Archive for November, 2012

War of the worms

War of the worms

By EcoEvo@TCD | Reviews

Some of the most successful animals on earth live in societies characterised by a division of labour between reproducing and non-reproducing castes.  One role non-reproducing members may undertake is defence. Spectacular examples include the heavily armoured termites and ants. Recently a soldier caste was discovered in an entirely new and unexpected battleground, inside the bodies of snails. The soldiers? Tiny parasitic flatworms. Flatworms, or trematodes, have complicated life cycles, involving several different stages infecting a variety of host species. In one host, often a snail, a single trematode undergoes repeated clonal reproduction. Clones produce more clones or [&hellip

The language of evolution on trial

The language of evolution on trial

By EcoEvo@TCD | Perspectives

Humans are purpose seeking beings. Such a fact is nowhere more apparent than in our language. Some scientists argue that this tendency is a cause of confusion in their subject, especially when it comes to descriptions of evolution. The teleological turn of phrase is so tempting because of how much easier it is to read and understand than a dry purposeless, but more accurate, expression.  ‘Wings evolved for flight’ isn’t quite right but we understand the message. I remember my chemistry teacher’s classes were replete with teleology, ions wanted to gain or lose electrons so they could balance their [&hellip

How to save time with twitter

How to save time with twitter

By EcoEvo@TCD | Perspectives

I was recently asked to write a blog post for SpotOn (Science policy outreach and tools Online) and thought I’d share a modified version of it here. If you’ve never heard of it, SpotOn is a series of community events hosted by Nature Publishing Group for the discussion of how science is carried out and communicated online. There are loads of excellent resources on the website which I’d urge you to check out if you’re at all interested in using the internet more in academia. I will probably write more blog posts about this in the next few [&hellip

A Waxwing winter you say?

A Waxwing winter you say?

By EcoEvo@TCD | Perspectives

The Bohemian Waxwing Bombycilla garrulus might not be a bird you are too familiar with, but this winter might change all that, for it seems we’re heading for a Waxwing winter. Don’t worry; Waxwings are not giant, flesh-eating birds. They are, in fact, a small and very beautiful passerine species that migrate to our lands to feast on fruiting bushes and trees. The breeding range of the Bohemian Waxwing extends across most of northern Europe, Asia and western North America, and our nearest breeding populations are to be found in northern Sweden and Finland. These exotic-looking birds [&hellip

Tenrec tales

Tenrec tales

By EcoEvo@TCD | Perspectives

Tenrecs are one of the most interesting and fascinating mammal groups yet many people have never heard of them. They are one of only four mammalian groups to have colonised Madagascar, a land filled with evolutionary curiosities. Tenrecs are a striking example of convergent evolution. From a single colonising ancestor, tenrecs have evolved into incredibly diverse species which resemble moles, shrews, hedgehogs and even otters! Contrary to appearances, tenrecs’ closest relatives are actually the golden moles and elephant shrews (Chrysochloridae). However, physical convergences are so strong that early taxonomists didn’t recognise tenrecs as being closely related to [&hellip

Academic heroes

Academic heroes

By EcoEvo@TCD | Perspectives

Most people have heroes. As this is a science blog I’m guessing you are already battling out Captain Kirk vs Spock, Batman vs Spiderman or Inspector Gadget vs MacGyver, in your head in order to choose the most appropriate hero. But here, I mean academic hero. That person whose work becomes the foundation of our academic thinking or that we simply admire for their lifetime academic achievements. Deciding on our academic hero makes a great conversation topic and it usually ends up covering pretty much the whole history of science. In my lab, there is an ongoing [&hellip

Cod, correlation and causation

Cod, correlation and causation

By EcoEvo@TCD | Perspectives

Stephen Leahy at the Guardian reports on a battle between science and politics which is worth highlighting. The Atlantic cod fisheries in the Atlantic collapsed during the 90s due to overfishing. They have yet to recover. The Atlantic cod is an apex predator and its decline effected a trophic cascade, which modified the original food web, perhaps irrevocably. The Canadian government is holding the grey seal responsible for this. They argue that the seals, which are growing in number, are preventing the recovery of the stocks and are planning to kill 70,000 of them next year. This has vexed a group of marine biologists at Dalhousie [&hellip

Bamboo systematics: less swaying in the wind

Bamboo systematics: less swaying in the wind

By EcoEvo@TCD | Research

The bamboos are an extraordinary group of plants and the only large group of grasses to diversify in forests. They represent a major radiation in the angiosperms with nearly 1,500 species. The Bamboo Phylogeny Working Group (including TCD botanists Sarawood Sungkaew and Trevor Hodkinson) have recently used molecular, anatomical and morphological characters to update the tribal and subtribal classification of bamboos including the new genus (Phuphanochloa) shown in the photo. Authors Sarawood Sungkaew Trevor Hodkinson: hodkinst[at]tcd.ie Photo credit Trevor Hodkinson

A dose of Darwin

A dose of Darwin

By EcoEvo@TCD | Perspectives

One of the more irksome aspects of life is getting sick, I always think we should be beyond this. When it comes to medicine I suppose we can ourselves lucky to be alive at a time when doctors and butchers are no longer interchangeable. But even in the 21st century we’re still engaged in arms races with bacteria and chemical warfare with cancer (military metaphors are never in short supply) . Bacteria evolve resistant strains to our best antibiotics and tumours do likewise against our attempted cures. Less grave but still illustrative is the perennial persistence of [&hellip

Biodiversity in Our Lives

Biodiversity in Our Lives

By EcoEvo@TCD | News

It’s worthwhile highlighting the recent success of the “Biodiversity in Our Lives” campaign which has generated some notable publicity this week in Science. PhD students here at Trinity College decided to impress upon the public some facts about biodiversity and how it can impact our lives, often in surprising ways. To do this they decided to create a series of beermats which have succinct descriptions of these impacts. Pubs around Dublin have received a second round of the beermats and to coincide with this many of the students are giving pop up pub talks. Author Adam Kane: kanead[at]tcd.ie [&hellip