Thursday, May 26, 2011

Remember boys and girls...

Smashed House 1 by tertiarymatt
Smashed House 1, a photo by tertiarymatt on Flickr.
Mother Nature is tough, and she will cut you.

This is about a block from my house.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Book Review: Crow Planet

Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness, by Lyanda Lynn Haupt. New York: Little, Brown and Company P, 2009. 229 pp.

Among the native birds of North America, there is probably no more common or successfully adapted urban species than the American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos. Corvids of many stripes have been the focus of much recent research and writing, as it has become clear that they are perhaps the most intelligent of birds. While many researchers have focused on more exotic species, such as the New Caledonian Crow, or the more rare and reclusive Common Raven, the American Crow has recently been the highlight of publications out of the University of Washington (by John Marzluff, in particular), and has been the subject of an episode of the television show NOVA. Nearly ubiquitous throughout North America and an extremely common and capable urban animal, the crow also makes a natural centerpiece for Lyanda Lynn Haupt’s Crow Planet, a book that is not so much about crows as it is one that orbits around them.

Haupt is a naturalist, educator, bird lover, environmental activist and writer living in Seattle. It is in this urban setting that she tells a story that is by turns a natural history of the American Crow, including some quite good advice on how to become a naturalist in the traditional sense of the word; a collection of interesting bits of literature and history in the field of naturalism; a philosophical musing on what it means to be a naturalist, an environmentalist, or a human being living in an urban environment; and a personal confession of her battle with her own fragile condition as all three.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Decline by Fall (part II)

As I mentioned, here is the second half of the bumblebee paper (first half here). This section is probably more accessible, as it's a good bit less technical.  A quick summary of the first half:  many species of wild bumblebees are in steep decline around the world, for as yet unknown reasons.  Potential sources of the decline may be parasites spread by commercially reared bees, the impact of pesticides (which are not typically lethal, but which may negatively impact colony health, and on which the research is very conflicted), and problems associated with habitat loss, foraging patterns, and when bees emerge.  The second part of this paper deals with how we might move to protect wild bees.  

Conservation of Bumblebees

The above factors (parasites, pesticides, habitat loss, and bee phenology) may interact in unknown ways to produce the worldwide decline of some species of bumblebees.  Because these bees are important for food production purposes and the maintenance of  current ecosystem structures dependent on their pollination activities, successful conservation efforts will need to mitigate as many potential negative factors acting on their populations as possible, until precise, species-specific causes can be determined, and more detailed conservation plans produced.   Steps such as reducing rates of parasitic infestation in commercial bumblebees are of obvious benefit to the stakeholders, while it may be more difficult to generate interest in others, such as active management of field margins, or a return to crop rotations involving fallow periods.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Five Lined Skink

So, yesterday I saw this guy in my recycling bin:

Five Lined Skink by tertiarymatt
Five Lined Skink, a photo by tertiarymatt on Flickr.

This is a male five lined skink (Plestiodon fasciatus), in his breeding colors.  He's also missing his tail, which is likely due to a neighborhood cat, or perhaps an opossum or skunk.  He was probably in there looking for bugs, since the cat food cans tend to attract them.

Also, part II of the bees paper will go up soon, probably later today.  I'm sure y'all just can't wait.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Decline by Fall (part 1)

I promised I was going to talk about things other than nuclear power, and lo: so it shall be written, so it shall be done.  Here, I present the first half of a paper I produced earlier this year, dealing with the fate of bumblebees.  I'm quite fond of the fuzzy little beasts.


While the mainstream press has been primarily focused on the precipitous decline of European honeybees (Apis melliferra) and the emergence of Colony Collapse Disorder, wild native bees have also been suffering significant losses in numbers and range ( reviewed by Spivak et al. 2011, Williams and Osborne 2009).  There are some 4,000 species of bees native to North America, including bumblebees (Bombus spp), leafcutter bees (Megachile spp), mining bees (Andrena spp), mason bees (Osmia spp), and others, many of which are important pollinators of New World crops (Spivak et al. 2011).  I will focus primarily on Bombus species, as these are among the most studied of wild bees, and include species that are reared commercially worldwide for use as pollinators of plants such as tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum) and peppers (Capsicum spp) in greenhouses.

Across North America and Europe, wild bee losses have not been consistent, and the factors causing them are uncertain.  Some species appear to be more or less unaffected, while others have suffered large losses, possibly due to species-specific ecological processes (reviewed by Murray et al. 2009).  Three historically common, closely related North American Bombus species (B. occidentalis, B. affinis, B. terricola) have been shown to have large reductions in their home range (23-87%) and relative abundance, while other species have remained stable in their distribution and abundance (Cameron et al. 2011).