Next Monday, August 21st, a total eclipse will traverse across the US in a spectacle not seen during in my lifetime. The last total eclipse in the US was on February 26, 1979 (right, top) but the last time totality took a similar path crossing the nation from the Pacific to the Atlantic was June 8, 1918 (right, below). So this is a pretty special event!
We won't be able to see totality in Texas (68.44% in College Station), but that's not going to stop us from having an Eclipse Party! If you're planning on viewing the eclipse, be safe and view with the proper protective equipment.
Once upon a time, scientists had faith in their president and government. They believed they were advocates of progress and defenders of the planet. These days, massive cuts to funding, freezes in government agencies employing scientists, and attacks on facts have caused a lot of doubt in our government and it's relationship with science.
Yesterday was Earth Day and thousands of scientists WORLDWIDE marched to show solidarity for the importance of science. I attended the Bryan/College Station March for Science which was small but did a great job of including the local community. As one of the largest research universities in the United States, Texas A&M University does a lot of ground breaking research but most of the community probably doesn't know much about it unless they are directly associated with it in some way. After the march we had a Science Town Hall. There were science demos, the opportunity to "Meet a Scientist" and talks on how science is a part of everyone's life.
I think our little event was a success. And, as for the marches around the globe, I don't know how much it will effect policy, but it got people excited about science. And support from the public is just as crucial to policy as support from politicians, as one can lead to the other.
With our country's political dichotomy, terms like "climate change" and "global warming" cause more division than unification. "Climate change" and "global warming" are terms of a global scale when many don't grasp much outside of a local scale. So, you'll probably find more people who think we have a responsibility to the environment than who believe in "global warming".
"Global warming" is a misnomer, giving nonbelievers ammo for their argument, and "climate change" is used as a political power play to further agendas rather than what might actually be best action. In reality, we are living in a changing environment and whether you believe it is because it's being caused by people or not, there is scientific evidence showing change.
So, regardless of these terms and how their usage effects the public, the environment still undergoes change and, despite personal political beliefs, we, as a species on this planet, have a responsibility of helping the environment and not making conditions worse.
Compromise must be made between sides to make something abstract more tangible. My recommendation, take those terms out of it and focus on actual, tangible issues.
My lion example (sorry for all the commas but try to follow me): Climate change isn't reducing the home range of the African lion, anthropogenic factors (things that are a result of human activity), such as humans coming into lion habitat, which, in turn, changes the landscape, do. A focus on alleviating human-wildlife conflict, teaching carnivore-friendly land use, and the creation of corridors to preserve passageways for movement of species across people dominated areas, for example, will better serve the lion population than trying to "stop climate change." It's something people can more readily relate to and inevitably leads to that bigger picture that "climate change" is trying to encompass but is too abstract for many to understand. It's the same goal just a refocus of the issue. And, I think, the lion conservation community is doing this well.
The innovative part of this analysis was the addition of a comparison to other species who are recognized to have subspecies and show similar Sub-Saharan population distribution. The study identified 46 animals that show a distinction between West/Central African and East/Southern Africa populations. While some animals are recognized as being more than one species – known as a complex – such as Baboon (5), Rock hyrax (5) and Oryx (3), others are species separated into subspecies, such as Giraffe (9; below), Black (4) and White (2) Rhino, and Caracal (8). Only 13 of the 46 animals aren’t separated between West/Central and East/Southern, including the lion, according to CITES.
The ESA classification is a little closer to demonstrating the Sub-Saharan distribution taxonomically by clumping the West/Central population with the Asiatic population. However, based on these results, lions may be able to be classified even more specifically. Hopefully my research will be able to shed a little more light on this. The help Laura is giving me to continue this investigation is immeasurable.
In case you forgot, today is also National S'more Day and I just bought this....
from San Diego based online marshmallow shop Mallow Mallow.
My dissertation project has gotten some great news this week. Today we received 30 lion specimens from the Field Museum of Natural History!
The Challenge is 2-fold:
The project with the most BACKERS will receive an extra $1,000 added to their GOAL.
Our GOAL is $5,000 and we must receive 100% of our GOAL to get any of the money donated by the BACKERS.
Go to Experiment.com/liondiversity and show some support by making a donation. Any little bit helps! The more people who make donations the better. You can also help by spreading the word.
The Challenge (# of BACKERS) runs from today to Friday, June 10 @ 6PM ET
The Campaign (100% of GOAL) runs from today to Saturday, June 18
Your support is much appreciated! THANKS!!!
The manuscript I have been working so hard on for most of the year has finally been published!
My first publication, Mitochondrial Haplotype Diversity in Zambian Lions: Bridging a Gap in the Biogeography of an Iconic Species, was made live today, December 16th, 2015! I am now officially a published author!
The paper is about matrelineal gene flow and genetic diversity of lions in Zambia. We found that lions in Zambia have a high level of diversity but can be separated into two sub-populations with little to no matrelineal gene flow between the two. The separation could be historical but it more likely due to an expanse of cities and roads that inhibit modern day dispersal because, when put in context with the entire range of the African lion, Zambia acts as a bridge connecting Southern and Eastern lion populations. This is all based on analysis of mitochondrial genes and the discovery of 5 sets of DNA variations (haplotypes) thus far not seen anywhere else in Africa.
Here's my official citation:
Curry CJ, White PA, Derr JN (2015) Mitochondrial Haplotype Diversity in Zambian Lions: Bridging a Gap in the Biogeography of an Iconic Species. PLoS ONE 10(12): e0143827. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0143827
I am currently working on a press release for this paper and I have already started writing my next publication, hopefully with two others soon to follow after that. My goal is that by the time I finish my PhD I will have at least 5 publications. Let the fun begin!
It was too cloudy in College Station to see the eclipse. It's nice that someone was able to capture a magical moment!
Big news! This morning I got the long awaited email that my first manuscript made it through another step of the publication process: Review. This journal is known for its quick turn-around time so we actually got a formal apology for how long it took (although it was a blessing in disguise that reviewer #3 held onto it until after my prelims were over. I should bake them a cake.) So, now I have 45 days to really hit the grindstone and channel my inner Carl Sagan (scientist and Pulitzer Prize winner) because not only do I have to make the "major revisions" to my manuscript to ensure it's publication but I also have to finish writing and submit my dissertation proposal as well as complete another $50,000 grant proposal all due by the end of October.
Lions went extinct in Rwanda 15 years ago after the 1994 genocide when the Akagera National Park went unmanaged and cattle herders poisoned many of the animal species. And this week, in a big conservation effort, seven lions, 5 females and 2 males, are being relocated from the South African province of KwaZulu Natal to repopulate Rwanda with lions. They are starting their journey from OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg to Rwanda today!
7/1/2015 - While doing a bit more research combing through article after article reading the same shpeal over and over I finally found something that somewhat confirmed my suspicion but with no real concrete evidence... there is political mumbo jumbo afoot....
The Christian Science Monitor (um, the what?) says that Kenya offered to donate eight lions to Rwanda last year but Kenya's wildlife conservation groups fiercely opposed the plan saying "Rwanda had not sufficiently addressed issues that resulted to the loss of its own lion population."
There isn't much genetic research on the puma (FYI: puma, cougar, mountain lion, catamount, panther... all the same thing, just depends on where you are and who you talk to). The scientific community seems to be quite torn about taxonomic assessment and there has been much debate around subspecies distinction, particularly in the case of using cougars in Texas to repopulate the Florida panther population. Some say they are distinct enough that they shouldn't be hybridized while others say they are the same so one can successfully repopulate the other. According to the Federal Register, "the best available information continues to support the assignment of the eastern taxon to Puma concolor couguar as distinct from other North American subspecies" based primarily on biology and life history.
The proposal to remove the eastern cougar from the endangered species list does not affect the status of the endangered Florida panther subspecies, a cluster of conservation genetics issues to discuss in more detail at another time. But, although the extinct animals will no longer be protected under the Endangered Species Act, which is intended to save animals and plants that still have a recorded population, it will also no longer be able to be used to protect similar animals, such as the Florida panther. Not sure if that matters since the Florida panther is already protected (and possibly diluted with Texas cougar) but its interesting nonetheless.
Scientists measure their impact on the scientific community by their number of publications and how many times those publications have been cited within other publications. To an academic, publications are kind of like a form of notoriety based currency. But it's not just about how many publications you have, the quality and impact factor of the journal it's published in is important as well. Basically, someone who has 3 publications in Nature, Cell and Science (impact factor > 30) is better off than someone who has 20 publications in Animal Biology (impact factor of 0.614). Not only will an article in Nature, Cell or Science get read, and likely cited, by a wider academic audience but publications in those journals are also more likely to be picked up by the media (which could be a good thing or a bad thing...). Journals with an impact factor over 5 can still have a lot of impact, just maybe not expanding into the general public like 20+ journals would. But, in the blossoming age of open-access, its getting a lot easier for anyone, not just academics, to get their hands on scientific literature (which, again, could be a good thing or a bad thing... and could change what we deem as "impact").
Getting published is also a time consuming process. Peer-reviewed journals are considered better than non but can take months for a manuscript to get through the review process. A journal with a quicker turn-around may not have as high of an impact factor, possibly due to more lax or no review process, but could get your results out to the world faster, leading to people citing you sooner. Meaning, for the right study, the benefits from publishing in a mid-tier journal with a quicker turn-around could outweigh the benefits of publishing in a top-tier journal. So, when publishing, a scientist has to weigh the pros and cons of quantity, quality and timing.
This month's Throwback Third Thursday (#tbtt) is a day late (so I guess its actually a Flashback Friday) and only looks back one day but for good reason: I didn't have time! The past few days I have been busy with the Genetics Graduate Student Association (GGSA) Spring Symposium featuring keynote speakers Dr. Bruce Budowle and Dr. Jeffrey Bennetzen. As Vice-President of GGSA, I was in charge of planning the event and it went GREAT! Our only criticism was there wasn't enough time for poster judging (but that was more of a venue availability problem than anything else). And what I am most grateful for, there was a good number of people who were incredibly helpful with set up and clean up. Amazing!
I am a biologist and my life is crap!