Saturday, January 31, 2009

Genetic drift in Iceland

Iceland has intrigued human population geneticists for some time and Icelanders are one of the most studied human populations because of their relatively small population and relatively large degree of isolation. These two features combine to give genetic drift more power than in most populations. A paper in PLoS Genetics this month spells out exactly how important genetic drift has been. There's a report on the paper here.
In the case of Iceland this means that genetic drift is a very powerful force in shaping variation, specifically, in increasing the rate of extinction of haplotypes and bringing to fixation other haplotypes.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Well, I already posted about this week's New Scientist article with its provocative cover.

There's a post about it on PZ Myers Pharyngula blog.

Pity Roger Highfield, editor of New Scientist, which published an issue in which the cover was the large, bold declaration that "DARWIN WAS WRONG". He has been target by a number of big name scientists who have been hammering him in a small typhoon of outraged private correspondence (I've been part of it) that his cover was a misdirected and entirely inappropriate piece of sensationalism.

The editor seem to have anticipated this issue in the accompanying editorial, but is the cover appropriate or not? Interesting debate.

As we celebrate the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth, we await a third revolution that will see biology changed and strengthened. None of this should give succour to creationists, whose blinkered universe is doubtless already buzzing with the news that "New Scientist has announced Darwin was wrong". Expect to find excerpts ripped out of context and presented as evidence that biologists are deserting the theory of evolution en masse. They are not.

Thursday, January 29, 2009


Next Thursday (2/5) we will visit the Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration. You can find information and directions at their website. We will meet there at 11.00 am and you should allow 5 minutes to cycle or 10-15 minutes if you are walking over there - although that is naturally dependent on where you are walking from......

Here's a map showing the bike route from CCS (click for a larger version).

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Blast from the past

Don't forget there are all sorts of interesting posts here from last year. You can browse them using the labels but I'll also try to point out a few of my favorites as we go along. Here are some that are relevant to topics we have been discussing lately

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

From Shore to Sea Lecture Series

The Santa Barbara Maritime Museum in conjunction with the Channel Islands Marine Sanctuary and the Channel Islands National Park Service, hosts the From Shore to Sea Lecture Series, FREE to the public based on scientific and historical topics and issues related to our own Channel Islands. Tuesdays at 7pm at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, 113 Harbor Way, Santa Barbara.

Jan. 13 Film Presentation: Air: The Search for One Clean Breath
Barbara Page, Ventura County Air Pollution Control District

Feb. 10 Pelagic & Water Column Fishes of the Santa Barbara Channel
Milton Love, Marine Science Institute, University of California Santa Barbara

Mar. 10 Evaluating Food Web Dynamics as Indicators of Ecosystem Health across the Northern Channel Islands
Anne Salomon, Marine Science Institute, University of California Santa Barbara

Apr. 14 Prisoners Wetland Restoration Project
Paula Power, Channel Islands National Park

May 12 SPLASH - Update on Blue and Humpback Whale Pacific NE Populations
John Calambokidis, Cascadia Research Collective

June 9 CINMS Maritime Heritage Program and Shipwreck Reconnaissance
Robert Schwemmer, Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary & Kelly Minas, Channel Islands National Park

Monday, January 26, 2009

Darwin Week Schedule

The year 2009 is the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection; and February 12, 2009 marks the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth. Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and the Humanist Society of Santa Barbara invite you to commemorate and learn about Darwin’s revolutionary impact and legacy on science and society.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Darwin in National Geographic

A South American gray fox (Lycalopex griseus) yawns as dusk falls on Chile's Torres del Paine National Park. In Voyage of the Beagle, Darwin chronicled his first encounter with another member of the same genus, Darwin's fox (Lycalopex fulvipes): "I was able, by quietly walking up behind, to knock him on the head with my geological hammer. This fox, more curious or more scientific, but less wise, than the generality of his brethren, is now mounted in the museum of the Zoological Society."

National Geographic has a couple of nice Darwin articles this month (of course). Nice light reading but the photos are amazing and you always learn something interesting eg:

Just two weeks before he died, Charles Darwin wrote a short paper about a tiny clam found clamped to the leg of a water beetle in a pond in the English Midlands. It was his last publication. The man who sent him the beetle was a young shoemaker and amateur naturalist named Walter Drawbridge Crick. The shoemaker eventually married and had a son named Harry, who himself had a son named Francis. In 1953, Francis Crick, together with a young American named James Watson, would make a discovery that has led inexorably to the triumphant vindication of almost everything Darwin deduced about evolution.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Predatory squirt

This newly discovered carnivorous sea squirt traps fish and other prey in its funnel-like front section Tethered to the seafloor over two miles down the 20-inch sea squirt is one of the deepest-dwelling animals ever found in Australia. The new species is one of many new deep-sea creatures discovered on a recent expedition that used a remotely operated vehicle. National Geographic has more details and photographs.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Retrotransposon fun

In PNAS this month:
Non-LTR retrotransposons encode noncanonical RRM domains in their first open reading frame.

(PNAS is the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and is one of the more presitgious journals, perhaps just a shade below Science and Nature in prestige).

Not the easiest title to parse but the paper puts another piece into the retrotransposon puzzle.

In the paper the authors determined the structure of a protein (L1ORF1p), which is encoded by a parasitic genetic element and which is responsible for its mobility.

The LINE-1 retrotransposon is a mobile genetic element that can multiply and insert itself into chromosomal DNA at many different locations. This disturbs the genetic code at the site of integration, which can have serious consequences for the organism. Presently, approximately 17% of our DNA consist of LINE-1 sequences. This is an enormous proportion if one considers that the roughly 30.000 human proteins are encoded by less that 5% of the DNA.

Understanding the structure of the L1ORF1p protein now allows a much more precise investigation of the mechanism of LINE-1 mobilization. This provides new insight into the relation between retrotransposons and retroviruses and probably also into certain evolutionary processes in humans and animals. Moreover, the researchers assume that the mechanism of LINE-1 retrotransposition can be exploited one day to precisely insert genetic information into specific locations. This would be an alternative to contemporary, less location-specific methods that are based on a retroviral mechanism.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Was Darwin wrong about the tree of life?

Well the cover article in this week's New Scientist is perfectly timed for our class as it reviews whether the conventional 'tree of life' model that dates back to Darwin is still a useful metaphor or not. I think everyone could benefit from a quick read of the article, especially since it isn't hidden behind their usual subscription barrier. The article also contains a lot of interesting links to research in a range of different areas.

(I)t is clear that the Darwinian tree is no longer an adequate description of how evolution in general works. "If you don't have a tree of life, what does it mean for evolutionary biology?" asks Bapteste. "At first it's very scary... but in the past couple of years people have begun to free their minds." Both he and Doolittle are at pains to stress that downgrading the tree of life doesn't mean that the theory of evolution is wrong - just that evolution is not as tidy as we would like to believe. Some evolutionary relationships are tree-like; many others are not. "We should relax a bit on this," says Doolittle. "We understand evolution pretty well - it's just that it is more complex than Darwin imagined. The tree isn't the only pattern."

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Ocean acidification seminar

Yesterday we mentioned one connection between the oceans and global climate change. Another connection is that the CO2 that is being absorbed into the ocean is changing its pH. This is known as ocean acidification and is becoming a big topic of concern and research. There's a seminar next week that looks like it might be a good background to the issue and some of the research in the area.

4:00 pm Tuesday, January 27, 2009, MSRB Auditorium 1302

NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory

" Ocean Acidification: The Other CO2 Problem"

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Ocean bacterial diversity

Prochlorococcus marinus, a tiny globular cyanobacterium.

A couple of articles about ocean bacterial diversity.

First a report on the 2006 Science paper that suggested marine microbial diversity could be 10 to 100 times greater than previously thought.
"From an evolutionary perspective, they are of pivotal importance. They were the only kinds of life on Earth for approximately 80% of the planet's history. All multi-cellular life depends upon microbial processes. The microbes can live without us but we are totally dependent upon them for our continued survival. Exploration of this newly discovered rare biosphere' could become a major field of marine biology."

The second is more recent and describes the discovery a few months ago of a species of cyanobacteria that appears to have abandoned photosynthesis for a life of Nitrogen fixation.
"For it to have such an unusual metabolism is very exciting. We're trying to understand how something like this can live and grow with so many missing parts."

Enjoy the nonsense

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Hot, hot, hot

An interesting intersection of plant physiology, ecology and evolution that asks the question: why are some chilies hot and some not? Although we have certainly had some effect with artificial selection there is also a great variation in the heat content of the wild relatives of our domestic chilies.

You can read the paper in PNAS: Evolutionary ecology of pungency in wild chilies. But before you do so you might want to think about how you would generally go about addressing such a topic. What are some possible hypotheses and how would you go about testing them?

The New York Times picked up on this story too.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


In the news today, yet more fabulous fossil finds from China. A fossil of a primitive feathered dinosaur uncovered in China is helping scientists create a better model of how dinosaurs evolved into modern birds. The protobird is "very close to the point of divergence" at which a new branch of winged dinosaurs first took flight.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Life on Mars?

The definitive discovery in Mars’ atmosphere of methane — often, but not always, a compound hinting at life — introduces the possibility of underground organisms.

A paper from yesterdays edition of Science raises some intriguing possibilities that underground 'microbes' may be producing methane on Mars. Or maybe it's just a natural phenomenon:

About 0.6 kilograms of methane emerge each second in the summer, Mumma said, which is comparable to the emissions from a natural oil seep near Santa Barbara, California.

Thirty six years later and we still don't know if there is Life on Mars.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A lost art

Although Darwin's Origin of Species book contained only a single illustration, some of his other books contained many more. In those days photography was not an option and so naturalists were, almost by necessity, fairly competent artists.

Those that were interested in the landscape were often quite talented artists, trying to capture scenes with great accuracy and attention to detail, especially in color and light.

The first depictions of the Arctic and Antarctic were made by explorers with some artistic training. You can view an online gallery of some of them here and an interactive slideshow here.

The Ice Dwellers Watching the Invaders (around 1875) by William Bradford.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Giant bird feces

I confess I was attracted to this article mainly by the heading. But the reconstruction of paleoenvironments is a topic we will touch on a couple of times so I think this is relevant

Giant Bird Feces Record Pre-human New Zealand.

A treasure trove of information about pre-human New Zealand has been found in feces from giant extinct birds, buried beneath the floor of caves and rock shelters for thousands of years.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Smörgåsbord of evolution

A few earlier posts of relevance and a few links of interest.

Previous Blog postings
  • Web sight - A 2006 Science paper about a fossilized spider web (I knew there was a good pun there somewhere)
  • Tiktaalik - Some links to the fishopod discovery and what we mean by the term 'missing link'.
  • Thirteen year old girls storming the Bastille - Sadly I did not come up with this wonderful imagery. It is from a New Yorker article on human height change and why Europeans are still getting taller but american aren't.
  • Resources - Some links to online places you can read Erasmus Darwin's work. And listen to Charles Darwin's work for free.
Other links
  • The Berkeley Understanding Evolution webpage.
  • As Biologists you should be so thoroughly familiar with evolution that you know and can refute, as appropriate, the array of attacks against it. Icons of Evolution is a controversial book by the intelligent design advocate Jonathan Wells that focuses on 10 examples used to teach evolution. If you don't want to wade through the book you can read a summary article here. We have, or will, cover most of these examples in class. The National Center for Science Education has a nice paper by Alan Gishlick with the rather confrontational title of ' Why much of what Jonathan Wells writes about evolution is wrong.' Well worth a quick read.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Search seminar

I mentioned in the colloquium that faculty job search seminars are usually worth attending since you will, or should, see people bringing their A game. Good job seminars often give a good overview of the researchers work, focus specifically on one or more particular aspects and are usually suitable for a general biology audience. So they are good for you to attend because you get to hear a good research seminar and you get to see how people present themselves, and hopefully pick up tips for your own presentations, either as an undergraduate, graduate or, eventually, as a job candidate yourself. It's never too early to start thinking about it.

EEMB is currently searching for a new position under the general category of 'Evolutionary genomics'. What happens is that the faculty search committee, a group of half a dozen, mainly members of the Department, usually with one outside member and a graduate student member, review all the applications. Depending on how specific the job ad is this can vary but about 100 applications would be typical. They then select a small number, typically 4 to 6 to invite to interview. This process does not vary a whole lot from place to place in the US and the normal scenario is a two day visit, with lots of one on one meetings with faculty members and a research seminar. In other countries there is more likely to be a formal 'interview' with a panel but in the US this is not the norm. It's an exhausting process though because for two days you are pretty much expected to be 'on' constantly.

The research seminar is a very important part of this process. Most members of the department will usually try and attend and a bad performance will make your hiring an uphill battle even if you have the best publication record. The faculty search committee will make a recommendation after all the visits and the department, as a whole, will then vote on this (that's why the seminar is important - for many members of the department that will be their main exposure to you). If the department agrees the chosen candidate will still need to be approved by a University committee. Here at UCSB that will be the Committee on Academic Personnell - so a unanimous vote by the department is important.

Hmm, I didn't really intend to write all that down, but then again how are you meant to know this stuff? The EEMB seminar calendar for the quarter is now out and you'll see there are six Evolutionary Genomics candidates - the first one is today (The Importance of Scale in Drosophila Evolutionary Genomics, Nadia Singh, Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, Cornell University) and to squeeze them all in some of the upcoming seminars are at odd times of day and different places to the regular EEMB seminars.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The year of Darwin

If Charles Darwin had had a laptop, he probably would have been a blogger--so eager was his desire to disseminate and discuss his ideas with the world.

I think I already mentioned here somewhere that 2009 will see BOTH the 150th anniversary of the Origin of Species and the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth. The journal Science has a page that collects together news features, scientific reviews and other special content. There are already some interesting things there and I believe they are planning a monthly series of essays celebrating Darwin so it will be worth checking back later in the year.

Three days ago, the second issue of Science in the year contains a very important paper on abiogenesis, 'Self-Sustained Replication of an RNA Enzyme'. We will talk abou this later in the course but although an RNA 'world' has been postulated as a precursor to our DNA world no-one, to date, has shown that RNA replication could be self propagating (ie RNA acting as the enzyme that can replicate itself without the help of other molecules or cell components). There's a nice writeup of the work at ScienceDaily.

This is pretty big news. NPR had a brief interview with the lead author on All Things Considered today which you can listen to here.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Low tides and butterflies

Splendid low tides this weekend, a -2.0 at 4.08pm tomorrow (Sunday). The sun sets at 5.10 and a beautiful full moon rises at 6 tomorrow.

The Monarch butterflies are also back at the Ellwood butterfly grove and if you haven't been to see them then this is a must do item whilst you are in Santa Barbara. They are usually at the grove from December through February. You can find directions on the website of the landtrust. If you cycle or drive from campus just take Hollister West past the mall, past the stop light at Entrance Rd and take the next left on Coronado. At the end of this street there is a path and information about the butterflies. I guess it's probably about a 30 minute ride from campus (give or take). If you continue down to the beach from here (a short walk over the bluffs) the tidepools are pretty good. It is hard to explain this experience if you haven't been there. This picture gives you an idea. This is also a great place to see both bats and owls. The path that runs through the eucalyptus, parallel to the ocean, is a regular bat runway at dusk and the open spaces between the eucalyptus and the ocean attract a lot of birds of prey, presumably attracted by a large small mammal popluation.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Wildcard weekend

During the week I generally try to post items relevant to the current topics in CS20 and CS30. But I've decided, for no particular reason, that the weekends (including Friday apparently) are wide open. These are random rules for myself - you should all feel free to post anything of relevance to CCS biology at anytime.

For those who missed its appearance in both Science and Knitting Help, check out the Museum of scientifically accurate fabric brain art. For more information you can read an article in New Scientist magazine.

Random DNA thing

Sorry to intrude on the blog, but I thought this DNA simulator website was worth sharing.

Click on the "Double helix by element" and play with the simulation. It's really cool.

Here's the website

Thursday, January 8, 2009


I'm not generally going to repeat postings from last year. I'll leave you to discover them yourselves. However in a few instances I am going to repeat particularly useful links to bring them to your attention. In this instance I think you should all venture out to the cutting edge of systematics and read this Discover magazine article about the phylocode proposal and the ensuing controversy.

“This would be very similar to a set of politicians who decided to bypass the Constitution to create a whole new set of laws.”

What do you think? Is this a change that will happen? Is it a change that should happen?


I'm a big fan of Wikipedia. I think if you understand its limitations it is an excellent resource. I rarely use it for any in depth research but I use it all the time to answer quick questions and I use the main page as my homepage on my computer and try to learn something new every day and, if I have time, read the featured article. Today's featured article is on Alfred Russel Wallace, a biologist and contemporary of Darwin who, independently came up with a theory of natural selection that was essentially the same as Darwin's.

I may be biased but I thought this article was much more interesting than yesterdays biography of the race horse Go Man Go....

Plus, today's featured picture shows guttation - drops of xylem sap forced out of a plant by root pressure. A physical phenomenon we will mention briefly next quarter.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Battle of The Sexes Gone Evolutionary..

Some good stuff I ran into. :) Happened to be from UCSB too coincidentally.

Male vs. Female: Gender Conflict as an Evolutionary ForceGregory CampbellBiochemistry, University of California - Santa Barbara

Most people are at least somewhat familiar with Charles Darwin and his writings on natural selection. He wrote that those individuals who were better suited to their environments would be more likely to reproduce. Over time, this would cause a shift in the overall properties of the population. Today, we recognize the relationship between natural selection and evolution as random mutations in the genetic material of some population's members, which, in turn, will cause variety in that population. Because all individuals are different, it is only natural to expect varying levels of ability, intelligence, appearance, limitations, goals, decision-making, etc. This leaves no room to doubt that a particular organism's genetic composition will naturally make it more compatible with its environment than some other member of the same population. It's really just common sense, and, it makes a pretty solid basis for the principles of evolution and speciation.

The theory of sexual antagonismHowever, this idea of "survival of the fittest" is not the only way that evolutionary forces influence populations. In fact, there are situations in which a "pseudo-equilibrium" (where the population genetics are changing, but in a cyclic fashion such that there is no apparent net gain or loss) is established between the two genders of a population. One working explanation for non-"survival of the fittest" evolution is the theory of sexual antagonism, which provides a mechanism for an evolutionary equilibrium. The fundamental principle behind this theory is the notion that under some circumstances, an organism can exhibit some heritable property, which will increase its own fitness, or sexual efficiency, while being detrimental to the fitness of its mate. In response to the spreading of this one-sided genetic factor (which could be in favor of either gender) in the population, the disfavored sex can counter-adapt to the harmful trait in such a way that the previously favored sex is now at some disadvantage, while the previously disfavored one holds the natural "lead.

Dr. Bill Rice at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has done extensive research in evolutionary genetics, and has made more than his fair share of contributions to the understanding of sexual antagonism. Using Drosophila melanogaster (the fruit fly) as a model system, Dr. Rice maintains a variety of pure, genetically unique populations which can be manipulated under highly controlled conditions. One area of experimental interest is the enforcement of monogamy versus the promotion of promiscuity. It should first be explained that the seminal proteins of male D. melanogaster have a mildly toxic effect on the females. This is a result of adaptation/counter-adaptation circumstances that is an integral part of the evolutionary history of Drosophila. One function of these toxic proteins is to act as a spermicide to the sperm already present in the female from another suitor.
The enforcement of monogamy versus the promotion of promiscuityIn 2000, Dr. Rice published his findings showing that when flies in normally promiscuous habitats were experimentally forced to be monogamous, the evolution of the seminal fluids proteins ultimately promoted the extension of mate survival time, rather than the reduction of it, relative to the promiscuous controls. In addition to this observation, Dr. Rice noted that monogamous males who were placed back into a promiscuous environment displayed an overall reduction of fitness. These data are of particular interest because they show a correlation between the rate of mutation of sexually antagonistic traits, and the degree of commitment between an individual and its mate. This rate is important because of the elevated evolutionary rate of reproduction-associated proteins. A 2002 article in Science indicates that the divergence of these proteins is especially noticeable in the primate lineage leading to humans, mice and rats, marine invertebrates, and D. melanogaster. The observed relationship shown here, in the reproductive proteins of humans and D. melanogaster, gives credibility to the idea that we can learn about our own evolutionary past by observing the rapidly multiplying fruit flies (~1 generation per 2 weeks).

Because sexual antagonism acts as an evolutionary catalyst, at least in terms of these reproductive proteins, it is quite possible that this mechanism is likely to influence the initiation of other evolutionary landmarks, like speciation, Dr. Rice said in a 1997 sociobiological publication. Speciation is the creation of so much genetic divergence that isolated members of what was once one species will become reproductively incompatible. Over time, they will become separate species. Because inter-sexual conflict is so intimately involved with the genetics of the reproductive biochemistry, anatomy, physiology, and behavior, its role as a catalyst for these changes certainly makes it seem like a vitally important factor in the speciation process.
Monandrous (monogamous) groups of female flies were tested against polyandrous (promiscuous females, having high inter-sexual conflict) groups with respect to speciation-causing factors. Another of Dr. Rice's observations, published in 2000, was that speciation occurred four times faster in the polyandrous groups, once again supporting the notion that gender conflict is what Dr. Rice calls an "engine of speciation."

A relationship between human intelligence and sexual antagonism?Another possible consideration for a trait heavily influenced by sexual antagonism is the phenomenally high level of intelligence in human beings. It may be reasonable to think that there exists some relationship between human intelligence and sexual antagonism because the rapid increase in our brain size is evolutionarily marked by the development of language. As we developed a more sophisticated means of communication, we opened doors to a refined and precise system of various signals and responses. Many of these types of systems can be super-stimulated via an emotional or instinctual reaction which changes the receptive nature in favor of the gene set responsible for compensating for the over-stimulation. Basically this means that over time, what was once thought overwhelming will become the norm. Perhaps not at this exact moment in time, but somewhere along the line, it will be of huge significance not only to better understand sexual conflict as a very relevant evolutionary force, but also to develop a better grasp on the extremely influential evolutionary forces that we have yet to consider, especially stabilizing or destabilizing forces that, on the surface, don't exactly fall under Darwin's natural selection theory of "survival of the fittest." There is a whole world of changes happening constantly: in every atom, molecule, cell, organism, social construct, planet, galaxy, etc.; so there must exist, in vastly greater numbers, causes of these changes. As we learn more about how each individual contributes to the whole, we leave ourselves exposed to tremendous insight into the nature of life and existence, so long as we remain open to them.

Further Reading Rice, William. Dangerous Liaisons. Proc Nat'l Acad Sci. 2000;97:12953-5. Miller, Gary and Scott Pitnick. Sperm-Female Coevolution in Drosophila. Science. 2002;298:1230-1233. Rice, William and Brett Holland. The enemies within: intergenomic conflict interlocus contest evolution (ICE), and the interspecific Red Queen. Behav Ecol Sociobiol. 1997;41:1-10. Special thanks to Dr. Bill Rice, Andrew Stewart and all of their colleagues

Awesome XKCD


"Unless the CS students finish the robot revolution before you finish the cephalopod one."

Fish that uses mirrors to see

Random cool animal: the brownsnout spookfish uses mirrors to focus light into its eyes. It is apparently the first vertebrate to do this. A live specimen had never been caught until last year, when one was caught off Tonga.

Start the quarter with a bang

We didn't actually get onto abiogenesis and the very early history of the earth yesterday (don't worry we'll get to it later). However I don't think I'll let that stop me posting this clip from the Discovery Channel. For everyone who has ever wondered what it would be like when a 500km diameter asteroid crashes into the earth. If you go to YouTube to watch it you can click a little link to watch it in high def.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

American degeneracy

Welcome to the CCS blog. Or welcome back as the case may be. Note that all the posts from last time the class ran are available and are still relevant, entertaining and useful - or at least as relevant, entertaining and useful as they ever were. You can use the labels on the right hand side to pull up the posts about a particular topic.

In lecture today I briefly mentioned Jefferson's desire to find a mammoth to refute the assertion that America was in some way degenerate. It's an interesting story and the Academy of Natural Sciences has a nice series of webpages entitled 'Buffon's Degeneracy'. To make this even more relevant to lecture you can also read about Buffon's disagreement with Linnaeus (see the footnote on page 1)

"In America, therefore, animated Nature is weaker, less active, and more circumscribed in the variety of her productions; for we perceive, from the enumeration of the American animals, that the numbers of species is not only fewer, but that, in general, all the animals are much smaller than those of the Old Continent."
George Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon (1707-1788)

Others would take this further:
"One must be astonished that America has not yet produced one good poet, one able mathematician, one man of genius in a single art or a single science."

Read page two for the American response.

The anteater with a splendid classical background is from Buffon's Histoire naturelle, thirty-six volumes of which were completed during his lifetime and another eight published after his death from material he had prepared.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Gray whale count


Gray Whales Count is a research and education project of UCSB's Coal Oil Point Natural Reserve + The American Cetacean Society-Channel Islands + Cascadia Research Collective, Olympia, WA + Marine Physical Laboratory, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD

We are seeking interns to train to be Supervisors, assisting the project coordinator operate the shore-based survey from Coal Oil Point: February 2 through May 17, 2009.

Support for this opportunity has been provided by UCSB's Coastal Fund.

Please attend an information meeting on campus in the Marine Science Research Building Auditorium on Thursday, January 8, 2009 7 to 9 PM

If you have a keen interest in marine mammals and a passion for our environment, this is for you! All will be trained by Michael Smith, project coordinator, and current GWC Supervisors.

Interns are required to work a four-hour shift each of the fifteen weeks of the survey. They will be key members of the observation team locating and identifying marine mammals and recording data. We also record data on vessels, which may interact with the animals; and this year we will be coordinating our visual data with Scripps's acoustic data.

— 60 hours with a stipend of $500 —

Priority will be given to availability through the conclusion of Gray Whales Count: May 17, 2009. Hours are flexible, but must be scheduled.

This is the fifth year of this valuable research. The intent is to establish baseline data on the migration through the nearshore of the Santa Barbara Channel. The project has become urgent because there renewed concern about the effect of global climate change on the population a a whole and locally there is concern about the potential impact of expanded oil-drilling operations proposed just off Coal Oil Point. (See webpage for Project Description)

For additional information about the project and information about volunteering to be an Observer, please visit the webpage: Volunteer Observers sign up for 2-hour shifts. We encourage volunteer Observers to work a shift a week, but there is no commitment. It is an easy way to participate.

Please contact Michael Smith: