Dictyostelium slime molds from around the world will compete in the first ever Dicty World Race! Watch the time-lapse videos of cells navigating a maze embedded in a microfluidic device (nice Pac-Man obstacle) later this week, on 16 May.
A roundup of conservation and natural history links:
- A team at Towson University has launched a microsite and apps (for Android and iOS) for tracking the spread of the highly invasive Wavy-leaf Basketgrass (Oplismenus hirtellus ssp. undulatifolius).
- Janet Fang summarizes a paper by Railsback and Johnson: simulations of coffee plantation activity indicate that 5% land coverage in trees maximizes coffee yields. The overstory of trees reduces the amount of space for coffee shrubs, but it invites birds, who forage on destructive borer beetles.
- Nancy L. Brill describes the survey that a team of entomologists made of invertebrate life in 50 ordinary Raleigh, N.C. homes. The typical house was host to 100 different species of arthropod.
Several families were found in more than 90 percent of homes: gall midges (Cecidomyiidae), ants (Formicidae) and carpet beetles (Dermestidae), along with cobweb spiders (Theridiidae), dark-winged fungus gnats (Sciaridae), cellar spiders (Pholcidae), scuttle flies (Phoridae) and book lice (Liposcelididae). Most houses also had dust mites (Pyroglyphidae).
Pics and interpretation at Arthropods of Our Homes.
- Tovar Cerulli argues that hunters and non-hunters have more in common than they might think.
When clashes occur, it is all too easy to fall back on reductive notions about liberal, elite environmentalists and conservative, redneck hunters—the “greens” versus “the hook-and-bullet crowd.” With partisans on both sides invoking stereotypes and the media portraying hunters and environmentalists as opponents, it is tempting to imagine stark lines between the two.
But such divisions are too simplistic.
- An American Bird Conservancy post makes the connection between coffee farming… and hummingbirds!
- The Birding Wire picked up my profile (for Friends of the Migratory Bird [Duck] Stamp) of Quivira National Wildlife Refuge.
- A leader in Nature highlights a paper by Joshua J. Tewksbury et al., which calls for a revival in the practice of natural history. (I have the Tewksbury paper bookmarked but haven’t read it yet.)
As natural history has been de-emphasized, molecular biology, genetics, experimental biology and ecological modelling have flourished. But here is the problem: many of those fields ultimately rely on data and specimens from natural history….
No biology student should get a diploma without at least a single course in identifying organisms and learning basic techniques for observing and recording data about them.
Amanda Rodewald, director of the Conservation Science program at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, gives a 10-minute preso on bird-friendly coffee, in a video introduced by Gustave Axelson.
Scott Weidensaul gives us a nudge to remember to look for bird-friendly certified shade-grown coffee. I will confess that I tend to grab anything that’s labelled organic at the market; my excuse is that coffee with the Smithsonian’s label (or with related labels like the Rainforest Alliance’s) is (surprisingly) more difficult to find where I shop than it used to be. Need to look harder.
New research providing evidence for what we had good reason to believe: just as shade-grown coffee plantations are good for birds, birds are good for forested coffee plantations, especially predators of the Coffee Berry Borer Beetle (Hypothenemus hampei) like Yellow Warbler (Setophaga petechia). Traci Watson summarizes a paper by Daniel S. Karp et al.
From April, a nice recap by Dan Charles of the many stickers and labels to be found on a virtuous bag of coffee.
Good news: coffee specifically labelled as bird-friendly, Allegro’s Early Bird blend, comes to Whole Foods Markets. It’s been a while since the departure of Counter Culture Coffee Sanctuary brand.
An intriguing piece from a few weeks back by Nicole LaPorte on Kenneth Lander’s THRIVE Farmers Coffee. THRIVE seeks to move beyond the fair trade co-op model, to capture more of the value added by the coffee supply chain (roasters, distributors) for the farmer who got the beans out of the ground in the first place. THRIVE farmers follow organic methods, although not all go through the process of USDA certification.
It’s a small operation now; it will be interesting to see whether it can scale up from its current annual volume, somewhat more than 300,000 pounds of coffee.
Two recent articles pertaining to food labeling: First, Gustave Axelson recaps the labels vying for your attention as you shop for bird-friendly coffee.
…coffee sellers don’t always advertise that their coffee is Bird Friendly. “Probably about only 10 percent of coffee from Bird Friendly certified farms carries the Bird Friendly stamp on the package,” said Robert Rice, a research scientist at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center.
For example, Starbucks and Whole Foods sell some coffee from Bird Friendly certified farms. But they don’t see the need to make room on their packaging for a separate label that appeals to a relatively small—and silent—minority: birders.
Next, Mark Bittman proposes labels for packaged food that put the information you need right up front. A caption to the print version of the story recommends scanning the standardized list of ingredients in today’s packaging, not necessarily reading it in full:
…if the list of ingredients spans an entire paragraph, chances are you don’t need it.
I like Bittman’s red-yellow-green color codes, and I like the prominence of the Welfare measure. It would be nice to give more visibility to ingredients to which various consumers are allergic or intolerant.
Glover et al., in a Comment piece for Nature, recommend perenniation (intercropping perennials and trees with food crops) to boost African agriculture. One of the genera recommended is Gliricidia, leguminous trees already known for their felicitous effects in shade-grown coffee farming.
Hooray! It’s slime mold day at BPOTD!
Morgan and Rego challenge the claims by Reichheld and crew that Net Promoter Score is the single customer satisfaction metric necessary to explain business performance. While their peer-reviewed work does identify measures (e.g., Top 2 Box Satisfaction) that do correlate with short- and long-term success (Tobin’s Q, market share, etc.), their computation of “net promoters” is flawed: it is only a rough approximation of the ratio promulgated by Bain and Satmetrix, based on the “how likely to recommend” 0-10 scale. This shortcoming in the work is pointed out by Timothy L. Keiningham et al. Nevertheless, that follow-up note says
Despite the problems with the Net Promoter and Number of Recommendations metrics, Morgan and Rego (2006) have provided valuable insight regarding the relationship between business performance and other commonly used customer metrics…. We are unaware of another longitudinal study that examines the predictive value of satisfaction and loyalty metrics in such a comprehensive way.
And five years after the publication of The Ultimate Question, I’m waiting to see independent research that backs up its claims.
Paul Stapleton introduces “evergreen agriculture.” In Africa, intercropping with trees of the genera Sesbania, Gliricidia, Tephrosia, and others improves yields and provides other benefits; dropped leaves from the trees provide natural fertilizer.
The indigenous African acacia (Faidherbia albida) is perhaps the most remarkable of these fertiliser trees. Faidherbia sheds its nitrogen-rich leaves during the early rainy season and remains dormant throughout the crop-growing period. The leaves grow again when the dry season begins. This makes it highly compatible with food crops, because it does not compete with them for light, nutrients or water during the growing season: only its bare branches spread overhead while the food crops grow to maturity.
Via Leta, Carl Zimmer reviews a lot of recent research on slime molds (myxomycetes). Eye-popping photographs by Steven L. Stephenson, especially the shiny black knobby bundles of Metatrichia vesparia.