From a friend who works for the forest service:
“This week my colleagues and I have had to deal with confusing gag orders and onerous requests for information and justifications of our work. In one case, I was given only half an hour to write statements on a number of pending agreements to explain why they were in the “public interest.” Note, these agreements involve *already allocated funds*, that have gone through *numerous justification and vetting processes already*. I have no idea how these justification requests will be used, but signs out of other agencies are ominous.
All of that said, the *single most pressing issue* for us right now is the blanket hiring freeze. We can muddle through with a hiring freeze on permanent staff, but my work and that of many of my colleagues (and much the functioning of the rest of the Federal system) depends on temporary and seasonal workers.
If this part of the ban is not lifted, then I will not be able to complete a number of projects that are critical to learning how we can best restore arid ecosystems in the Western United States. These lands are under threat from increasing fire frequency, invasive species and other disturbances. These lands support and sustain wildlife, pollinators, rare plants, clean air, clean water, Native American tribes, recreationists, sportsmen and ranchers. These lands are part of our heritage as Americans.
If you would like to help Federal scientists and other Federal employees continue to provide the public service that you have *already paid for* as a tax payer, please consider adding *lifting the ban on temporary and seasonal hiring* to your list of things that you are calling your Senators and Representatives about. Thank you.”
Friend and sometime contributor, Devin Drown, has recently started up a research program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (Congrats Devin!). And this summer he lead an army of undergraduates on a series of interesting projects near or above the Artic Circle.
Sadly, coordinating and advising an army of undergraduates doesn’t leave too much time for writing blog posts. But he has kindly sent me these interesting snippets from the field. Check them out!
Toolik Field Station to use MinION sequencing.
Fairbanks Permafrost Experiment Station
Gathering Ancient DNA from Permafrost
Birds have a number of loud and showy ways to attach a mate. But they also have a subtle one: smell.
And it turns out that some of that smell are naturally made by bacteria in the preening gland.
So I’m not saying you should use “hey girl, you smell like the best bacteria” as a pick up line, but it might be worth trying!
(If you’re a bird. NiB is not responsible for this interaction going south)
Read all about the work by Danielle Whittaker over at Science News!
“Hey girl, you smell like the sexiest microbes”
I am a fan of the uncharismatic (so far I’ve studied plants, snails, trematode and will soon branch to bees).
And there are few things in the world more universally charismatic than dinosaurs. Seriously, look no further than the Jurassic Park movies.
I promise that this is not the start of another AMAZING summer about dinosaurs (see last summer’s posts), but my love of the uncharismatic and my love of dinosaurs meet in this awesome comic about taphonomy! It’s the science of how bones are made into bones!
And it’s a pretty cute cartoon. Go check it out! I haven’t seen the Corkboard of Curiosities blog before, but it looks promising!
Remember Joshua trees? If you read this blog, you probably do. They’re an ecological keystone species — and a cultural icon — in the Mojave desert, and they have a fascinating, co-evolving relationship with yucca moths. Some contributors to this very blog, have been studying that pollination relationship and its evolutionary consequences for a decade, building on natural history research that goes back to the time of Charles Darwin.
Up to now, though, modern genetic tools have been of limited use for Joshua trees, because no one has assembled the complete DNA sequence of a Joshua tree. Having a “reference genome” would let those of us who study the trees identify specific genes involved in coevolution with yucca moths, compare the evolutionary effects of that pollination mutualism to natural selection exerted by the harsh environments in which the trees grow, and even use genome-scale data to inform Joshua tree conservation planning.
Well, we’ve decided it’s time to do all of that, and we’re asking for help. A team of folks with expertise in Joshua trees’ natural history, Mojave Desert ecology, and genomic data analysis launched the Joshua Tree Genome Project a couple weeks ago, with a crowd-funding campaign on Experiment.com to pay for part of the DNA sequencing we’d need to assemble a reference genome.
We’re approaching 50% of our funding goal, and leading a competition among projects based at undergraduate universities to recruit the most donors, which could win us $2,000 in matching funds — so even if you give as little as $1, you’re providing a big boost to the project. Go check out the Joshua Tree Genome Project website, and then head on over and pledge your support.
Arctic lakes are not known for their cute and cuddly organisms. But to be fair, they must endure crazy extremes. During the summer they are blasted with 24 hours a day of ultraviolet radiation, and during the winter they endure months of icy blackness, and low levels of life-sustaining nutrients all around.
And yet, some life seems to thrive in this environment. Take for example, the sea tomato. Sea tomatoes are round, plumn and look adorable. However, they are actually colonies of toxin-producing cyanobacteria. And they are piling up on the bottom of Greenland’s lakes. Although sea tomatoes are not uncommon in general, the sheer size and abundance of these particular pile ups are unusual.
Read about it over at Eos. So strange…
Over at Huffington Post, Marc Bekoff, recently wrote an article lambasting Christopher Filardi for collecting a Moustached Kingfisher, a rare bird endemic in the Solomon Islands.
Now, there are two sides to this particular controversy, and I am going to do my darnest NOT to pick one.
Side one: How dare you kill that kingfisher!
The HP article criticized killing a rare bird for collection as the opposite of a conservation effort. It is likened to hunting endangered species, and compassionate conservation. (RadioLab anyone? Don’t mind if I do…)
Side two: You need these kinds of specimen for conservation. And biology.
An excellent public post was written by my friend Josef Uyeda here.
Additionally, Dr. Filardi himself responded justifying his decision, and why specimens are important over at the Audobon society.
Was it right or was it wrong? You decide.