Archive for March, 2013

Dinosaurs are useless if they don't go in trees!

Dinosaurs are useless if they don’t go in trees!

By EcoEvo@TCD | Perspectives

I’d like to ask the question many paleontologists have to face when they (foolishly) venture out of their museum storage: “So you’re studying fossils right? But what will that bring to the people? A cure for AIDS?”. There are many possible answers from a punch in the face to more mature responses. But I was recently asking myself the question from a biologist’s point of view: “What can biologists really do with the fossil record?”. Well obviously, we can use it to recreate and understand the history of our planet (like in Nature last week) or to [&hellip

Tyre Pressure

Tyre Pressure

By EcoEvo@TCD | Reviews

I’ve recently been spending a lot of time working with undergraduate students and marking their work and much of it has been on the subject of evolution and natural selection.  This can be a difficult topic to clarify in the mind of younger students and it’s often difficult to recall specific examples which can be easily explained. Usually you have to come up with some hypothetical situation whereby some selection pressure drives a population towards evolutionary change. A newly published study in Current Biology by Brown and Brown however provides a beautiful (and more importantly brief) example of [&hellip

Bees and biofuels….what’s the buzz?

Bees and biofuels….what’s the buzz?

By EcoEvo@TCD | Perspectives

As oil prices sore and the future of world energy is uncertain, there is rising demand for alternatives to fossil fuels. From solar energy to wind to algae fuel and biodigestion, the alternatives are numerous. One alternative that has received substantial media attention is the use of bioenergy which involves the production of energy from crops including maize, sugarcane, elephant grass and oilseed rape which are grown specifically for energy purposes. However, the debate over bioenergy crops is often heated. Do they compete with food crops and therefore increase prices in an already stretched market? Do bioenergy [&hellip

Morphological convergence and disparity in Malagasy tenrecs

Morphological convergence and disparity in Malagasy tenrecs

By EcoEvo@TCD | Perspectives

“I wish to register a complaint…” the first six months of my PhD have passed by far too quickly. As the date of departure for my first major data collection trip looms, I’m navigating the exciting but unnerving transition from the planning to action stages of my project. Fortunately the members of NERD club were on hand to very kindly listen to my ramblings and provide excellent ideas to add to and modify my research. Here’s the plan so far… Evolutionary studies have long-been concerned with understanding patterns of variation in morphological diversity. Two aspects of morphological variation which [&hellip

Undead as a dodo?

Undead as a dodo?

By EcoEvo@TCD | Perspectives

While most of the younger generations are familiar with the ideas behind Jurassic Park, they are probably also aware that, despite the best efforts of geneticists, there is no possibility of conjuring up a T. Rex from the fossilised remnants that are on display in museums. However, there are plans afoot to attempt a similarly ambitious project with species that have disappeared from the earth more recently. These reintroduction programmes, where there are currently no living relatives to repopulate the species, have been termed “de-extinction”. The Long Now Foundation (a private, not-for-profit organisation committed to very long-term [&hellip

Chronicle of a death foreseen

Chronicle of a death foreseen

By EcoEvo@TCD | Reviews

Why did Neanderthals go extinct while humans prospered? There are volumes full of speculations into the decline and fall of our burly cousin who last walked the Earth 30,000 years ago. Climate change may have reduced the large herbivores on which they depended for food. Humans may have inadvertently spread lethal diseases to them when we first came into contact. Perhaps the most sinister hypothesis is that we extirpated them in an ancient act of genocide (/speciescide?). Researchers at Oxford now argue that Neanderthal orbit size gives us an insight into the reason for their downfall. They [&hellip

Your days are numbered

Your days are numbered

By EcoEvo@TCD | Perspectives

Last weekend journalist Rod Liddle applauded the efforts of two scientists who wrote a primer for the lay public on physics. His applause stopped when it came to the content though. The problem for him was the quantity of maths the authors used to get their point across. Liddle wrote “By the time we got onto calculus and derivatives I had long since raided the wine rack and things stopped making sense altogether.” But calculus is an integral part of the Leaving Certificate maths curriculum in Ireland and A levels in the UK so why should an educated man [&hellip

Geese vs. Cyclists

Geese vs. Cyclists

By EcoEvo@TCD | Perspectives

From October onwards, when most of our resident wildlife is battening down the hatches to endure the impending bleak winter months, flocks of Brent Geese are very welcome visitors to Ireland. Their arduous journey to our shores is impressive for both its distance (approximately 3,000km from Arctic Canada) and the route taken: long-distance sea voyages punctuated by stop-overs in Greenland and Iceland before they reach Ireland. The necessity to escape harsh Arctic winters is very understandable. What’s not clear is why Brent geese undertake Atlantic crossings instead of following other geese species that journey south across the [&hellip

Comedy science

Comedy science

By EcoEvo@TCD | Reviews

Last Wednesday a bunch of us (thanks to @nhcooper123 for organising) went to see Robin Ince @robinince perform his stand-up comedy science show The Importance of Being Interested at the Science Gallery. His shows are a unique blend of education and humour, combining a whistle-stop tour of the world of science with hilarious anecdotes, all the while vehemently challenging the doubters and the nay-sayers. I found his show immensely inspiring, and I have to admit that I am normally bored by pop-sci outside of the relative academic safety of my office. I took so much from the [&hellip

Fly Away Home

Fly Away Home

By EcoEvo@TCD | Research

The University of Exeter team visited Ireland this week as part of their ongoing investigation into the biology of the Brent Goose. This species has a remarkable migration, spanning from Northern Canada to Western Europe. The team collects DNA samples, blood for stable isotope analysis and various morphometric and behavioural data. We joined them on Wednesday to help out. Author Adam Kane: kanead[at]tcd.ie Photo credit Adam Kane