 (3): 311
- Megan Ragland

Conserving and promoting evenness: organic farming and fire-based wildland management as case studies

A biodiverse ecosystem is classified by having high species richness, and high species evenness.  Species richness is the number of species and species evenness is the relative abundance of species.  The goal of this study was to examine the benefits to biodiversity from the use of two different land management schemes.

These two different strategies were organic farming practices and the controlled burning of land.  Rather then run lengthy and expensive experiments Crowder et. al searched for old studies of organic vs. conventional farming and burned vs. unburned conservation sites. They found 173 studies comparing organic vs. conventional farming.  These studies included a lot of variety, spanning 23 countries and 38 crops.  They also found 155 studies of burned vs. unburned conservation sites spanning 21 countries. 

Analysis of the studies showed both strategies significantly increased species richness and evenness.  The results also span many taxa showing these conservation practices work for many different types of organisms.  These results support organic farming and controlled burning as viable strategies for increasing ecosystem biodiversity.  The study also provided evidence that species richness and evenness are not correlated.  This shows that species richness and evenness are different aspects of biodiversity and should be addressed separately during conservation efforts.

Crowder, David W., Tobin D. Northfield, Richard Gomulkiewicz, and William E. Snyder. 2012. Conserving and promoting evenness: organic farming and fire-based wildland management as case studies. Ecology 93:2001–2007.

-Jimmy Peniston

Counting snakes

Forgive the repeat but I came across this from last year and it made me laugh (again). The comic strip is Slylock Fox and the funny comments below are from The Comics Curmudgeon - making the funnies funnier since 2004.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Instant egghead

There's a lengthy critique of this little video at PZ Meyers Pharyngula blog. I'm inclined to agree with him.

My biggest problem with the video, though, is in Guterl’s suggestion that our changing the atmosphere’s composition — referring to the end-Permian extinction, as well as the “Great Oxygenation” of the Paleoproterozoic — is what’s got scientists worried about mass extinction these days, given that we happen to be adding CO2 to the atmosphere faster than the Siberian Traps did 252 million years ago. And scientists are indeed worried about the effects of climate change on biodiversity.
But scientists working on studying and preserving biodiversity — which after all is the positive way of saying “not having a mass extinction’ — are worried about a whole lot more than climate change. We could completely solve the atmospheric CO2overburden on Tuesday and still be faced with an extinction crisis as we plow up grasslands, cut down forests, bottom-trawl the oceans, and build new sprawling cities on land that once supported wildlife.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Trophy hunting

Two very timely articles on trophy hunting. First up is a photograph collection at CNN from David Chancellor who traveled with trophy hunters in sub-Saharan Africa for four years.

Among the animals hunted in Africa are black rhinos, even though they’re an endangered species. Under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, 10 black rhinos a year - five each in South Africa and Namibia - are allowed to be hunted for trophies. It’s estimated that hunters pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for the right to take home a black rhino trophy, and the governments said the money is used to help pay for conservation efforts. Only adult male surplus black rhinos are to be hunted.

Arguments for trophy hunting as a conservation tool include sustainability, generating high revenue from few hunters and the ability to reduce illegal hunting,according to a 2008 report (PDF) from the University of Pretoria, South Africa. And some countries such as Namibia have had success with increasing the numbers of its game through hunting and harvesting the animals, according The Economist.

Also from CNN is a report about the attempts to prevent the first regulated wolf hunt of the once-endangered gray wolf: As hunting season looms, wolf advocates move to protect the packs:

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources estimates the state's wolf population to be about 3,000 wolves and says the target harvest of 400 wolves "is a conservative approach that does not pose a threat to the conservation of the population."

The wolf hunting and trapping season closes January 31 or whenever the 400 wolves are hunted, whichever comes first. More than 23,000 hunters entered the lottery to participate in the wolf hunting season, and 6,000 licenses will be given out.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Elephant corridors

From The Hindu:
India’s top bureaucrats managing forests and elephants, and the wildlife conservation NGO community on Wednesday showcased public-private partnership (PPP) initiatives that promise to connect more of the 88 identified elephant corridors with forests, potentially reducing the stress on the species.

On its part, the Centre is considering hiking compensation for voluntary resettlement of residents to increase habitat available to elephants and reduce human-elephant conflict.

At a side event on ‘Securing Wildlife Corridors,’ held at the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity here, director of Project Elephant A.M. Singh said raising the financial compensation to help people voluntarily move out of elephant habitat, particularly in the northeast, was at the top of the list of official priorities and a committee to be constituted soon would go into the question.

Pest control fences

The invasive species in New Zealand are the main threat to the native biota. There are 31 species of invasive mammals in the island. People in New Zealand are mixing the use of tramps and fences. The fences are used to prevent invasive species to enter a conservation zone and the tramps to eliminate them from the area. In small islands near the main island the use of tramps has been a great success. 28 natural reserves are surrounded by fence with a total of 8,396 ha. The fence also serves as barrier to the wild life fauna to leave the secure forest such as the brown kiwi Apteryx mantelli. The fenced areas now serve as sanctuary of threatened species after the reintroduction of threatened species such as Notornis mantelli. In the case of the Chatham petrel Pterodroma axillaris it was only known to have one place of breeding in Chatman Island and now it has been introduced to a fenced reserve hoping to create a second breeding place. When a fence crosses a flow of water it is interrupted to allow the free pass of the water. When at low flow the fence closes the gates to prevent the crossing of fauna with low flow. The fences are also used in Zoos.

The use of a fence is controversial because a fence can also avoid the movement of animals from one reserve to another. It may change the chemical of the soil around the reserve preventing the underground living animals such as nematodes to cross the fence and increasing the edge effect of those organisms. Another benefit of a fence would be to avoid part of the edge effect of large organisms due to predation. The edge effect is different depending on the species. In new Zealand is needed the fence because the primary threat is the invasive species. Therefore the positive effects of having a fence overwhelm the Negative effects. 

Burns Bruce; Innes John and Day Tim.(2012) The Use and Potential of Pest-Proof Fencing
for Ecosystem Restoration and Fauna Conservation in New Zealand. Fencing for Conservation 65-90

Friday, October 19, 2012

Why did the deer cross the road?

Tip of the hat to Cherie for this one. From the Huffington post (admittedly it's under 'Weird News'). You can listen to the audio there.

If we moved deer crossing signs off of highways, deer would finally stop running into oncoming traffic.

That's the complaint one caller in North Dakota aired to the Y94 Playhouse radio station earlier this month.

The woman -- only known as Donna -- was either hoaxing the hosts or really thought that her three deer-related car crashes over the past few years were the result of government posted deer crossing signs posted along high-traffic roads.

"My frustration is that Minnesota and North Dakota departments of transportation would allow these deer crossings in such high traffic areas," she says. "Why are we encouraging deer to cross at the interstate?"

Real or hoax?

Researchers Make Significant Progress on Farm-Bred Bluefin

Sushi is one of the most widely known and loved cuisines in the world, yet one item on the menu may soon disappear. The Southern Bluefin Tuna is highly prized fish, coveted for its fatty belly meat. However, exploitation and overharvesting has driven this species to be classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN. Although the Bluefin is a streamlined and fast swimming fish that reside in the open waters, technology such as satellite imaging and GPS has allowed fishermen to harvest this fish across its entire migratory route. The most damaging factor is the harvesting technique. In order to produce the sought after belly meat, the Bluefin are caught alive as juveniles and fattened in a pen before being exported to fish markets around the world. These caught Bluefin are never able to spawn, critically decimating its population. Yet, the Southern Bluefin remains one of the most valuable fish in the industry, with a 202kg Bluefin fetching more than $170,000 in 2001 in Japan. Despite quotas set by governing entities, fishermen have been known to catch Bluefin beyond their set limits.

For many years, there has been effort to farm the Bluefin from eggs in aquacultures, which have been successfully accomplished for other fish species such as yellowtail and sea bream. However, several issues make this difficult for the Bluefin. Firstly, they are a very large species, often tipping the scales at a half ton. Also, the Bluefin is built for fast swimming across the open ocean. As a result, they are warm blooded, requiring them to be in constant motion for water to flow across their gills. As a result, they require incredibly large pens.

However, after years of research, there may have been a breakthrough in raising the Bluefin in captivity. Researchers at Kindai University, Japan, believe they have gathered enough information about the species to successfully farm the prized fish. For example, they understood that juvenile tuna could not steer or brake as well as their adult counterparts, as a result often ran into the walls of a square shaped pen, breaking their necks. A circular pen alleviated this problem. They have also identified behavioral triggers for spawning and understanding that the first spawn is related to size rather than age. The researchers and Kindai are selectively breeding the tuna for hardiness and high quality meat by introducing molecular markers for desirable traits. Finally, one of the most unsustainable aspects of fish farming is the feed. As a result, the researchers have successfully weaned the tuna onto plant protein rather than fish feed, which has not been done in other successful fisheries such as farmed salmon. Despite these accomplishments, only about 1% of Bluefin mature from eggs, compared to 60% in sea bream fisheries. A successful Bluefin fishery would not only satiate the market for this prized fish, but scientists also hope to restock the wild population. However, restocking the wild population remains a contentious issue, and the researchers at Kindai admit that several issues need to be resolved before that is a viable solution. 

Article about the Kindai research can be found here:

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A dinosaur extinction... again?

The tuatara is a reptile native to New Zealand that has been around for a very, very long time. It's most closely related to species that last existed during the mesozoic period. It has outlasted its relatives through the extinction of the dinosaurs, ice ages, humans, and more. But now, after all this time, biologists are concerned that the tuataras might soon cease to exist.

What has led to the tuatara's success over the last 230 million years? It turns out that they are able to be active at much lower temperatures than other reptiles, down to 7 degrees Celsius (44 Fahrenheit). This allows them to do their hunting at night, giving them access to food and resources that other reptiles cannot access. However, the tuatara can't compete with introduced nocturnal species such as dogs and rats, which have driven them off of mainland New Zealand to small offshore islands where they receive government protection.

So what is threatening the tuataras on these islands? The answer is climate change. Temperature determines whether a tuatara egg is more likely to be male or female. Warmer temperatures are now causing too many eggs to develop into males. At extremes all eggs develop into one gender. A climactic model suggests that by 2085 tuataras will be producing 0 females. Efforts are now being made to move tuataras to colder parts of New Zealand.

If the tuataras were not confined to such small islands, they could move to warmer or coolers areas to adjust to climate change. However, introduced species have destroyed this possibility for them. Read more about the tuatara at NPR.

Close to home

Here's a story from last year. Note that the pressure here came from recreational fishermen not commercial fishing and that the fishery was regulated with a 10-fish daily bag limit.

Two popular Southern California fisheries have collapsed right under the noses of management agencies that had inadequate data, a new study suggests.

In an article in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, the authors say the population of barred sand bass and kelp bass began to shrink in the early 1980s amid regional changes in ocean conditions, including warmer temperatures.

But since then, a combination of environmental factors and fishing in seasonal spawning areas appears to have “pushed the species over the edge,” said the study’s lead author, Brad Erisman, a postdoctoral researcher with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego.

Yet the decline of barred sand and kelp bass stock went undetected because large numbers of fish continued to gather in the spawning areas favored by recreational fishermen, creating what the researchers call an “illusion of plenty,” the report said.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Prop. 30

If you don't vote then you will make this puppy very sad.

It can't have escaped your attention that there is an election coming up. As usual environmental issues are top of the agenda. Oh well, you may however have heard about Proposition 30 which will have a direct impact on the University of California.

Voters in November will be asked to decide on Proposition 30, an initiative that would raise new state revenue through temporary increases in the state sales tax and the personal income tax on those who earn $250,000 or more per year. It is sponsored by Gov. Jerry Brown and is part of the 2012-13 budget approved by state lawmakers.

The University of California Board of Regents has endorsed Prop. 30, noting that if the initiative fails, UC is scheduled to receive a budget reduction of $250 million this year and lose an additional $125 million next year.

You can read more about proposition 30 here with links to further information.

I know that some people think that institutions of higher learning are all about indoctrinating students but the truth is that we are issued much clearer guidelines about discussing political issues than those that businesses seem to follow.

UCOP General Counsel has pointed out that employees of the University may not tell individuals how to vote and are not permitted to use state resources, time, or equipment to lobby for or against any ballot measure. However, members of the University community may share factual information about the impact of a ballot measure.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


In a coincidence (or is it?) yesterday saw the release of Senator Tom Coburn's annual list of what his office considers the most extreme examples of government waste. In a shocking omission this year I don't see a single conservation project! Usually there's a Turtle tunnel or Wildlife overpass or a Bear DNA study in there but not this year.

U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-OK) today released a new oversight report, “Wastebook 2012” that highlights more than $18 billion in examples of some of the most egregious ways your taxpayer dollars were wasted in 2012. This report highlights 100 of the year’s countless unnecessary, duplicative and low-priority projects spread throughout the federal government.

The media usually pick up on a couple of the highlighted examples (although the report contains 100) and this year robosquirrel (from UC Davis) seems to be attracting the attention. I'm not sure exactly what Senator Coburn has against robotic squirrels. He seems to be against them on principle:

During these difficult fiscal times of massive deficits, paying $325,000 for a robot squirrel 
seems a bit squirrelly.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Panda porn and more

From Time Magazine's Top Ten Evil animals. #8: Pandas:
What most people don't realize is that pandas have us duped. They are the one species in the animal kingdom that seems to live outside the realm of Darwinian science. Most creatures in the universe follow German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche's axiom: a creature "will strive to grow, spread, seize, become predominant ... because it is living and because life simply is will to power." Pandas didn't seem to get the memo. They have no will to live or reproduce. To this day, scientists have to perform grotesque procedures to keep the panda population from collapsing into oblivion. Forget about the fact that pandas are mean-spirited, mate-abusing, progeny-mauling, deviant monsters. Forget about the fact that these hoodlum bears have conned humanity with their supposed cuteness. The most evil thing about pandas? The cunning with which they expose the stupidity of humans.

Pandas do seem rather inept at reproducing. Among the problems:
Female pandas are only on heat for 72 hours a year, and can only actually become pregnant during a 12 to 24 hour window during this time.
Male pandas have proportionately short penises meaning pairs must adopt a very exact position in order to mate.
During their observations, researchers found that pandas demonstrated poor knowledge of this position.
Researchers then employed methods ranging from sex education videos to viagra in order to stimulate natural behaviour.Most techniques failed, and many encounters between pandas turned aggressive and violent.
Quotes are from a BBC article about Giant panda breeding breakthrough in China which describes the innovative 'twin swapping' technique used at the Chengdu Panda Breeding Research Center in China.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Why did the turtle cross the road?

On Tuesday we will talk about wildlife corridors. These seem to attract the ire of those eager for less Government spending like nothing else (well, maybe the Teapot Museum comes close). The Florida turtle tunnel (funded with American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money) keeps cropping up on a lot of 'top lists' of Government waste. This is a pretty old story though, from WCJB TV in 2009:

Florida is receiving $13 billion in federal stimulus money to build roads, feed seniors and save jobs.
But $3.4 million of Florida’s cut is going to build a tunnel to help turtles cross a busy highway, and this turtle tunnel has some taxpayers outraged, according to the Capitol News Service....
Pace Allen, a member of several anti-tax groups, said the turtle tunnel is a waste of money.
“It’s outrageous, unbelievable, but I think there is a real opportunity for people to stand up and say, 'Look at this example. Our governments, federal, state and local, are totally out of control," Allen said.

Of course the more things change the more they stay the same. This time four years ago:
Who will protect our pic-a-nic baskets? (Also contains the answer to why a pants free, and otherwise rather casual, Yogi Bear always wore a necktie!)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

I Once Was Lost But Now Am Found: Return of the Bururi long-fingered frog

Over 60 years ago, a Belgian biologist discovered the Bururi long-fingered frog (Cardioglossa cyaneospila) in the African country of Burundi.  This beautiful amphibian is about 1.3 inches in length and has a black and bluish grey color pattern. The Bururi long-fingered frog had not been spotted since its discovery, leading some to believe the species had gone extinct.

Fortunately, this little guy was rediscovered during an expedition in the Burundi Forest Reserve last December.  Researchers David Blackburn and Eli Greenbaum were able to locate this rare species by listening for their frog calls, which they presumed to sound similar to its closest relative frog species from Cameroon.  While it is unknown how many of these little frogs actually exist, the researchers claim several dozen males were in the vicinity based on the number of frog calls heard.  Hopefully this species is back for good, but threats to their habitat are increasing due to “a growing human population […] moving into the Burundi mountains.” Their survival, along with many other rare species, will depend on the conservation efforts and public knowledge in the local communities.

I can’t help but wonder how many other species are not extinct, but rather just ‘lost’ in the world.  Do you think it’s possible that many claimed ‘extinct’ species are simply hiding out in areas that humans haven’t ventured to yet? My opinion - probably not, but I can’t help but hope.

For the full story, check out this National Geographic article.
Further information also found from the Huffington Post Internet Newspaper.