Sunday, October 26, 2008

Busy in the Fall

It was pointed out by one of my regular readers that I haven't posted in a few weeks. I guess, the "I've been busy" excuse doesn't work. So here is an update on my life.

First, school continues to go very well. I am sitting at an A- in my technical communications course and much better than that in Biology. Biology has been very interesting for me. Last week we got to dissect sheep eyeballs. Very cool! Next week we get to count beetles. Not so cool! We have been slowly shifting from cellular biology, into genetics, and now just starting inheritance and evolution. The beetles we will be counting are the result of a population and resource experiment. I will have to write my first scientific research paper on the results. I will register for classes this next week for the Spring. I hope to continue with Biology, then take either my first Ecology course or Ornithology, or both!

Work has been very interesting and stressful lately. New management was brought in from the outside which has caused quite a bit of turmoil. They pushed my boss out and have been trying to quickly change the culture of the organization. Some for the good, some not so much. We all have been working very hard trying to keep our jobs. The jury is still out...

On the job note, I applied for a new job a few weeks back. The position is the executive director for a non-profit organization. It would be a stretch, but is well aligned with my interests - wildlife, ecosystems, recreation, scenic preservation. I completed a phone interview last week that went very well. I should be hearing about possible next steps in a week or two.

Last weekend we headed into the hills to find some wolves. No luck. It might have been the fact that it sounded like a battle zone out there. Gun fire in all directions. We survived without getting shot. It was nice to be in the mountains.

Lesser Scaup, Buffleheads, and a Western Grebe in pond in Big Meadow.

We met up with Doug and Lanette for a long hike in the mountains. It was a great hike, just not as scenic as we had hoped. After 17 miles, we were definitely done for the day.

Doug, Lanette, and Karyn having lunch on a rock.

The economy? No stress there!

Oh, did you know there is an election coming up? Millions of dollars, annoying ad after annoying ad, and they still have changed my mind on a single candidate or issue! I guess I am not considered a "swing" voter. Oh well. All I can say is that I am definitely ready for a CHANGE! Here is the best campaign video I have seen (stick with it, the ending is good!).

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Cross species threat communication

There have been a number of studies in the past few years analyzing the degree to which various species communicate with other species. I expect that many people might assume that little communication occurs between organisms of separate species, but that's just not true. Clearly there are many non-verbal cues that pass from species to species. Consider a bear staring at you while pawing the ground. While I haven't witnessed this myself, I can only assume that the communication from the bear would be crystal clear in my mind. A more interesting aspect than non-verbal communication are the subtleties of vocal or other sounds based communication. Consider the barking dog. Our context and experience enable us to have a pretty good idea of what the dog is trying to communicate.

In 2007, a study was published indicating that Nuthatches eavesdrop on variations in heterospecific chickadee mobbing alarm calls. As these are closely related species that often travel together, I can clearly understand the need and evolutionary benefit of this mechanism.

Recently a new study was publishing analyzing response to the wing whistles of Mourning Doves by other Mourning Doves and other bird species.

Seth W. Coleman (2008). Mourning dove (Zenaida macroura) wing-whistles may contain threat-related information for con- and hetero-specifics Naturwissenschaften, 95 (10), 981-986 DOI: 10.1007/s00114-008-0404-x

Mourning Doves wings make a whistling sound as they take flight. This sounds is most dramatic as they take off from the ground. The researcher recorded these sounds under normal take-offs and again under startled take offs. They then replayed these sounds as birds were eating at a feeding site. When Mourning Doves were present and the startled take-off sound was played, the birds remained more vigilant and stayed away from the feeding site longer than when the non-startled take-off sound was played. The procedure was repeated with other birds including the Northern Cardinal and the House Sparrow. In each case upon hearing the startled Mourning Dove wing whistle the birds in general remained more vigilant and stayed away longer than when they heard the non-startled wing whistle. Its worth noting that the vigilance response rates were higher for Mourning Doves than the other species.

The researcher then repeated the procedure using Northern Cardinal alarm calls and House Sparrow social chatter. Once again, all three species responded to the alarm call with greater vigilance, but the same species response, in this case the Cardinal, was the highest.

I'm interested each time a study like this comes out. The result, while it has some valuable scientific information, is not surprising to me at all. A species in the wild must be vigilant about its surroundings to survive. Cues can come from any direction to alert the presence of danger. Those species which are most in tune with these various cues will likely have a greater chance of survival and thus live to create more offspring. This is not likely just a learned behavior but most possibly an ingrained genetic trait inherited through generations.

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Saturday, October 04, 2008

Another moderate stance by our governor...

The wolf population "issue" in Idaho continues along its usual path of state officials looking for a "reasonable" solution.  Here is a recent quote from our governor:

“They say Butch Otter wants to kill all the wolves in Idaho,” Otter said. “Well, they’re right.” - The Owyhee Avalanche

And they wonder why the courts, the federal wildlife officials, and the public in general don't trust the state with responsible management of wolves. I still contend that this would have been a non-issue years ago if the states had taken a leadership position and put together reasonable management plans. Instead, comments like this pour money into the legal and political battles on both sides.

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