Archive for May, 2013

Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf?

Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf?

By EcoEvo@TCD | Perspectives

In popular culture, especially literary references, wolves are usually sly, cunning and vicious. Think of the fairy tale wolf villain who used his drag queen and voice modulation skills to fool Little Red Riding Hood into thinking that he was her aged grandmother. Some literary wolves are more than a little bit gullible; thwarted in his attempts to demolish a house of brick, the Big Bad Wolf resorted to a chimney entrance route to reach his porcine prey. Not the wisest option; he should have known that the Three Little Pigs had plenty of straw and sticks [&hellip

Do badgers play Friesian tag?

Do badgers play Friesian tag?

By EcoEvo@TCD | Research

            While there is irrefutable evidence for the transfer of bovine TB between badgers and cattle, the mechanisms of transfer are not clearly documented. In order to reduce such transfer, it is obviously important to understand how infection takes place. With such questions in mind, data from a study of free-ranging badgers was combined with detailed records of paddock use by cattle. Each study badger was carrying a personal GPS unit on a tailored collar, so their movements could be monitored to within a few meters. The paddock use of the cattle [&hellip

IUCN Red Listing Ecosystems Workshop

IUCN Red Listing Ecosystems Workshop

By EcoEvo@TCD | Seminars

Many of us attended a fantastic seminar on Friday the 17th of May, given by Dr Ed Barrrows – IUCN Red List of Ecosystems: An evolving tool for risk assessment, priority setting and landscape action. Dr Ed Barrows is a former graduate of Trinity’s Zoology Department and is currently the Head of Ecosystems at the IUCN. The focus of his talk was to introduce us to the new risk assessment criteria developed by the IUCN to assess ecosystems. This will ultimately provide the world with a Red List for Ecosystems. We were all familiar with the concept of a Red List [&hellip

May I take your order?

May I take your order?

By EcoEvo@TCD | Research

My PhD involves studying the foraging behaviour of vultures. So far I’ve done theoretical work and also had the luck to get some second hand empirical data. But I’d like to be able to get some field data first hand. To that end I’m setting off to Swaziland on Saturday with the intention of building a vulture restaurant and a walk-in trap. The first item takes a little explaining. Vultures are carrion feeders, which means their food source is unpredictable, the bird never knows when the next wildebeest is going to drop dead. So they’re quite sensitive [&hellip

Science be praised, please cure me of my Yoda Complex

Science be praised, please cure me of my Yoda Complex

By EcoEvo@TCD | Research

My former PhD student, Luke McNally and I authored a paper published recently showing how “Cooperation creates selection for tactical deception”. Using a combination of mathematical models and analysis of empirical data from 24 primate species, we show that acts of deception are more likely to occur when the individuals in the group show greater cooperation. In other words, deception and cooperation go hand-in-hand. Perhaps not a surprising result, as Rob Brooks recently pointed out in a very accurate and nice blog post on our paper, but the evolutionary forces that might maintain deception in society have not been previously described. We have [&hellip

The VIP Tweetment

The VIP Tweetment

By EcoEvo@TCD | Research

As part of an ongoing census of the birds of Trinity College, we surveyed their diversity just outside our door. Authors Trinity College Zoology Students Photo Credit Trinity College Zoology Students   &nbsp

We need Tarzan to fill the gaps!

We need Tarzan to fill the gaps!

By EcoEvo@TCD | News

Nature News published a new post about our origins. It’s promoting Stevens et al’s 2013 paper that published the description from two new granddads/grandmas in our already complicated family tree. These guys, Nsungwepithecus and Rukwapithecus (it’s not that hard to pronounce, try it) are considered by Stevens and his team as the oldest crown Catarrhines – [Google translate palaeo-primatish to English: “as closely related as the ancestors of you and your cousin the proboscis monkey (we all knew there were some facial similarities!)”]. Technically speaking, these fossil discoveries pushed the origin of modern Catarrhines back from 20 [&hellip

Sentenced to death: how not to communicate science

Sentenced to death: how not to communicate science

By EcoEvo@TCD | Perspectives

            I like to think the purpose of language (poetry excluded) is to convey information. Doing so in science is complicated somewhat by the vocabulary that every field accumulates. But, from my experience, most of this jargon takes the form of nouns and these are easy to explain when necessary. Take the word ‘phylogenetics’ as an example. On first inspection it’s a polysyllabic monster but as a noun it’s easy to define as “the systematic study of organism relationships based on evolutionary similarities and differences.” Simple. And over time this word slots [&hellip

Monsterology

Monsterology

By EcoEvo@TCD | Perspectives

              Monsters and fantastical creatures are integral components of every culture and society. It’s easy to dismiss fantastical beasts such as Cyclopes, unicorns and mermaids as fanciful creations of story tellers with over-active imaginations. While this may be true, there are also often plausible explanations of either extinct or extant animals which could spark such tales.  The intriguing pseudoscience of cryptozoology has a long history which is still strong today. Marauding Cyclopes seem to have been rampant on the islands of mythological Ancient Greece. One of the explanations suggested for the origins [&hellip

Surviving experiments

Surviving experiments

By EcoEvo@TCD | Perspectives

Having just come through a particularly long and intense experiment (relatively unscathed) I thought I’d contribute some of the things I’ve learned and advice I’d give to other poor souls embarking on the exciting and terrifying world of empirical science. 1. Be organized! I know this is a bit of a cliché but taking the time to work out exactly how much of everything you need, gather your chemicals, buying the labels etc.- it all pays off. Try, if you can, to run a number of pilots to iron out any blaring errors, work out difficult techniques [&hellip