You Share the Planet With #2: Glistening-green Tanager

It’s taken me one year for the 2nd installment of this series on species of birds new to me, and perhaps to you too. I want to resist the temptation to only present the most colorful species when I do this, but as I perused about 400 species of tanagers today, I found that I could not resist this one. I am as much enamored with its name as I am its unwordly countenance. I present to you, the Glistening-green Tanager (Chlorochrysa phoenicotis, a.k.a., the green and golden bird with the ear of flame).

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Francesco Veronesi photo, 30 August 2013, Colombia

What a beauty! Bright green is actually a rare color among birds that aren’t parrots, and only turacos are pigmentedly green. In the case of this tanager, that’s yellow-pigmented feathers (from carotenoids sequestered from food) combined with structural reflectance of melanosomes that would otherwise render this bird brilliant blue to our eyes. Pigmented yellow + structural blue = glistening-green.

These birds offer a window into the extraordinary adaptive radiation of the family of birds we call tanagers. Exclusively Western Hemisphere and primarily Neotropical, hundreds of species comprise this group that includes insectivores, canopy frugivores, aerial salliers, nuthatch-like probers, nectar-feeders, etc. Evolutionary plasticity being what it is, the boundaries of what makes a tanager or a warbler or a sparrow are shifting all the time. Darwin’s “finches”, seedeaters, and flowerpiercers are currently considered to be tanagers; oddly the North American breeding species (Scarlet, Hepatic, Summer, and Western) aren’t tanagers at all – they are Cardinals!

The Glistening-green Tanager is suitably bright and tropical-looking as befits the wet, mossy forests it calls home. It occupies a narrow band of cloud forest, roughly 1000–2000m on the Pacific slopes of the Andes in Colombia and Ecuador, where it is apparently resident. Arthropods make up the bulk of the diet, though fruits are taken as well. The nest is evidently a small cup of moss.

These birds are not listed as a conservation priority according to the International Union on the Conservation of Nature. Given the limited distribution, however, that rosy outlook could change fairly quickly.

So there you have it: a brilliant little bird I learned about today, and would love to visit at home in the clouds someday.

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Year-round distribution of Glistening-green Tanager


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Recording lectures is good for students, good for instructors, and good for public health — Dynamic Ecology

I’ve been thinking of writing a post about my experiences with recording lectures in Intro Bio for a while, and, with coronavirus spreading, now seems like a good time to finally write it up. Overall, I think there have been a lot of different benefits — well beyond what I initially anticipated. And, at a time […]

via Recording lectures is good for students, good for instructors, and good for public health — Dynamic Ecology

Faculty, should you provide your students with recordings of your lectures?  Writing for Dynamic Ecology, the University of Michigan’s Meghan Duffy argues – eloquently – in the affirmative.

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Yes, we know that “the climate has always changed”…

… but that’s not the point. Here’s what that point really is.

The concentration of global, atmospheric CO2 today exceeds 400 ppm. The last time that happened on Earth was something like 2–5 million years ago, in the Pliocene Epoch (the one that came just before the Pleistocene). At that time, global average temperature was 2–3ºC higher than today. Back then, humans (this was the transition from the genus Australopithecus to the genus Homo) were doing stuff like this:

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What’s more, and this part is key, sea levels were higher than they are today. It’s a bit of a sticky wicket to determine how much higher – and this is an important component of ongoing climate research – but the range of estimates cover about 5–40(!)m higher. Yes, the prospect of a 40-m rise in sea level should terrify you, and even a 5m rise could still be devastating. Let’s take a moderate value for the sake of argument and run with a 20-m rise under a scenario of 2–3ºC warming under CO2 concentrations above 400 ppm. (Limiting global temperature by 2100 to even 3ºC above the current baseline is looking increasingly optimistic, unfortunately. International plans are calling for action to keep us from an increase of 1.5ºC by 2100, and there is little chance of that happening.) Of all the things that happen when sea levels rise, our focus needn’t be anywhere other than on the most obvious problem: there is less land.

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There’s a good chance that babies born today will experience a world 80 years hence that is an astounding 4ºC warmer than it is today.

Of all the things that happen when sea levels rise, our focus needn’t be anywhere other than on the most obvious problem: there is less land.


Rather unlike our nomadic hunting ancestors of the Pliocene, today’s humans number more than 7.7 billion. Each one of us is a mouth to feed, at the very least. Even more troubling, however, is where we are: Nearly 50% of us live within about 200km of a coastline. That’s 3 billion people. By 2025, that number is estimated to be 6 billion. There’s also a heck of a lot of our food still grown on our broad coastal plains, and we are going to need as much productive farmland as we can muster as our population continues to edge upward toward about 9 billion. Land use change – generally from farmland, forest, and wetland to suburban and urban land uses – is occurring twice as fast in coastal zones of the Lower 48 US states than elsewhere in the country.

So we have constraints in response to a warmer climate today that Homo habilis did not. It does not matter that global climate changes over time or that alligators once bellowed from swamps in the primordial Alaska. What matters is the effect of such changes on the people and the infrastructure that must find a way to adapt to those changes. As coastal zones face increasing pressure from rising sea level, billions of people will be displaced over the next century. Think of a war that was not on some level about land. I’ll wait. (I assume some military historians might be able to argue for at least a couple of examples but in general it’s no contest: wars are fought over access to natural resources, i.e., land.)


Think of a war that was not on some level about land.


Quips about my future oceanfront property in Oklahoma aside, rising sea levels will mean less land for people, less land for growing food to feed people, refugee crises, famine, disease, and war.

That’s the point.


Posted in academics, deforestation, editorial, Endangered Species Act, environment, evolution, history, IUCN, overpopulation, skepticism and science, weather | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wildlife of the real Gilligan’s Island(s)

Please don’t ask how I come up with these things because I can’t explain it, but I found myself wondering if anyone had ever eBirded Gilligan’s Island? Rabbit hole: entered.

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I mean, come on.

Quick history: Gilligan’s Island was a goofy comedy brainchild of Sherwood Schwartz. It ran for three seasons on CBS from 1964–1967. You know the rest, e.g., it’s probably never stopped being aired in syndication somewhere in the world, I’ve been in love with Dawn Wells my entire life, etc.

But what of the island itself? Fans of the show will know that the infamous three-hour tour ended with The Minnow marooned on an uncharted island 250 miles southeast of Hawaii. Truly deranged fans out there might also know that the legendary coordinates are 10°N, -140°W. This puts a pin on a map, but there is nary a speck of land anywhere near that pin. Perhaps at some point I’ll seek ocean data on this spot in the North Pacific, but that’s not what I’m after at the moment. I want to know more about the island itself, i.e., the one that appears in the credits.

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This is where the fabled Gilligan’s Island is supposed to be.

Ah yes, the island. Of course, this is more complicated than it at first appears. The credits change between the first season (black and white with “and the rest” in the opening theme song) and seasons two and three (in color and, on Bob Denver’s demand,”the Professor and Mary Ann” in the theme song). Do you know what else is different? The island. In the first season, this is our view from offshore of Gilligan’s Island:

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That’s Sandy Cay, in the Bahamas. People go to Sandy Cay all the time. They go to lots of Sandy Cays, in fact. But the one described as used for the photo in the opening credits does not appear to be mapped. If I’m ever able to find it mapped, it looks like ghost crabs, hermit crabs, and the odd Ruddy Turnstone are all I can expect to be reported as terrestrial wildlife there. So let’s try the other one.

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Seasons 2 and 3 had a different island serve as the opening credits backdrop. This is Coconut Island, or Moku-o-loe, in Oahu’s Kaneohe Bay in the Hawaiian Islands. It currently serves as the field station for the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology. You’d think that surely there’d be some eBird checklists for a biological field station, but nope. There are some interesting marine species reported there on iNaturalist, plus some obvious things like Mallard, Red-crested Cardinal, Mourning Gecko, etc. I’m looking for birds, though.

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That pale blue marker off to the right, however, does provide some indication for at least some bird species that might occur at this Gilligan’s Island. That’s the Marine Core Hawaii Base, and checklists submitted from that hotspot suggest that about 45 bird species can be found in the area. Of those, the most frequently encountered are Black-necked Stilt, Cattle Egret, Zebra Dove, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Warbling White-Eye, Common Waxbill, Pacific Golden-Plover, Red-vented Bulbul, Northern Cardinal, and Common Mynah – none of which I remember any of the Castaways mentioning.



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The state of global biodiversity — it’s worse than you probably think —

Sobering synopsis here by CJA Bradshaw. For those of us who study natural history, such information confronts us every day. It can be easy to forget that we are a tiny minority of the billions of humans on this planet for whom such summaries are vital to grabbing their attention. Especially in the world’s most prosperous nations our way of life is unsustainable. Mars, Europa, Alpha Centauri – even if we could travel to and terraform other worlds for human colonization, this is not the answer. We must redesign our way of life to survive within the biocapacity of Earth.


I often find myself in a position explaining to non-professionals just how bad the state of global biodiversity really really is. It turns out too that even quite a few ecologists seem to lack an appreciation of the sheer magnitude of damage we’ve done to the planet. The loss of biodiversity that has occurred over […]

via The state of global biodiversity — it’s worse than you probably think —

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Your life is profoundly meaningful

It’s quite simple, really.

The matter in our universe is comprised of the same elements throughout. Proportions differ and it might be mixed together differently here and there, but it’s the same stuff.

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Distant stars and galaxy clusters, European Southern Observatory.

Some of those mixes develop self-replication under certain conditions. Self-replication can be perpetuated through the ability to use energy, respond to external stimuli, grow, reproduce, etc., and we call that life.


Different forms of external stimuli have favored the development of sophisticated sensory and nervous systems, memory, and communications in certain branchlets of a vast evolutionary bush.

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African Wild Dogs, Charles J. Sharp photo.

One tiny bud on a branchlet of that bush has developed in an extraordinary way. Tremendous brain power – perhaps first developed so well to help make sense of complex social dynamics in a long-lived species, to support spatial memory of resource allocation during lean times, and to promote complex coordination of action and anticipation of events that enhanced survivorship – happened to combine high intelligence with manual dexterity.

Those were the raw materials for technological advances that created abundance sufficient to afford the luxury of devoting our intelligence to matters beyond mere survival. One result of that was the desire and ability to study, catalog, and develop tests to help us learn more about the natural world. From within those endeavors came the revelation that… we are comprised of the same elemental stuff as the stars and planets and comets, etc.

YOU are the physical and intellectual manifestation of a sentient universe. The universe developed the ability to examine itself. That’s us. That’s it. Sagan’s “We are a way for the Cosmos to know itself” is not only more profound a revelation than any fairy tale in any holy book, it carries the added gravitas that comes from being true.

This has never made me feel insignificant. If anything, it calls to me and gives me purpose in life. You and me and everyone ever – our collective experience is the fulfillment of the universe, incrementally, learning about itself. I am never lonely and never bored. Every day of my life is a chance to advance that mission. “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” We get to be a part of that, and it’s amazing.

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Vet school for an Oklahoma State grad at the University of Glasgow: The Beginning

From the Adventures of Future Dr. Z

via The Beginning

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