Ecology in videos and podcasts

Oysters proposed for cleaning up New York’s rivers, mall music has a bigger impact than boosting sales, cephalopods advance research in neuroscience and robotics, how gut bacteria might be shaping brain development and behavior and E.O. Wilson discusses a life of research on ants. Here are the remaining links from January. Oyster-tecture: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a study today showing heavy contamination in the Gowanus Canal in New York City. In the above TED video, landscape architect Kate Orff discusses plans to reestablish oysters to the Canal as a way to filter pollution and create habitats for other species. “One oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day,” said Orff, “…and they become the bedrock of any harbor ecosystem.” Read more at “Reviving New York’s rivers — with oysters!” Lowering music emissions: Stanford University journalism students put a new spin on the term noise pollution: They calculated just how much energy is used to play background music in malls in the U.S. As explained in the Scientific American podcast 60-Second Earth, “[the students] crunched the numbers on how much energy it takes to play all that pop and came up with a figure of 1.18 gigawatt-hours. Given the present energy mix that means Mantovani adds more than 3,000 metric tons of CO2 to the atmosphere each year.” Read more and listen at “Another Reason to Hate Shopping Sound Tracks.” Cephalopod brains: In a lengthy BoingBoing video, science journalist Maggie Koerth-Baker explains the cephalopod—such as octopuses and squid—brain and how it is used for communication, object detection and predator avoidance. “The secret to the octopus’ success: its brain,” she said in the video. “This incredibly weird structure, from our biased vertebrate mammalian perspective…is the result of an evolutionary process hundreds of millions of years removed from our own, creating an organ that looks on the surface nothing like what we’ve come to expect an honest brain to be.” Koerth-Baker applies these brain functionalities to neuroscience and robotics. Read more at “everybody loves cephalopods.” E.O. Wilson on ants and life: In an Encyclopedia of Life podcast, E.O. Wilson, now 81, discusses his lifelong study of ants—including the red imported fire ant that he discovered at the age of 13 in Alabama—and what drives him to continue his research. “I think my life proves, if you are truly a dedicated naturalist, if you’ve known the joys of exploring  biodiversity, and you’ve become fairly familiar with ecosystems that feel like home to you when you step into them…that it is a source of lifelong pleasure, adventure, challenge and excitement,” he said in the podcast.  Read more and listen...

Read More

Tackling fiction with what he knows best

I was thumbing through my New Yorker magazine when the featured fiction story caught my eye. The accompanying graphic showed several silhouetted ants and the opening line of the story read: “The Trailhead Queen was dead.” I began reading and got pulled into the plight facing the colony, which was profoundly affected by the death of its long-lived queen.

Something about the fiction story was different though. While it kept my attention it also fed me detailed and fascinating facts (e.g. “…..ants are encased in an external skeleton; their soft tissues shrivel into dry threads and lumps, but their exoskeletons remain, a knight’s armor fully intact long after the knight is gone.”) Halfway through reading, it struck me that this was just the sort of story a biologist could write. I flipped back to check who authored the piece and was startled to see that it was a biologist.

Read More