By now, we’re all familiar with this image: Velociraptors running at high speed toward a big lumbering dinosaur that the little demons subdue with an onslaught of murderous slashes from an outsized claw on their second toe. Mark Stevenson’s reproduction below is a vivid attempt to bring one of these battles to life.
This model by artist Charlie McGrady illustrates the unique foot structure of this group of dinosaurs. The first toe has moved back, and toes 2, 3, and 4 point forward. It’s that second digit (the “inside toe”) that has been greatly enlarged to support that famous sickle-shaped claw that we’re now so used to seeing elevated when the animal runs and swiped down to cut a huge slash in attack mode.
That basic toe structure is represented in modern birds. In a perching bird’s anisodactyl foot, digit 1 is moved to the rear, while digits 2–4 face…
In the life sciences and especially in ecology, conservation, wildlife management, etc., your success in this field is dictated by the same things that apply in just about any other field. You need to be intelligent, nimble, a good critical thinker, an excellent communicator, a team player, etc. You need to be the kind of person who other people will enjoy seeing every day at work. You need to be honest and trustworthy and capable with a passion for the work you do and a work ethic to see that it gets done. These might be qualities rooted in your family upbringing, your early education, and/or the general education courses you might take as an undergraduate.
You also need competency. Mostly this will come from courses within your major that you will take as an undergraduate. You absolutely need to demonstrate how proficient you are at finding new information, but it remains valuable to know things you don’t have to look up. Instant recall of information and working knowledge of method in our field might not be as rigorous as that demanded for something like the MCAT, but there is still an expectation that you know something about your intended career. You don’t need a 4.0 GPA to be successful in this field, but As and Bs in the most relevant courses in your major will serve you well.
You don’t need a 4.0 GPA to be successful in this field, but As and Bs in the most relevant courses in your major will serve you well.
Lastly, there’s experience. The thing that is likely to separate you from the pack of recent graduates with similar soft skills and technical education is what you really know how to do. That’s not just what you’ve been taught in class, it’s what you’ve practiced and proven you know how to do through repetition. There should be at least one thing, one skill, that you have honed to a professional degree before you complete your undergraduate education. It could be data analysis, GIS, electrofishing, prescribed fire, landowner incentive program implementation, small mammal trapping, plant/bird/insect/etc. identification and inventory… something.
Students who develop and cultivate at least one special skill might do so as part of an undergraduate research scholarship, a capstone project, involvement in relevant student clubs, or formal internships with wildlife agencies, NGOs, or consulting firms. Most, however, will gain that vital experience by working as a field technician on someone else’s (usually) seasonal research project. Graduate students will hire you to help them collect the data they need for their research projects. These positions will provide money, working experience to help you develop one or more crucial skills, networking, and the chance to decide over 2–3 months if field work is something you want to be doing for the rest of your career.
How do you land one of these important opportunities to work as a field technician, field assistant, or whatever a suitable position might be called? The first step is luck. But luck is little more than being prepared to take advantage of opportunity. So the real first step is to identify and cultivate some relevant skill that appeals to you before you ever apply for that technician position. Although there are plenty of opportunities for people to learn on the job, developing some basic skills you can claim before you apply would be even better.
Luck is… being prepared to take advantage of opportunity.
The next thing to recognize is that opportunities at your own university or within striking distance of your apartment will be a fraction of those available. Careers in wildlife ecology simply don’t occur in every community. This is not banking or health care or primary education where maybe you can have some say in where you might end up. If you’re serious about working in this field, then your chances of success increase dramatically if you’re able to relocate then if you’re not.
So, how does one find such positions? I recommend that as early as possible in your undergraduate career, you consult relevant job boards and make a habit of checking them perhaps monthly. Even a year or two before you might be ready to apply, it’s a great idea to have been reading job announcements to gain a sense for specific skills that seem to be in demand, the compensation offered, and important ancillary details such as how expenses for food and lodging in the field will be covered. There are multiple sites where such positions might be posted (including the following) and at time of writing (November) many people are already advertising positions for field work to begin next May.
For students considering graduate school, these same job boards also post opportunities usually under some separate heading like graduate assistantships. The best time to read through such announcements to gain a sense of what folks are looking for in new graduate students is about two years before graduation. The second best time is right now. Good luck!
You find a job announcement for a position that could be a great fit for you, but it’s due tomorrow! To apply, send CV (okay), a cover letter (yeah!), and three letters of recommendation from people who coul — (ugh, forget it! There’s no way I’m going to bug my references to drop everything and send letters on my behalf.) Result: You never even apply for what might have been a fantastic job.
Here in the USA, every week presents us with a new normal in our ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Many in this country seem to think that this is just how it has to be or, at the very least, they are woefully ignorant of how much better citizens in other countries have fared than we. Inspired by a question from a friend, it was time to revisit comparisons among the USA, South Korea, and China.
Much has changed since news of the emerging pandemic was filtering to us in January. China’s first death from COVID-19 seems to have occurred on 10 or 11 January. The Hubei lockdowns began with the 11 million people in Wuhan on 23 January. This dramatic move coincided with cancellation of Chinese New Year celebrations. Personally, this was the date (23 Jan.) that I knew that this was going to be a pandemic on a scale I’d not experienced in my lifetime. Why? Because even in China…
That news on January 23rd hit me like a ton of bricks. I’ve remained aghast at people elsewhere seemingly caught unawares. For example, I started suggesting by early March that students would not return to campus after Spring Break and people thought I’d lost my mind. But the writing was on the wall: it was a new virus for which most humans would have no immunity, it was highly virulent with a long and even asymptomatic infectious period, and it seemed to be more deadly than influenza.
There was one obvious strategy for dealing with coronavirus: keep people away from other people, develop tests and test *everyone*, and quarantine folks who tested positive or had contact with an infected person. This is what China and South Korea rapidly implemented in their public health response. The USA, not so much.
By early March, all three countries had buried their first COVID-19 victims, but folks in the US still weren’t taking it seriously, largely because our President was lying to the American people.
Since early March, the story has been decidedly different. Our early outbreak in New York City rapidly propelled the death rate upwards in the USA, and we haven’t adequately addressed it even 8–9 months into the pandemic.
So that’s the answer: Here in the USA we’ve accumulated a death rate of ~618 people/million, while in China and South Korea the comparable death rate is single digits. This public health nightmare in the United States was completely avoidable. It should have been a subject of caution and care, and it might even have changed the way we do some things. But it did not have to result in 200,000 (and steadily climbing) American deaths. That’s all due to mismanagement.
When white people hear “black lives matter”, many are distracted by the word black, and it leads them down the path of “Hey, ALL lives matter! Why are you singling out black people to receive special treatment?”
If this is what you think when you hear that phrase, then you have misunderstood the intent. The intent – and the part that resonates with most black people – is not the word black, but the word matter. “Black lives matter.”
Don’t feel bad. So much misunderstanding since the movement took hold could have been avoided had the message been better conveyed by simply adding the word too: “Black lives matter too.”
Also. As well. In addition to the lives of white people. As much as the lives of any other people.
The point is not to seek special treatment. The point is simply…
Writing for Resilience, Rob Brooks re-imagines a national defense grounded in Wendell Berry’s observation that “Earth is what we all have in common.”
“We need to pay as much attention to conserving and restoring the connectivity of the natural infrastructure (agricultural landscapes, river corridors, working waterfronts, land corridors through diverse ecosystems) as we do for the built infrastructure (regional electrical grids, water systems, roadways).” ~Robert Brooks, 2020
Sgt. 1st Class Shelman Spencer photo. Joint training of military and civilian personnel for disaster preparedness, 2016. We already do this. Let’s do more!
I bet rarely would people respond that they feel well-represented in government. I know I’m not well-represented when I long for a revolution in renewable energy but one of my senators is the guy who thinks snowballs in winter refute anthropogenic global warming. I can’t count on that guy to represent my world view in Washington. That’s okay (well, not really), but he’s my senator not my puppet. It would be weird if he was in lockstep with me.
I’m into even wackier stuff, too. I want to see aggressive campaigns to help slow human population growth. While I’m a fan of economic strength, I’m not a fan of economic growth – I’d prefer a steady-state economy that operates within the confines of renewable natural resource availability.
These are some seriously fringe ideas and, even though they are grounded in science, I don’t expect these mantles to be…
As we have now left March 2020 in the rear-view mirror, I thought it might be a good idea to adjust my semi-weekly interpretation of national comparisons on #COVID-19 deaths and drill drown into some data from US states. Apropos of, well, everything to our current state of residence, I’ve focused here on our adopted home of Oklahoma.
See how Oklahoma’s red dot is not only small, it’s close in size to the gray dot containing it. This means that we’re not testing many people, and the ones we are testing are the most gravely ill. Of 1159 positive tests, 316 were sick enough to require hospitalization (that’s 27%!) and 42 died (3.6% case fatality rate).
To avoid some of that uncertainty, I prefer to examine those data for which we have the greatest confidence: confirmed deaths from COVID-19. These are undercounted too, but much less-so that the undercounted number of total cases. We can track the number of deaths over time to examine the doubling rate, i.e., the number of days it takes for the death toll to double as an indication of the speed of spread through a population. Note that if our observed data indicate any kind of predictable pattern, the number of deaths will be ~13% of the number of people requiring hospitalization to recover, and that helps us examine and predict overload capacity at our hospitals. For example, when we hit 100 deaths in Oklahoma, we will have have needed to accommodate 769 people in hospital.
…when we hit 100 deaths in Oklahoma, we will have have needed to accommodate 769 people in hospital.
So here are some data on deaths in Oklahoma:
Our first confirmed death from COVID-19 was on 19 March. As of 4 April, 42 Oklahomans have died from coronavirus.
Because raw data can jump around so much from day to day, here I’ve plotted deaths and a rolling average number of deaths. The rolling average was taken from the day listed plus the number of deaths on the previous two days. This 3-day average smooths the variability a bit, revealing a fairly steady increase in deaths.
Doubling time is the number of days it takes to double the number of deaths. Early on in an epidemic there is a lot of variability. The US doubling rate is currently 4 days; global deaths are doubling every 7 days. So far we started at about 5 days, got down to 1–2 days (very rapid increase) and are maybe stabilizing now at 2–3 days. Our overall number of deaths is not comparatively large just yet, but the rate at which they are accumulating is fast.
So how early are we in this fight? Just for my own edification, I’ve considered the day each country hit double-digit deaths as the real start of the epidemic in those countries. This is just to trim off some of the first data points to help see patterns a little better.
I see two interesting things in these data. First, the 9 days it took for Oklahoma to register double-digit deaths is more similar to the 11 days for China than for the 3–4 days for the other countries (and Washington State). This tells me that we’re about as in the dark on our outbreak now as China was way back in mid-January. Next, we are just beginning here in Oklahoma. It was just March 28th that we hit double digits – just 8 days prior to today that I’m writing this (5 April).
That last point bears repeating. Here in Oklahoma we hit double-digit deaths on 28 March, 8 days ago. We are currently under the Safer At Home ordinance in Oklahoma, and will be until 30 April. This is not nearly as stringent a requirement nor as clear a message to citizens as the Shelter in Place order that most other states have adopted. China has fared much better than we have in the US or in Italy or Spain, precisely because they rapidly moved to confine people to their homes and enforced that social isolation. For example, the Wuhan (a city of 11 million people) lockdown began on 23 January – a mere 1 day after China’s double-digit death occurred. In contrast, it is EIGHT DAYS past our double-digit date in Oklahoma, we are still nowhere near as tightly confined to our homes as were the people of Wuhan.
The longer we put off serious social distancing, the longer we will have to do it. It is not enough for those of us voluntarily sheltering in place in Oklahoma when so many still are not. I call on Governor Kevin Stitt to immediately issue a shelter in place order for the Sooner State. Every day we delay will result in needless deaths for our state.
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).
Francesco Veronesi photo, 30 August 2013, Colombia
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.
Year-round distribution of Glistening-green Tanager
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 […]
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.
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.
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 eBirdedGilligan’s Island? Rabbit hole: entered.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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 […]
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.
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.
Water Lily Nebula, Kwok et al. 1999.
Aspartic Acid, by Jynto..
A generalized prokaryotic cell, by Ali Zifan.
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.
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.
George Catlin’s 19th Century paintings capturing various methods Native Americans employed to hunt bison illustrate the ingenuity, planning, and cooperation of humans focused on a common objective.
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.
Persian astronomy. 15th-century manuscript written in the north-eastern Timurid Empire, now Central Asia, in the 15th century. The manuscript is a commentary on an earlier work from the 13th century. The author of the commentary is Salah al-Din Musa ibn Muhammad (1364-1436), also known as Qadi Zada. He worked in Samarkand, the Timurid capital, at the court of Ulugh Beg. Here, he is commenting on the famous Islamic astronomy work known as the ‘Mulahhas fi al-Hay’a Al-Basita’ (‘The Compendium of Plain Astronomy’), written by Jighmini (died 1221). The text and diagrams describe the Earth and the orbits of the Sun and other planets.
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.
This 15 September 2019 video says about itself: Chalicotherium – The Hoofed Gorilla-Mimic This strange extinct mammal is actually related to horses, rhinos and tapirs, but they evolved in a very distinct way, giving rise to some of the most unique animals that ever lived. If anyone knows who the artist is that did the […]
I’m always puzzled by students who habitually miss class. I don’t mean the students who are facing serious challenges of one type or another, I mean the ones who wake up and decide, “Nah.” The student – or someone – has forked over a lot of money in tuition and fees and, if for no other reason than that it demonstrates sloppy handling of investments, it seems silly to me to skip out.
He looks so sad.
People are a diverse lot of course and the flipside is also true: I have students who drag their nearly-dead selves into class when they are sick and should absolutely not be there. But it’s the former I can’t figure out. They could be there and they should be there and it’s well established that missing classes can reduce your grade. I’ve often wondered though, how much can one miss before one’s grades begin to suffer?
It depends, obviously. Miss a day in one of my classes and you can make it up without difficulty. Daydream for 5 minutes in a differential calculus class and your entire semester could be doomed.
Just focusing on one of my classes then, I did some back-of-the-napkin figuring. This class meets just two days a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays for 75 minutes. I have a couple of excused absences built into the grading scheme, to accommodate the aforementioned students who might have to miss from being sick or getting a flat tire or had trouble arranging child care, etc. There are a couple of other meetings that are taken up with exams. All told, there are 26 unexcused meetings of the class for which testable material will be covered. So once a student has used up excused absences, how many more can they miss before they’re likely to drop a letter grade in the course?
I think it works out a bit like this. To earn an A, one must grasp at least 90% of the material covered. With each unexcused absence, however, the student is missing incrementally more and more of the course content. Mastering 90% of 75% of the material does not produce the same outcome as mastering 90% of 100% of the material. Thus, with all matter of caveats and assumptions about linear relationships, equal amounts of course material provided per lecture, etc. it looks like missing even one more than the two excused absences in my course could be enough to drop an A student to a B. Missing two or three (so four to five total absences) almost certainly costs a full letter grade. Those habitual truants, i.e., people who might wrack up four or five unexcused absences? Even their most diligent efforts will likely relegate them to grades of C or lower. The good news is that this problem is readily corrected by the simple act of walking through the door. Go to class!
Originally posted on The Waterthrush Blog: Look, I get it. You’ve been raised and educated in a society that values faith foremost. The stronger your faith the closer you are to God, and there is no better way to demonstrate…
I’ve written occasionally on the The Waterthrush Blog about various topics to help students succeed through their undergraduate coursework, find opportunities for research and field experience, pursue graduate school, etc. The advice I have to offer comes uniquely though the lens of my personal experiences as someone poor, ill-prepared, and ignorant of the path I needed to follow, but ultimately successful in realizing my goal as a research/teaching professor at a large university. My views are heavily biased but do provide the perspective of remembering what it felt like to be a struggling undergraduate student while today working to mentor students trying to navigate similar struggles. (Also, a lot of my examples focus on building a career in ornithology, but don’t let the specific subject matter distract you from the broader messages.)
This post is simply an effort to consolidate links to others on relevant topics so it’s a bit easier for folks to find potentially helpful content. If there’s a theme to any of these posts, it lies in my desire to make plain the things I wish were made plain to me, long before I ultimately figured them out.