Remembering Darwin’s death, April 19, 1882, and his legacy in 2016

April 19, 2016

This is an encore post.

We shouldn’t pass April 19 — a day marked by significant historic events through the past couple hundred years — without remembering that it is also the anniversary of the death of Darwin.

Charles Darwin in 1881, by John Collier

Charles Darwin in 1881, portrait by John Collier; after a Collier painting hanging in the Royal Society

Immortality?  Regardless Darwin’s religious beliefs (I’ll argue he remained Christian, thank you, if you wish to argue), he achieved immortality solely on the strength of his brilliant work in science. Of course he’s best known for being the first to figure out that natural and sexual selection worked as tools to sculpt species over time, a theory whose announcement he shared with Alfred Russel Wallace, who independently arrived at almost exactly the same theory but without the deep evidentiary backup Darwin had amassed.

But had evolution turned out to be a bum theory, Darwin’s other works would have qualified him as one of the greatest scientists of all time, including:

Darwin's theory set out a sequence of coral re...

Darwin’s theory set out a sequence of coral reef formation around an extinct volcanic island, becoming an atoll as the island and ocean floor subsided. Courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

US Geological Survey graphic demonstrating how coral atolls form on the sinking remains of old volcanic sea mounts, as Darwin described. Wikimedia commons image

  • World’s greatest collector of biological samples:  During his five years’ voyage on HMS Beagle, Darwin collected the largest collection of diverse plant and animal life ever by one person (I believe the record still stands); solely on the strength of his providing actual examples to the British Museum of so much life in so many different ecosystems worldwide, before he was 30 Darwin won election to the Royal Society.  (His election was engineered partly by friends who wanted to make sure he stayed in science, and didn’t follow through on his earlier plan to become a preacher.)
  • Geology puzzle solver:  Coral atolls remained a great geological mystery.  Sampling showed coral foundations well below 50 feet deep, a usual limit for coral growth.  In some cased old, dead coral were hundreds of feet deep.  In the South Pacific, Darwin looked at a number of coral atolls, marvelous “islands” that form almost perfectly circular lagoons.  Inspired partly by Lyell’s new encyclopedic review of  world geology, Darwin realized that the atolls he saw were the peaks of volcanic mounts.  Darwin hypothesized that the volcanoes grew from the ocean floor to the surface, and then the islands were colonized by corals.  The round shape of the volcano gave the atoll its shape.  Then the volcanic mounts eroded back, or sank down, and corals continued to grow on the old foundations.  It was a perfectly workable, natural explanation for a long-standing geologic puzzle.  (See Darwin’s monograph, Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs.)
  • Patient watcher of flowers:  Another great mystery, this time in biology, concerned how vines twined themselves onto other plants, rocks and structures.  Darwin’s genius in designing experiments shone here:  He put a vine in his study, and watched it.  Over several hours, he observed vine tendrils flailing around, until they latched on to something, and then the circular flailing motion wrapped the tendril around a stick or twig. Simple observation, but no one had ever attempted it before.  (See On the Movements and Habits of Climbing Plants.)
  • Champion of earthworms, and leaf mould:  Darwin suspected the high fertilizer value of “leaf mould” might be related to the action of earthworms.  Again, through well-designed experiments and simple observation, Darwin demonstrated that worms moved and aerated soil, and converted organic matter into even richer fertilizer. (See The Formation of Vegetable Moulds Through the Action of Worms.)
  • Creation of methodological science:  In all of this work, Darwin explained his processes for designing experiments, and controls, and made almost as many notes on how to observe things, as the observations themselves.  Probably more than any other single man, Darwin invented and demonstrated the use of a series of processes we now call “the scientific method.”  He invented modern science.

Any of those accomplishments would have been a career-capping work for a scientist.  Darwin’s mountains of work still form foundations of geology and biology, and are touchstones for genetics.

Born within a few hours of Abraham Lincoln on February 12, 1809, Darwin survived 17 years longer — 17 extremely productive years.  Ill through much of his life with mystery ailments, perhaps Chaga’s Disease, or perhaps some other odd parasite or virus he picked up on his world travels, Darwin succumbed to heart disease on April 19, 1882.

More:

 


Global warming changes local bird populations, matching scientists’ predictions

April 3, 2016

Phys.org caption: The American robin, a familiar species across much of continental USA, has declined in some southern states such as Mississippi and Louisiana, but increased in north-central states, such as the Dakotas. Credit: US Fish & Wildlife Service

Phys.org caption: The American robin, a familiar species across much of continental USA, has declined in some southern states such as Mississippi and Louisiana, but increased in north-central states, such as the Dakotas. Credit: US Fish & Wildlife Service Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2016-03-strong-effects-climate-common-bird.html#jCp

Most serious birdwatchers can tell you about global warming and climate change, just from watching the birds at their feeders, and when those birds migrate.

Now comes a study to confirm with data and controlled observation what the birders have been saying all along. Phys.org reported:

Scientists have shown for the first time that common bird populations are responding to climate change in a similar pronounced way in both Europe and the USA.

An international team of researchers led by Durham University, UK, found that populations of bird species expected to do well due to climate change had substantially outperformed those expected to do badly over a 30 year period from 1980 to 2010.

The research, conducted in collaboration with the RSPB and the United States Geological Survey (USGS), is published in the journal Science.

It is the first real demonstration that climate is having a similar, large-scale influence on the abundance of common birds in widely separated parts of the world, the researchers said.

Among the species showing pronounced effects of climate change are common woodland and garden birds such as the wren, in Europe, and the American robin in the USA.

(Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2016-03-strong-effects-climate-common-bird.html#jCp)

Biologists especially work to predict effects of warming on plants and animals, both to help plan changes in activities such as farming and hunting, and to protect species that are endangered now, or are likely to become so due to changing climate factors.

This study shows scientists can predict with accuracy some of the wildlife effects.

These changes are consistent with changing climate suitability within those areas, the researchers said.

Other factors, such as the size of the birds, the habitats they live in and their migratory behaviour, all affect , but did not differ systematically between groups advantaged or disadvantaged by climate change.

Therefore, only climate change could explain the differences between average population trends in advantaged and disadvantaged groups, the researchers said.

The study’s lead authors, Dr Stephen Willis and Dr Philip Stephens, of Durham University’s School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, said the findings showed there was a large-scale, consistent response by bird populations to climate change on two continents.

The study was published in the April 1, 2016 issue of Science, “Consistent response of bird populations to climate change on two continents.

Science  01 Apr 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6281, pp. 84-87
DOI: 10.1126/science.aac4858

Tip of the old scrub brush to Svein T veitdal:


Are birds smarter than Columbus?

March 8, 2016

Another great find on Twitter, for geography, biology and physics classes.

How do birds navigate, compared to, say, Columbus? Most U.S. history texts make a big deal of Columbus’s navigation, made possible by invention of the magnetic compass and the sextant.

Birds are more accurate, and they have neither. Well, they don’t have external magnetic compasses. See the cartoon.

Neuroscientist and cartoonist team up to talk about birds

Neuroscientist and cartoonist team up to talk about birds “seeing” magnetic lines of the Earth! Information from Dwayne Godwin at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, with drawings by Jorge Cham, who draws Piled Higher and Deeper.

Teachers, have someone in the drafting department make this cartoon into a poster for your classroom.

As usual, the truth is more weird and wonderful than fiction writers could hope to invent.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Columbia University’s Twitter managers.


Beauty in nature: Stingray x-ray

December 13, 2015

A stunning photograph, with much to think about.  It wandered around the internet a couple of years ago, and it’s good enough, it’s going around again.

It’s an x-ray of a stingray. Consider what Charles Darwin might have thought about such an image. It’s a species discovered only in the last decade, imaged by a means of photography not known to be possible until more than a decade after Darwin’s death. What would he make of the discovery of a species, and the ability to see inside the thing, showing the cartilaginous skeleton (compare with the rays’ cousins, the sharks), and showing the organs Darwin knew would be there if evolution was, in fact, accurate.

21st century science brings such beauty:

x-ray-of-a-stingray

Caption from TwistedSifter: “The photograph above is an x-ray of a freshwater stingray species discovered in 2011 in the Amazon rain forest. The discovery was made by the research team of Nathan Lovejoy, a biologist at the University of Toronto in Scarborough; and Marcelo Rodrigues de Carvalho of the University of Sao Paolo in Brazil. The new species is known as Heliotrygon gomesi. Besides the pancake-like appearance, the ray is big, with slits on its belly and a tiny spine on its tail.” Photo by Ken Jones.

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Young public school artists draw award-winning inspiration from endangered species.

May 1, 2015

Young artists inspired by #endangeredspecies:1st prize D Starovoytov,6th grade http://1.usa.gov/1Koe2RY  @EcoSchoolsUSA  From @USFWSRefuges

Young artists inspired by #endangeredspecies:1st prize D Starovoytov,6th grade http://1.usa.gov/1Koe2RY @EcoSchoolsUSA From @USFWSRefuges

Maybe someone can make that 6th grader’s day, or life, by asking to purchase that piece (watercolor?) for a few thousands of dollars, to go into a college fund.

The USFWS blog, A Talk on the Wildside, announced the winners of the agency’s 2015 Saving Endangered Species Youth Art Contest.

David Starovoytov, a sixth-grader from California, won the Grand Prize with his art of a Kentucky arrow darter, a beautiful fish found only in eastern Kentucky. During the breeding season, the males are blue-green with scarlet spots and scarlet-orange vertical bars on their body.  The Kentucky arrow darter is a candidate for federal listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Federal candidates warrant ESA protection but are sometimes precluded from listing by other higher priority listing actions (other species are more imperiled and take priority).  Each year, the Service publishes a list and summarizes the current status for all candidate species in its Candidate Notice of Review (CNOR). The CNOR helps landowners and natural resource managers plan conservation to address threats to candidate species. The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources has identified the Kentucky arrow darter as a species of greatest conservation need and has been hard at work conserving it through captive breeding and other projects.  A key threat to the Kentucky arrow darter is degradation of habitat through surface coal mining and other human activities.  Changes in water quality have a profound impact on all aquatic species, including the Kentucky arrow darter.

The darter itself has an interesting story. Cool that a California kid heard the story, and made such a nice work of art.

The rest of the press release, and other winners:

AlligatorFourteen-year-old Seungeun Yi, of California, took second place with art of an American alligator, actually one of our greatest ESA successes. As recently as the 1950s, American alligator populations were at all-time lows as market-hunting and habitat loss decimated the species. ESA protection prohibited hunting, and the alligator began to recover, and states throughout the South helped make sure the population increased. We declared the animal fully recovered in 1987, but related species are still in trouble, so the American alligator is listed as “threatened due to similarity of appearance.

San Francisco garter snake

Another Californian, Mark Deaver, 8, won the Grades k-2 Category with his art of an endangered San Francisco garter snake. The San Francisco garter snake with its turquoise body and orange, black and red-orange stripes, is often called the most beautiful snake in the United States. Because they are so beautiful, some people collect them illegally. But the more significant threat comes from habitat loss. We are working with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the National Park Service, Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, the California Department of Parks and Recreation and other partners to provide habitat for the snake.

eagle

Difei Li, 10, of New Jersey, won the Grades 3-5 Category with art of a bald eagle. Perhaps the ESA success story, the bald eagle population bottomed out in 1963 with just 417 nesting pairs in the contiguous United States. Habitat destruction and degradation, illegal shooting and the widespread use of DDT had sent the eagle population plummeting after World War II. Protecting habitat, banning most DDT use and a host of conservation actions by the American public helped bald eagles make a remarkable recovery. Though removed from the endangered species list in 2007 because their populations recovered sufficiently, bald eagles are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Act.

Northern aplomado falconClaire Noelle Kiernicki, 12, of  Illinois, won the Grades 6-8 Category with art of an endangered Northern aplomado falcon. Once widespread throughout the American Southwest, the aplomado falcon disappeared in South Texas in the 1940s and 1950s because of widespread loss of habitat.  An aggressive captive breeding and re-introduction effort has improved population numbers and the aplomado falcon is making a comeback in southern Texas.

bat

Adam Pavan, 15, of California, won the Grades 9-12 Category with art of an endangered Hawaiian hoary bat. Also known as the ‘ope‘ape‘a, populations are believed to be threatened by habitat loss, pesticides, predation, and roost disturbance. Its decline may be primarily due to the reduction of tree cover in historic times, and they may be indirectly impacted by the use of pesticides. Conservation plans guide the management and use of forests to reduce negative efforts to known bat populations and, continued support for the ‘ope‘ape‘a research cooperative.

Congratulations to all the entrants and thank you for helping spread the word about the endangered species of  the United States and its waters.


Losing the fight for biodiversity: An infographic

April 28, 2014

BusinessWorld infographic

BusinessWorld infographic

From BusinessWorld, a publication in India:

Even as India bats for biodiversity investments at a UN convention of experts from 193 countries, the planet is staring at an imminent crisis that could wipe out life as we know it.

Compiled by Yashodhara Dasgupta

Click Here To Download Infographic

Sources: International Union for Conservation of Nature,
World Wide Fund for Nature, Ministry of Environment and Forests

Graphic: Sajeev Kumarapuram

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 22-10-2012)
– See more at: http://www.businessworld.in/news/business/environment/the-losing-world/570570/page-1.html#sthash.mmSk4DDw.dpuf

This would be a good poster for geography, biology, general science and world history courses. Can your drafting class print this out for you in poster format?

When all of the “coal mine canaries” on Earth die out, how much longer have humans left to live on Earth?

What hope have we, with yahoos like this leading us in Congress?

ven as India bats for biodiversity investments at a UN convention of experts from 193 countries, the planet is staring at an imminent crisis that could wipe out life as we know it.Compiled by Yashodhara Dasgupta – See more at: http://www.businessworld.in/news/business/environment/the-losing-world/570570/page-1.html#sthash.mmSk4DDw.dpuf

ven as India bats for biodiversity investments at a UN convention of experts from 193 countries, the planet is staring at an imminent crisis that could wipe out life as we know it.Compiled by Yashodhara Dasgupta

Click Here To Download Infographic

 

Sources: International Union for Conservation of Nature,

World Wide Fund for Nature, Ministry of Environment and ForestsGraphic: Sajeev Kumarapuram

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 22-10-2012)

– See more at: http://www.businessworld.in/news/business/environment/the-losing-world/570570/page-1.html#sthash.mmSk4DDw.dpuf

ven as India bats for biodiversity investments at a UN convention of experts from 193 countries, the planet is staring at an imminent crisis that could wipe out life as we know it.Compiled by Yashodhara Dasgupta

Click Here To Download Infographic

 

Sources: International Union for Conservation of Nature,

World Wide Fund for Nature, Ministry of Environment and ForestsGraphic: Sajeev Kumarapuram

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 22-10-2012)

– See more at: http://www.businessworld.in/news/business/environment/the-losing-world/570570/page-1.html#sthash.mmSk4DDw.dpuf


Darwin’s death, April 19, 1882, and his legacy today

April 19, 2014

This is an encore post.

We shouldn’t pass April 19 — a day marked by significant historic events through the past couple hundred years — without remembering that it is also the anniversary of the death of Darwin.

Charles Darwin in 1881, by John Collier

Charles Darwin in 1881, portrait by John Collier; after a Collier painting hanging in the Royal Society

Immortality?  Regardless Darwin’s religious beliefs (I’ll argue he remained Christian, thank you, if you wish to argue), he achieved immortality solely on the strength of his brilliant work in science. Of course he’s best known for being the first to figure out that natural and sexual selection worked as tools to sculpt species over time, a theory whose announcement he shared with Alfred Russel Wallace, who independently arrived at almost exactly the same theory but without the deep evidentiary backup Darwin had amassed.

But had evolution turned out to be a bum theory, Darwin’s other works would have qualified him as one of the greatest scientists of all time, including:

Darwin's theory set out a sequence of coral re...

Darwin’s theory set out a sequence of coral reef formation around an extinct volcanic island, becoming an atoll as the island and ocean floor subsided. Courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

US Geological Survey graphic demonstrating how coral atolls form on the sinking remains of old volcanic sea mounts, as Darwin described. Wikimedia commons image

  • World’s greatest collector of biological samples:  During his five years’ voyage on HMS Beagle, Darwin collected the largest collection of diverse plant and animal life ever by one person (I believe the record still stands); solely on the strength of his providing actual examples to the British Museum of so much life in so many different ecosystems worldwide, before he was 30 Darwin won election to the Royal Society.  (His election was engineered partly by friends who wanted to make sure he stayed in science, and didn’t follow through on his earlier plan to become a preacher.)
  • Geology puzzle solver:  Coral atolls remained a great geological mystery.  Sampling showed coral foundations well below 50 feet deep, a usual limit for coral growth.  In some cased old, dead coral were hundreds of feet deep.  In the South Pacific, Darwin looked at a number of coral atolls, marvelous “islands” that form almost perfectly circular lagoons.  Inspired partly by Lyell’s new encyclopedic review of  world geology, Darwin realized that the atolls he saw were the peaks of volcanic mounts.  Darwin hypothesized that the volcanoes grew from the ocean floor to the surface, and then the islands were colonized by corals.  The round shape of the volcano gave the atoll its shape.  Then the volcanic mounts eroded back, or sank down, and corals continued to grow on the old foundations.  It was a perfectly workable, natural explanation for a long-standing geologic puzzle.  (See Darwin’s monograph, Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs.)
  • Patient watcher of flowers:  Another great mystery, this time in biology, concerned how vines twined themselves onto other plants, rocks and structures.  Darwin’s genius in designing experiments shone here:  He put a vine in his study, and watched it.  Over several hours, he observed vine tendrils flailing around, until they latched on to something, and then the circular flailing motion wrapped the tendril around a stick or twig. Simple observation, but no one had ever attempted it before.  (See On the Movements and Habits of Climbing Plants.)
  • Champion of earthworms, and leaf mould:  Darwin suspected the high fertilizer value of “leaf mould” might be related to the action of earthworms.  Again, through well-designed experiments and simple observation, Darwin demonstrated that worms moved and aerated soil, and converted organic matter into even richer fertilizer. (See The Formation of Vegetable Moulds Through the Action of Worms.)
  • Creation of methodological science:  In all of this work, Darwin explained his processes for designing experiments, and controls, and made almost as many notes on how to observe things, as the observations themselves.  Probably more than any other single man, Darwin invented and demonstrated the use of a series of processes we now call “the scientific method.”  He invented modern science.

Any of those accomplishments would have been a career-capping work for a scientist.  Darwin’s mountains of work still form foundations of geology and biology, and are touchstones for genetics.

Born within a few hours of Abraham Lincoln on February 12, 1809, Darwin survived 17 years longer — 17 extremely productive years.  Ill through much of his life with mystery ailments, perhaps Chaga’s Disease, or perhaps some other odd parasite or virus he picked up on his world travels, Darwin succumbed to heart disease on April 19, 1882.

More:

 


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