Sunday, May 20, 2012

Ecological Principles

While helping a faculty person do some pile sorting in her office, we unearthed this little gem.  Dan Willard was just a bit before my time at SPEA, and I feel like I've missed out not having met and worked with him.  He was well loved, and a pavilion in the research preserve was recently dedicated to him.  This is as  humorous, succinct and honestly useful a summation of ecological principles as I have ever seen.  I wish I'd had such a list available when I first started studying ecology.

Ecological Principles (a guide). Friedman and Willard, 1977-1999.

  1. The Individual Perspective - Each organism can only perceive the environment from its own point of view.
  2. The Individual Response Corollary - Each organism can only respond to what it perceives.
  3. The Darwin Corollary - Each individual is a result of the summed pressures, as the species perceives those pressures, and stochastic events. 
  4. Descarte’s Obvious - Organisms exist, therefore they are adapted to some set of conditions which occur.
  5. The Evolutionary Crap-shoot. - Stochastic events occur.
  6. Specialization Principle - Highest efficiency in use of a resource can be achieved by specialization.
  7. Generalization Principle - Greatest chance of survival in variable and unpredictable environments can be achieved by generalization.
  8. Conservation of Mass - Everything has to go somewhere; everything has to come from somewhere, therefore follow mass.
  9. Second Law of Thermodynamics - Organized systems need energy to maintain their organization, therefore follow energy-flow (look for disruption).
  10. Shelford's Law of Tolerance - Too much or too little is potentially troublesome.
  11. Toxic Substances Qualitative Principle  - Substances with which organisms have had no previous experience are potentially troublesome.
  12. Toxic Substances Quantitative Principle - Substances in concentrations an order of magnitude or more different from normal exposure are potentially troublesome.
  13. Competition Principle - Components which are less fit for a given environment tend to be replaced by others which are more fit to that environment.
  14. Law of Numbers - Plants and animals can't count; structural features (who connects to whom and how) are more important than numbers.
  15. Life-cycle Principle - Babies and adults are intimately connected.
  16. Stress Principle - Organizations tend to alter behavior when stress is encountered; disruption often comes from altered behavior rather than directly from the stress.
  17. Resiliency Principle - Up to a point, ecosystems can absorb stress with little alteration in their behavior; however, past that point they may change suddenly, drastically, and irreversibly.
  18. Principle of Emergency of Impacts - Effects are not necessarily immediate and gradual; they can appear sometime after the event and at distant places.
  19. Connectivity Principle - Everything is not intimately connected with everything else; but lots of things are.
  20. Variability Principle - Ecosystems are inherently variable.  Ecosystems do not tend towards stability, but do tend to change in a stable manner.
  21. Safe-Fail Principle - For ecosystems, we can expect that large fluctuations, irregularities and discrepancies with any theory will occur more or less regularly.  Plan for safe fail rather than fail safe approaches.
  22. Everything Leaks Rule - There are few closed systems.  Some leak more slowly than others.
  23. The Geographic Determinism Doctrine -  Everything happens someplace.  The outcome of events depends on the conditions where, and when, the event takes place.
  24. The Principle of Localities - Organisms must live someplace.  Most populations occupy several disjunct, ecologically similar, but slightly different localities.  Population dynamics express themselves through the sum of changes on each locality.
  25. Spreading-the-risk Corollary - Each locality differs and varies uniquely. Therefore each locality responds differently to external events.  Organisms spread the risk of extinction by inhabiting many localities.
  26. The Perspective of Scale - A molehill is a mountain to a mite.  An Icelandic volcanic eruption is just news in Australia.  The importance of events depends on the size of the ecosystem one studies.
  27. The Prolonged Engagement Principle - Time lends perspective to all things. A forest recovers from a fire in a few years and a lava flow in a few millennia. 
  28. The Notion of Benevolent Catastrophes - Consistency and stability stagnate ecosystems. External, stochastic events destabilize ecosystems causing increased spatial heterogeneity, temporal diversity and generally enhance the adaptability and resiliency of a system.
  29. The Notion of Malevolent Catastrophes - External events, induced either by human or natural actions, may cause the environment to change too quickly for the ecosystem to adapt, or to conditions beyond the adaptability of the organisms. Thus it becomes a new and different sort of ecosystem.
  30. Can't-Step-in-the-Same-River-Twice Paradigm - Everything changes in time and space.  Learn the processes and rates that form and control the ecosystem.  Then lead the target.
  31. Dynamic Disequilibrium Principle - Stability in one part of an ecosystem leads to instability in other parts. Hence the system if left alone is stably unstable.
  32. Inexorability Principle - The ecosystem doesn't give a damn whether you study it or not.
  33. The Non-intervention Option - Consider advantages of leaving ecosystems alone.  Then reconsider your management strategies.
  34. Occam’s Simplification - All ecologists eventually come to similar conclusions about things. 

Friday, March 16, 2012

Stupendous Shuttle Scenes

I am a big fan of space research, and space travel.  So allow me a brief foray outside the usual topics of this blog, and watch this.  Full screen, at high definition, if you can.

Pretty amazing.  It's incredible to think that even after detachment from the shuttle and fuel tank (and after they have ceased to produce thrust) the boosters gain an additional 13 miles of altitude. Truly awesome.

( i09)

(You might ask, what's that little squiggle mean? It means "via" and you can find out more about using it to attribute content online by clicking on it.)

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Intersection

It may interest you to know that I have a Bachelor's degree in Studio Art.

Art and Science have never seemed to be separate to me, a position held by some quite respectable minds over the years.  In my view, both are ultimately about applying a process of experimentation and refinement to a problem, until a solution is arrived upon.  Over time, others build on that work, and expand it into a deeper understanding of the world.  

That process and the blurry division of Art from Science sometimes pops up in a very elegant fashion.
Take, for instance, this:

I haven't yet looked into the actual apparatus, but I can make some educated guesses.  The "tone-arm" of the turntable is set to slowly track in across the slice of tree.  Instead of a stylus, it has a high magnification digital camera (hence the very bright light).  The image is then treated as raw sound data and fed into a sampler, where it triggers a piano sample.  Variation in the ring produce different notes: dark areas such as old injuries or burns produce bass notes.  Lighter areas produce higher notes.  The distance between them determines the timing, hence the cacophony of notes produced by the second "album", which is much more tightly grained. The width of the features may determine the sustain of the note.  

I quite like it, as it transforms the events in a tree's life into a music of sorts; the thin darker rings at the end of the growing season and impending senescence contrast with the light spring wood, injuries pop out any time they occur, and uneventful periods of even, continuous growth are silent.

(tip o' the hat to friend and cultural maven Theremina)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A brief poem-like observation, about crows

The crows roosted outside my office window in Bloomington tonight. 
They called and scolded and begged each other, high up in the cold trees. 

And when they seemed settled, for reasons known only to them, 
hundreds would suddenly leap into the air, silent except for the rush of black wings.

c. 1625–50 / 
Japanese Artist 

Friday, January 20, 2012

For Science: Fountain Pens

I've decide that I would launch a series on this here blog, which I am titling "For Science", drawing on a popular meme (and I am very fond of Portal myself).  In this series of indeterminate duration and frequency, I'm going to write about things that I think are useful for scientific use, and beyond.

This time, the subject matter is fountain pens.  Yes, fountain pens.  That probably seems like a rather odd topic, so allow me to give a brief diversionary explanation.  On Christmas, I was somewhat unexpectedly gifted with a vintage Parker 51 fountain pen (it's a very dark green, basically this pen). It's a lovely bit of work, and considered the greatest fountain pen of all time by many.  It is also not a cheap thing, and wasn't even when new.

And having a fountain pen, for the first time in my life, got me to thinking about how we write, and what we write with.  I have long held up the plastic water bottle as the ironic symbol of modern civilization.  It is made out of a material that lasts essentially forever, is filled with something we can get for almost free, and is intended to be used only once.  And then thrown away.  The standard ballpoint pen is remarkably similar.  Intended to be cheap, convenient and inconsequential to lose, and yet made of immortal materials.

I began to wonder how many hundreds of pens I had bought or borrowed, and then lost or thrown away over the course of my life. Estimates put the number of pens thrown away by Americans per year north of 1 billion.  That's pretty terrible.  I had recently attempted to only buy pens I could get refills for, but found that the refills were often hard to come by, and that the pens themselves were often no great shakes.  The idea of having a few well crafted and durable pens that I might use from here until I no longer need to write had never really occurred to me. Until I was given this Parker.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Amusing Corvid Antics

I have had crows on the brain, of late.  They have been roosting en masse not to far from my house for several weeks now, and I have been watching their roosting antics on my way too and from the office.  If things go well this weekend, I might do a more substantial post on my those crows.

But for now, allow me to share with you this video of a hooded crow (Corvus cornix), doing the sort of thing that makes us pay so much attention to corvids generally.