New Zealand takes a stand against feral predators

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Have you seen a kiwi? Not the fruit, or the person (people from New Zealand call themselves kiwis) but the ground dwelling bird. They are horribly impractical. Their eggs take up a third of their body. They fly, they don’t run particularly fast, they aren’t clever, but they are adorable, and they have spent a long time living on this planet.

And they are rapidly going extinct in the wild due to introduced feral predators.

But New Zealand has gone nuclear on these pests, and recently vowed to eliminate all invasive predators by 2050.

Read about how they are going to accomplish this ambitious task over at the New York Times.

The kiwi egg before laying. That's how much of its body cavity is taken up by egg.

The kiwi egg before laying. That’s how much of its body cavity is taken up by egg.

How Women Are Harassed Out of Science

I had someone tell me the other day that if women were less extreme as feminists then people might not write them off as quickly. If we were quieter then things might change.

I so completely disagree with this statement that I will continue writing about the problems facing women in science indefinitely.

So, there is another new article about how women in science face consistent, ingrained, societally approved sexism and harassment in the workplace. Enjoy!

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Rewriting the book on Lichens

As I mentioned on Friday, science communication is all about stories. And this one is a doozy.

After a not so traditional education, Toby Spribille has found that lichens are not what we thought they were. We have long known that lichens are 1 part algae and 1 part fungi.

But it turns out that’s not true. Turns out, it’s 2 parts fungi (two different types of fungi to boot), and 1 part algae. We’ve been getting it wrong for decades.

Read the story of this discovery over at the Atlantic!

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How to write Science for the Public (Non-scientists)

One of our reasons for starting this blog was to write a biology blog for the general public. I think one of the biggest concerns in the US is scientific illiteracy, and we as a collaborative group, wanted to combat that.

My friend recently posted this comment on facebook, and it really stuck me:

“Tritrophic is not a real word. Your reader does not know the words tritrophic, ecological assemblage, genomics or parthenogenesis. That is not because your reader is dumb. It is because scientists made up those words and never told anyone but other scientists. Don’t underestimate the intelligence of your readers. Readers can be very clever, but it is not their job to know all of the words that you and the twelve people you call colleagues made up.”

Rob Dunn

This caused me to seek the source, and it’s an EXCELLENT blog post about how to write science for the public. We tend towards dry, complex sentences that convey information. While we shouldn’t necessarily be making things up (please) we as scientist should do a better job of conveying our passion and enthusiasm. And Rob’s blog post is an excellent set of rules for how to do that. CHECK IT OUT HERE!

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Notes from the Field: The Maelstrom of Bee Viruses

I recently completed my PhD (yay!) and started my postdoc (eep!). I’m working at Martin-Luther University in Halle-Wittenburg. It’s no secret that I’m obsessed with the genetics of coevolution, I studied it in snails and trematodes in New Zealand for the last 6 years. So this postdoc is a change of pace in a very similar subject.

#pollinatorselfie

#pollinatorselfie

I’m studying the genetics of host-parasite coevolution in bees and their viruses. Specifically, I’m looking at host shifts, the genetics of increased virulence and the effect of recombination and migration on local adaptation. WHO’S EXCITED JUST BY READING THAT LAST SENTENCE? Me.

Honey bees with their varroa mites (the red dots near their wings)

Honey bees with their varroa mites (the red dots near their wings)

Let’s start with a little background. Bees have been declining across Europe and the US for the last few decades and the reason why isn’t quite clear. One hypothesis is that it is due to infestation with varroa mites, tiny mites that feed on the hemolymph of honey bees and increased in prevalence across Europe over the past few decades (similar pattern around the world except for Australia). However, the extent to which the varroa kills/harms/reduces the fitness of honey bees is unclear.

 

Enter the virus (and me, really). There are a series of viruses that are found in bees everywhere, including in honey bees, bumble bees and wild bees, Deformed Wing Virus (DWV). But it’s been at relatively low levels, and doesn’t seem to cause serious mortality within hives. Unless, that is, DWV occurs with varroa mites. Then the virus sweeps through the population, annihilating the hive. So, is this increase in virulence of DWV associated with an ecological shift, such that the varroa mites are injecting the virus when they feed, rather than the bees simply eating the virus when it’s found on flowers? Or is it a genetic change that has caused the virus to sweep through populations where it previously was fairly benign. And does this effect honey bees, or is it spilling over into the bumble bee and wild bee populations?

Honey bees with DWV.

Honey bees with DWV.

Which brings me to the field. The first step of my postdoctoral position has been to collect honey bees and bumble bees from islands off the coast of Scotland. Why islands? Because everything on the mainland is saturated with varroa mites. To compare the effect of the virus on bumble bee populations with and without varroa we’re looking at three types of islands: islands without honey bees (varroa can only infect honey bees), islands with honey bees and that don’t have varroa, and islands with honey bees and varroa. The list of things I want to do with this data is long, and will involve another post (stay tuned), but for starters we’re looking for transcriptional difference between the virus in these three types of islands.

And maybe looking at local adaptation. Or trying to understand how long it takes negative frequency dependent selection to act within an haplodiploid population. Or using spatial covariance to find the genomic regions involved in coevolution. Stay tuned kids, this is going to get exciting.

In the meantime, I’ve got to go collect some more bees.

Where the bees are. In this case, Colonsay Scotland.

Where the bees are. In this case, Colonsay Scotland.

 

Pokemon GO- bad for evolution education?

There are many reasons Pokemon GO is great. People are getting outside, exercising more, and generally becoming more engaged with their communities.

But it’s not great for the public’s understanding of evolutionary biology.

Why you might ask? Read about it over at Forbes.

And if you want a studio that is working on making a game that’s good at teaching evolution, check out Polymorphic Games. It’s a collaborative effort to develop games that teach evolution, but are as fun as Grand Theft Auto.

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Advancements in the evolution of the female orgasm

Male orgasm is pretty easy to figure out. Without it, there is no insemination, so evolutionarily if you can’t get off you can’t make babies. Pretty straight forward.

The female orgasm however is more of a mystery. It is unclear why it occurs (and to some, unclear HOW it occurs).

So the recent research on the evolutionary origin of the female orgasm in The Journal of Experimental Zoology… earth shattering.

Read about the results over at the New York Times!

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