Archive for October, 2012

Zombies and the problem of consciousness

Zombies and the problem of consciousness

By EcoEvo@TCD | Perspectives

Seeing as it’s Halloween, I’m going to play devil’s advocate with the help of some zombies and explore the Gordian knot of consciousness. I think most scientists would hold a physicalist view when it comes to their view of how the world ‘really’ is. That is to say, objectively speaking, all there is to the universe are the various interacting fields and particles of physics. The problem with such a view is that our conscious selves prove very difficult to incorporate into this picture. We are subjective beings. Finding out how consciousness came about is known as the hard [&hellip

Dinosaur detective stories

Dinosaur detective stories

By EcoEvo@TCD | Reviews

“Being a paleontologist is like being a coroner except all the witnesses are dead and all the evidence has been left out in the rain for 65 million years” Mike Brett-Surman, 1994 I am very much for palaeontology and the enthusiasm for the science today but there was a time when even the mighty dinosaurs were out of fashion. During the 40s and 50s they were thought of as animals who had been destined for extinction, little more than children’s monsters. Perish the thought. That changed in both academic and public circles when palaeontologist John Ostrom and his student Bob [&hellip

Sulawesi field report

Sulawesi field report

By EcoEvo@TCD | Research

July and August of this year saw members of the Behavioural and Evolutionary Ecology research group embark on another field season studying the birds of tropical south-east Sulawesi, Indonesia. Principal investigators Dr. Nicola Marples and Dr. Dave Kelly were joined this year by PhD student Seán Kelly, as well as a number of undergraduates from the university. This year’s expedition, carried out in collaboration with Operation Wallacea, consisted of two teams: the mist netting team, led by Dr. Marples and Dr. Kelly, and the behavioural team led by Seán Kelly. The netting team trapped birds using mist [&hellip

The not so black and white story of why the zebra got its stripes

The not so black and white story of why the zebra got its stripes

By EcoEvo@TCD | Reviews

Why are zebra black and white? I would hazard a guess your answer is camouflage, and you would be right… well, mostly. I would then bet you got the beast from which the zebra is hiding wrong. While the black and white stripes might disrupt outline of a zebra in the eyes of an ambushing lion or sprinting cheetah, the scientific evidence points to a much smaller blood thirsty devourer of zebra. Since the 1970s, experiments have shown that Tsetse flies are less attracted to black and white striped patterns than plain black, white or grey colours. Most [&hellip

All the better to see you with

All the better to see you with

By EcoEvo@TCD | Reviews

A recent discovery of a large eye found by a beachcomber in Florida initiated a flurry of internet speculation of its mysterious owner. The contenders for ownership included colossal squid, thresher sharks and a range of mysterious sea creatures both real and imagined. While the owner of the tennis ball sized eye has recently been attributed to a swordfish, it is perhaps not unreasonable to attribute such a large eye to creatures of monstrous sizes, especially considering the eye rivals the size of those of the largest animals to every exist, the cetaceans. So why don’t we always find the largest eyes in the largest [&hellip

The tree on the web

The tree on the web

By EcoEvo@TCD | Reviews

Visualising the tree of life is a challenge for even the most artistically attuned in the scientific community. The problem is the sheer number of species that we need to represent, literally millions. But I think the latest attempt meets the challenge. The developers of OneZoom, the name of the new approach, argue that we need to escape the “paper paradigm”. We should instead make full use of the benefits that digital interactive displays grant us. Worrying that our efforts won’t translate to the printed page is an exercise in Luddism. So, why is OneZoom so successful? [&hellip

Hotbeds of photosynthesis evolution

Hotbeds of photosynthesis evolution

By EcoEvo@TCD | Research

Grasses rank among the world’s most ecologically and economically important plants including wheat, barley, rice and maize. Evolution of the C4 syndrome has made photosynthesis highly efficient in about half of their species, inspiring intensive efforts to engineer the pathway into C3 crops to improve drought and heat tolerance.  An international collaboration called the Grass Phylogeny Working Group (including Trevor Hodkinson, TCD) produced one of the most comprehensive phylogenetic trees of the grasses and used this to show how C4 evolution has evolved. Results published in the journal New Phytologist show that it has evolved repeatedly 22-24 times and within two groups in particular. Author [&hellip

What did what to what? Finding causality in chaos.

What did what to what? Finding causality in chaos.

By EcoEvo@TCD | Reviews

A new paper has been published in Science by George Sugihara and colleagues, which is an immediate contender for the most insightful paper I’ve ever read. In the paper they outline a new method, which they dub ‘Convergent Cross Mapping’ (CCM), for detecting causality between variables using time series data. Not only does CCM allow for the detection of causality but also its directionality. The method takes us well beyond the previous confines of Granger causality (which requires the assumption that systems are linear, or are showing linear behaviour near an equilibrium), and allows us to tease [&hellip

Darwin’s insects, Dodo skeletons and macaques with braces

Darwin’s insects, Dodo skeletons and macaques with braces

By EcoEvo@TCD | Perspectives

The Natural History museum in Dublin is one of my favourite places in the city. It has a very Victorian feel to it, none of this pandering to the X-box generation, just cabinet upon cabinet of mounted skins and skeletons revealing the diversity of nature. Some of the taxidermy is pretty hilarious and you can see the bullet holes in some of the skeletons, but that adds to the charm of the place! I did a lot of museum based work during my PhD and absolutely loved using museum collections, so now I have my own students they all [&hellip

“To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect”

“To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect”

By EcoEvo@TCD | Reviews

I spoke before of how to use mathematics to convey an idea in biology. Here, I’ll take a different tack and discuss a paper in which the author makes his argument with naked English. The author in question is Nicholas Humphrey who in his famous paper ‘The social function of the intellect’ draws a wonderful metaphor of Mother Nature as an economist, “It is not her habit to tolerate needless extravagance in the animals on her production lines: superfluous capacity is trimmed back, new capacity added only as and when it is needed”. His metaphor serves as [&hellip