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April 5, 2011

Posted by Dr. O in Biology, Ecology, Environment/Conservation, Institute for Green & Sustainable Science (IGSS), Marian University curriculum, Physiology, Science Education.
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Congrats to Marian University’s very own, Cassie Freestone! Check out her spread (click on picture to expand) in the Spring 2011 issue of Marian University’s magazine, The Magnet.

 

Cassie Freestone has participated in numerous independent research endeavors at Marian University from a rigorous summer research course at the Institute for Green & Sustainable Science, to taking independent research credits. Her research experience has given her the toolkit to attract and succeed in internship opportunities like this international marine research study.

 

 


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Urban ecology…right here on campus! May 28, 2010

Posted by Dr. O in Behavior, Biology, Ecology, Environment/Conservation.
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So this is our resident, young, red-tailed hawk…

(Please click on pictures for better resolution)

Red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)

This young red-tailed hawk enjoys a very urban lifestyle on Marian University’s campus. I have watched this bird pick off fat, almost tame, squirrels as they exit a garbage can with the crust of a Subway sandwich. The hawk will narrowly, but deftly, miss flying into people’s heads as it goes in for the kill.

Today I arrived on campus, pulled into my parking spot, opened the door, and heard a ruckus of robins.

When I looked, I saw said hawk and thought, “hmm…guess the robins don’t like it roosting there”, but then when I looked closer, I realized that the hawk was IN THEIR NEST! As my jaw dropped the hawk took off with two fistfuls of nestling robins. The hawk flew to the nearest tree (where it perches above previously mentioned garbage can/squirrel haunt) and picked apart its breakfast. Amazing!

paranoid parent robin (left) and empty nest (right)

Red-tailed hawks don’t eat birds (usually), not small birds.

The hawk must’ve been watching and knew where this nest was. It’s not like it went after a fledgling not able to fly…it went INTO the nest to grab them! And the nest was fairly hidden! I think this is incredible urban behavior in a predator; not afraid of people, and exploring novel food items.

Here are two videos of the hawk eating the nestlings and of the adult robins guarding their, now empty, nest:

Here is a collection of play-by-play photos of the event:

Empty robin nest…the hawk had just taken off while I scrambled for my camera.

The hawk took off with two fistfuls of nestlings and landed on its favorite perch…20 yards away.

Red-tailed hawk eating nestling number one.

And onto nestling number 2…

Sometimes it’s a bird-eat-bird kinda’ world.

At this point, I’m under the branch and don’t have to use my zoom lens. This particular hawk isn’t scared of humans.

Note fluffy downy feathers. This was a nestling taken from the nest, not a fledgling that was on the ground.

Pin feathers are all that’s left.

More pin feathers found under now empty nest.

Pin feather

Now empty nest. As you can see, the nest is quite camouflaged from aerial predators, thus this young hawk must’ve been watching and waiting…knowing there was a nest full of tasty baby birds there.

The nest was a clutch of three. This nestling survived…luckily hawks only have two feet.  I did not return it to the nest, as it wasn’t necessarily a safe place. Parents are taking care of the baby on the ground.

Note large amount of bird poop. This is where the hawk hangs out. I’m sure it will be back to feed again on many urban creatures.

More art & science May 13, 2010

Posted by Dr. O in Uncategorized.
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A previous post of mine explored how science influences art and vice versa.  Here is another great link exploring that intersection.

Darwinian design: natural selection of telephone color

Helen Storey, a fashion designer, and her sister, Kate Storey, a developmental biologist team up to offer a science-inspired collection. This is the heart tube formation hat.

Spill baby, spill! What the heck happened? May 13, 2010

Posted by Dr. O in Uncategorized.
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The oil in the Gulf continues to spew out into the environment at a horrific rate….and it has started to come ashore meaning the delicate shallow-watered ecosystems nearest the coast are threatened.

Amidst the coverage of the ecological disaster, we are still left with questions:

Check out a discussion of this topic, the future of offshore drilling, on the Diane Rehm show.  Guests include:

Check out the videos below which show the underwater spill and some of the current options for dealing with the leaks.

The spill from space May 4, 2010

Posted by Dr. O in Ecology, Environment/Conservation, Policy, Science & Culture.
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You can see the oil slick from space

And that’s not a good thing.  Pictures from NASA’s Earth Observatory website show the every increasing size of the oil spill that has spread across the gulf coast.

The spill from space. It's huge!

Some recent news statements have said that the slick is smaller today, but scientists warn that it means that the oil has only begun to sink to the bottom of the ocean. While it may not coat bird feathers at that point, it will kill oyster beds, kelp forests, and destroy lots of fish and invertebrates.   A major cause of concern for environmentalists and local fishermen.

A failed experiment

Deepwater Horizon exploratory rig in flames

What I think warrants concern here is that this offshore rig was experimental and it was working under guidelines that many in the business thought were unsafe.   Additionally, while there are many supposed fail-safes on all rigs…every single piece of safety redundancy failed on the Deep Horizon rig and BP doesn’t seem to be able to deal with the catastrophic aftermath.  Lastly, you may have heard about special dispersants being sprayed to “break up” the oil, however questions about their role as toxins to the environment remain.  Are we really left with choosing the lesser of two evils here?

What does it all mean?

Regardless of your stance on fossil fuel dependency, big oil’s big business role, and government regulation…this should give us pause to reflect on our current choices and regulations of fossil fuel use.

There was a devoted discussion to the aftermath of this environmental crisis on the Diane Rehm show yesterday.  Click here to listen.

Click here for an earlier post discussing the long-term environmental toll oil spills can have.

Follow the slick on your phone

Here is a list of apps that will allow you to follow the gloomy progression of the slick.

The PCR song April 29, 2010

Posted by Dr. O in Biology, Fun, Genetics, Science & Culture, Science Education.
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To build on the post containing the rap song on photosynthesis, I thought I’d add this little music video montage put out by Bio-Rad. It’s hilarious.  See…scientists DO have a sense of humor.

Here is the original Bio-Rad link.

Potential assignment for the new Ecological Physiology class April 27, 2010

Posted by Dr. O in Behavior, Biology, Fun, Neuroscience, Physiology, Science Education.
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MU Science Students as possible Guest Bloggers?

What do you think?  Perhaps my students should star as “guest writers” to this blog , the Animal Review, who’s blog owners “grade” animals based on their wacky adaptations.  Seems a perfect way to celebrate the diversity of physiology in the animal world.  I might just use this as an assignment for Physiological Ecology-BIO 305 in the Spring of 2012

Who needs a brain? (this coming from a neuroscientist…)

After checking out the Animal Review, I for one would have given the jellyfish a “B” and the comb jellies (Ctenophora) an “A+” for living in a “society” and incorporating “tool use” with out a true brain.

The beautiful comb jelly

I would also give the angler fish a solid B+ or A-.  The ladies are okay in their own skin and definitely wear the pants in the relationship.  After all… males are basically no better than parasites.

A copy of a copy is never as good as the original April 26, 2010

Posted by Dr. O in Behavior, Biology, Genetics, Health, Physiology, Uncategorized.
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Our final discussion in Molecular Genetics (BIO 415) we finished up chapter 8 of Miesfeld’s, Applied Molecular Genetics, text. We explored the nitty-gritty details of cloning the first mammal, the sheep called “Dolly” as well as “Polly” and “Molly”…the transgenic cloned sheep.

Dolly, the first animal cloned from an adult cell

We also explored the limitations of cloning.  You see a copy of a copy of a copy is never as good as the original, and this holds true for DNA too.  Enter the function of telomeres and telomerase.  Each time DNA is replicated, you need a spot for the machinery of replication to attach to.  That space it attaches to can’t be replicated and it is lost so we’ve developed these stretches of sequence called telomeres which are non-coding regions of sequence that the replication machinery can sit down and attach to in order to begin replication on those coding regions that are so important for our proper existence.

Telomeres vary in size depending on age

So what I’m getting at here is that Dolly didn’t live as long as other naturally born sheep.  Even though she was a baby…her stock of DNA was older. You see during natural fertilization…you’ve got a lot of processes going on to ensure your telomeres are all in lengthy order…but Dolly started with an older aged stretch of DNA…telomeres had already been destroyed snippet by snippet over the years in her precursor’s cells.  She was old before she was even born.

A second topic brought up in our discussion of cloning was the behavior of the clone.  As we’ve discussed during our behavioral genetics unit in class…the argument of nature vs. nurture runs deep and is very complex.  Just because you share an identical genome with someone (as identical twins may) does that mean you act the same way?  We are products of a mixture of both our genes and our experiences.  While our genetic make up my help predict how we “might” act, it does not fully dictate our actions.  I think this is represented quite well in a “This American Life” piece. Check it out here.

Let science explain how close the Butler:Duke game was April 8, 2010

Posted by Dr. O in Exercise, Fun, Physics, Science & Culture, Science Education, Uncategorized.
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In case you haven’t heard…America’s current darling (and Marian’s neighboring campus), Butler University, made a major run in this year’s NCAA Basketball Tournament.  This small Midwest liberal arts school spends $370,000 on their basketball team.   Butler’s competitor in the final, Duke, spends $370,000 PER PLAYER!

Butler lost by two points.  Gordon Hayward, who also happens to be a science major at Butler, almost won the game with a long shot at half court.  How close was it? Let science explain…

Butler University student Gordon Hayward is a science major

How to talk to a climate change skeptic April 1, 2010

Posted by Dr. O in Climate Change, Environment/Conservation, Policy, Science & Culture, Science Education.
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A lot of students have asked me how to effectively and intelligently communicate with a climate change/human-induced global warming skeptic.

I realize that I have been at this science career thing longer than most of you students so in a way, yes, it is easier for me to “argue” on a different level over a variety of scientific results.  As a scientist, it’s our job to think critically, analyze effectively, and yes…be skeptical.  But we must also be balanced AND properly interpret the data. Hopefully ALL those papers I make you write and ALL that literature I make you read is helping YOU to also think critically and interpret science effectively.

But everyone can use a cheat sheet now and then…

Our local Hoosier Environmental Council put out a neat link to an article which has a “point and click” menu of points on which one can educate themselves on the main arguments climate change skeptics use…and why their arguments don’t stand up scientifically.

Check it out.