Nature Blog Network

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Insect Art

(Hat tip to Michael Barton over at the Dispersal of Darwin)

This week's edition of Nature is chronicling the art of Californian entomologist Steven Kutcher. Kutcher uses the most unorthodox of paint brushes, the insect, to paint brilliant hues with creative strokes.

"Kutcher controls the direction and movement of his arthropods — such as hissing cockroaches (pictured), darkling beetles and grasshoppers — by their response to external lighting.[...] Kutcher's art is more than just a novelty, because it reveals the hidden world of insect footprints. 'When an insect walks on your hand, you may feel the legs move but nothing visible remains, only a sensation,' he says. 'These works of art render the insect tracks and routes visible, producing a visually pleasing piece'. "
For more of Steven Kutcher's art, visit Bug Art by Steven Kutcher, where I found this beauty coauthored by none other than Gromphadorhina portentosa (hissing cockroach).

Starry Night

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Ocean Sciences Meeting Abstract Accepted

My abstract for The Ocean Sciences Meeting was accepted for the Census of Marine Life (CoML) poster session. The meeting is one, if not the, biggest meetings for ocean scientists and I am honored to be a part of the CoML. The work I will be presenting was part of a taxonomic training award for new investigators (link has my final report in addition to information about the award for those interested) I received from CoML's Biogeography of Deep-Water Chemosynthetic Ecosystems project (ChEss). My abstract is posted below. If any readers are going to the meeting or in the Orlando area and want to meet up let me know!


K.A. Zelnio, E. Rodríguez, M. Daly, C.R. Fisher

Hydrothermal vents are deep-sea ecosystems rich in energy and bacterial primary production. Cnidaria are not abundant in the well-studied Atlantic or Eastern Pacific vent communities. However they dominate some microhabitats on the East-Lau Spreading Center (ELSC). We report on six undescribed species of anemones (including one new genus) and a zoanthid from the ELSC. Three of the species of anemone are only found in areas exposed to hydrothermal flow, and will occasionally colonize the shells of mussels that require exposure to hydrothermal fluid to support their chemoautotrophic symbionts. Two of the other species are only present in areas isolated from direct exposure to hydrothermal fluid and the sixth is occasionally found in both peripheral areas and near to sources of hydrothermal flow. The zoanthid is the first to be reported from a hydrothermal vent and forms dense aggregations on basalt in areas of weak hydrothermal flow. The diversity of Cnidaria in this western Pacific back-arc basin is considered in the context of anemone and zoanthid diversity, distribution and habitat use at hydrothermal vents, methane seeps and whale falls.

More cnidarians than you can shake a manipulator arm at! Photo copyright C.R. Fisher/Ridge2000.

Fish & Wildlife Service Reverse Endangered Species Rulings!

Score one for mopping up after corruption! reports that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is reversing seven rulings

"that denied endangered species increased protection, after an investigation found the actions were tainted by political pressure from a former senior Interior Department official.

In a letter to Rep. Nick Rahall, D-West Virginia., the agency acknowledged that the actions had been "inappropriately influenced" and that "revising the seven identified decisions is supported by scientific evidence and the proper legal standards." The reversal affects the protection for species including the white-tailed prairie dog, the Preble's meadow jumping mouse and the Canada lynx."

Julie MacDonald, the USFWS deputy assistant director at the time, pressured scientists to alter their findings in favor of certain industries that would use the protected land in other ways (i.e. building development). The Union of Concerned Scientists stated that these seven reversals "does not begin to plumb the depths of what's wrong" at the wildlife agency and its implementation of the Endangered Species Act. They have collected 30 cases of direct interference by USFWS over the last 7 years. Including (my favorite) delisting the splittail, a fish found only the California's Central Valley where MacDonald owned an 80 acre farm. Hmm...
Also included is critical habitat designation for the only invertebrate considered in these reversals, the stunningly gorgeous Hawai'ian picture-wing fly or Nalo Kihikihi in hawai'ian (Drosophila heteroneura, above from USFWS website). The Center of Biological Diversity reports on the threats for this backboneless beauty:
"Seventeen or more species may already be extinct and as many as 50 may be in serious decline. The hammerhead, for example, formerly occurred at 16 sites on four of the island of Hawaii’s five volcanoes. It disappeared from every site and was feared extinct until rediscovered at a single site on the Hualalai volcano in 1993.

Hawaii picture-wings have declined because of habitat destruction and the loss of their host plants. Remaining picture-wing species are threatened by degradation of their habitat by feral animals and invasive plants, loss of host plants, predation by introduced yellow jackets and ants, cattle grazing, and fire."

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Its CEMS Time Baby!

Unfortunately, I probably won't be able to find the funding to go since I using what I have to go to The Ocean Sciences Meeting and Benthic Ecology Meeting. But click on the banner below to check out what all is involved for the 5th Congress of the European Malacological Societies.
Provisional themes for the 5th Congress of the European Malacological Societies:

1) Present and future challenges of fisheries and molluscan aquaculture

2) From theory to practice: What we can do for freshwater molluscs conservation

3) Origin, diversity and phylogeny of molluscs. Where are we?

4) Biogeographical processes and patterns

5) Molluscs as ecological models: from local patterns to global evolution

6) A palaeontological's eye: diversification and extinction of molluscs

7) Terrestrial molluscs: the perfect models for island biogeography?

Check One PhD Milestone Off!

Just like Pono the happy face spider, I am as happy as a spider to pass my comprehensive exam and move on with my life. Of course, I was passed with conditions. I have to write 2 reviews in areas my committee felt I needed more background in before my defense: species concepts and how to the community ecology of my system relates to that of other well-studied systems. I agree with them and felt my performance was definitely sub-par, but it what it is and they feel if I correct a few of my deficiencies than I will have no problem finishing my degree. Looks like I'll be helping pay John Wilkins living expenses. All in all they were very supportive and asked good questions that got me thinking about my research in new ways. It was a terrifying, but good, experience.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Doomsday Scheduled Between 9 and 11:30 am

Dear Committee,

I offer you my head on a block. Please have pity on me and do not take it personally if I break down and cry at any moment during my comprehensive examination tomorrow morning. I beg of you to find it in your heart to find me worthy of donning the title "Dr." and joining the ranks of the academic elite. Remember that you too were one a graduate student. Let us forget the good ole frat boy days of initiation and progress to nurturing and random acts of kindness.

Sincerely, Kevin A. Zelnio

p.s. - Do you take cream in your coffee? Need some leaves raked?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

You Know You're a Father When...

... the first thing that comes to your mind when you see a mess is where the wet wipes are. Oh those wet wipes. So many uses! Its a good thing.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Kenneth Ernest Lee 1927-2007

It is with great sadness that the death of Dr. Ken Lee is reported. Born, raised and educated in New Zealand, he was at CSIRO in Australia since 1965. His research has focused on soil ecology and he was an expert biologist of earthworms, mites and enchytraeids. A well written obituary is published in the June issue of Biology and Fertility of Soils (hat tip to the Annelida Listserve). Here are some selected excerpts:

"Over the next 10 years he completed a monographic study of the earthworms of New Zealand, detailing the morphology, systematics and distribution of 178 native and 14 introduced species (The earthworm fauna of New Zealand. NZ DSIR Bulletin 130, 1959). Whilst global knowledge of earthworm taxa and distribution has developed since 1959, the theses advanced in this monograph still form the basis of our understanding of the relations between earthworms and soils. Just one native earthworm species has since been added to the New Zealand fauna!"

"His seminal book on earthworms, whilst highly relevant to his work and of great intellectual standing, was written at home ‘after hours’—an illustration of how his family supported his science."

"Whilst Charles Darwin’s 1881 book The formation of vegetable mould through the action of worms first documented the importance of earthworms and launched soil biology, it was Ken Lee who developed knowledge about earthworms, their ecology and relationship with soils and land use, making masterful contributions to soil zoology and to the understanding of the importance of biological contributions to soil processes on the global twentieth century scene. To quote from the Avant-propos written by Marcel Bouche for the 1985 book Earthworms: their ecology and relationships with soils and land use, “The work of K. E. Lee, which for the first time places earthworms on a world-wide scale in the economy of nature and humanity, takes up again a century later, in modern terms, the message of the great naturalist. By its critical analysis, its synthetic approach and its opening up of all relevant subjects that are accessible to rigorous understanding, this volume of K. E. Lee takes its place as the direct descendant of that of Charles Darwin”."

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Squidtivity! Just In Time for Squidmas!

Forget Black Friday, head online over and pick up your Squidtivity for this season's Merry Squidmas!

(hat tip to Will over at I Wish I Knew for the Squidtivity)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Inverts Hit a Double! Inverts 5: Verts 2

As you may have heard, a "man-size" fossil sea scorpion was recently found in Germany. Though I focused on the reporting and not the cool science, Deep Sea News confirms that this is definitely a score for the invertebrates. With chelicerae as a big as a toddler, I am pretty sure I would be sliced in half, though I would put up a good fight... Unfortunately, the largest known arthropods are hypothesized to be wiped out large toothy armor-plated fish. So, I am forced to give a point to both parties.

But my friend over at Lunartalks (hat tip to Peter Mc from the Beagle Project) more than makes up for Eurypterids dropping the ball. He reports on Jelly swarms committing genocide at salmon farms off of Ireland and how it makes him really feel.

For those keeping track:
Inverts 1: Verts 0
Inverts 2: Verts 0
Inverts 3: Verts 0
Inverts 3: Verts 1

Dissertation Blogging, Part 5: New Species of Alvinocaris

In preparation for my comprehensive examination next week and because its International Dissertation Writing Month, I will be posting my thesis proposal as I madly try to finish it all in time over the next few days. Feel free to question, correct, nitpick, criticize (constructively, I'm in a fragile state right now!), comment, praise me and make suggestions for improvement. And yes, I'm freakin' out!!!!


A new species of Alvinocaris (Crustacea: Decapoda: Alvinocarididae) from hydrothermal vents at the Lau Basin, southwest Pacific, and a key to the species of Alvinocarididae

Alvinocaris sp. nov. on Bathymodiolus brevior. The little limpet is Lepetodrilus schrolli. Photo copyright C.R. Fisher/Ridge2000.

My coauthor from Station Biologique de Roscoff and I have described a new species caridean shrimp in the family Alvinocarididae. This family of shrimp was split off from the Bresiliidae in late 1990's and forms a monophyletic unit that is adapted to deep sea reducing environments such as seeps and vents. To date, no other alvinocaridid has been confirmed from a non-reducing environment. Our species is very characteristic from other alvinocaridids in the shape of the telson and armature of the pereopods, or the legs. I just got the reviews from this paper on Monday and will be making the revisions, therefore I will not go into too much detail until it is published. Expect a full blown review later, but until then here is the abstract as it was submitted.

Abstract: We describe Alvinocaris (have to wait till its published to see the name!) sp. n. from hydrothermal fields at the East-Lau Spreading centre (ELSC). This species is larger than other alvinocaridids at the ELSC and appears to preferentially inhabit mussel beds composed of Bathymodiolus brevior. A. (name removed) differs from all known Alvinocaris by a distinctive, deep notch mesially on the telson. Suites of morphological characters separate A. (na na nana na) from other alvinocaridids. We analyze the degree of morphological variation in A. (yakity yak) and affinities of the Pacific Alvinocaris. A. (can't touch this) is also fit into a phylogeny of the Alvinocarididae using the mitochondrial COI gene and phylogenetic relationships are discussed. A key to the species of the family Alvinocarididae is included with locality information.

Dissertation Blogging, Part 4: Vent Food Web Structure

In preparation for my comprehensive examination next week and because its International Dissertation Writing Month, I will be posting my thesis proposal as I madly try to finish it all in time over the next few days. Feel free to question, correct, nitpick, criticize (constructively, I'm in a fragile state right now!), comment, praise me and make suggestions for improvement. And yes, I'm freakin' out!!!!

Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Seep Primary Production of POM
Part 3: Community Structure at Lau Back-Arc Basin Vents
Food web structure at the Eastern-Lau Spreading Center

Vent crab, Austinograea alayseae, lying in wait in a chimney crevice? The shrimp are Chorocaris vandoverae. Photo copyright C.R. Fisher/Ridge2000.

It is established that chemoautotrophic primary production is utilized other inhabitants of vent ecosystems. This is evidenced by stable isotope ratios and gut content analysis of selected non-chemoautotrophic fauna. Stable isotope ratios provide a powerful tool to understand trophic relationships based on the predictable fractionation of elements with trophic level. Coupled with mixing model, stable isotopes can show minimum input of a source of primary production into an ecosystem in relation to other sources.

In this chapter I propose to construct a trophic model of this nested (within substrate) 3-foundation species ecosystem. A paper currently in peer review gave hint at some differences in the combined use of carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes in separating out signatures between the three chemoautotrophic foundation species. I will investigate the carbon, nitrogen and sulfur stable isotope composition of whole communities to understand resource partitioning, trophic guild structure and food web interactions in the ELSC ecosystem. Selected fauna from the periphery of the foundation species’ communities will be used to study how chemoautotrophic primary production is utilized away from the source.

• Null hypothesis 1: There is no difference in stable isotope ratios between chemoautotrophic foundation species
o Response: carbon, nitrogen and sulfur stable isotope ratios
o Predictor: foundation species type
• Null hypothesis 2: Stable isotopes ratios will be similar between substrate types for each foundation species
o Response: carbon, nitrogen and sulfur stable isotope ratios
o Predictor: foundation species type by substrate type
• Null hypothesis 3: There is no relationship of associated fauna’s stable isotope ratios to that of the chemoautotrophic foundation species.
o Response: carbon, nitrogen and sulfur stable isotope ratios
o Predictor: foundation species type
• Null hypothesis 4: Stable isotope ratios are similar between trophic guilds (i.e. no apparent structure is present)
o Response: carbon, nitrogen and sulfur stable isotope ratios
o Predictor: trophic guild level
• Other objectives:
o Use a mixing model to determine percentage of vent-derived nutrients used by associated fauna, using the chemoautotrophic fauna as proxies for the vent end-member(s)
o Form a model of the food web and trophic guild structure.

Man-Sized Sea Scorpion Fossil Found In Germany

Picture from article with the following caption, "The ancient sea scorpion, at 2.5 meters (8 feet) in length, was bigger than the average man is tall."

In my inbox this morning was this interesting article from titled Scientist finds fossilized claw of man-sized sea scorpion. Naturally, I was curious about man-sized fossil arthropods! While the find itself is great, the reporting was rather amusing. Large things and fossils always draw out the creativity in reporting, although many of the clichés have been well worn-in through time. I could quote mine this till the cows come home! For instance the opening line:
"This was a bug you couldn't swat and definitely couldn't step on."
How cliché is that? Why is always assumed whenever a 'bug' is mentioned swatting and stepping usually ensue? The following line mentions paleontologists "stumbling" upon the find. As if paleontologists are just out bumbling around without a clue. The author negates himself later in the article by describing how detailed the fossil hunt was, including seeing dark patches in the rock that signaled to them a patch of fossilized organic matter.

Of course they do make themselves favorable by printing this quote from Simon Braddy, one of the studies coauthors (to be printed the next Royal Society's Biology Letters):
"Hundreds of millions of years ago, these sea scorpions had the upper hand over vertebrates -- backboned animals like ourselves."
This next quote bothers me, can anyone figure out why? I will send an Aliens of the Deep IMAX movie poster and NOAA Ocean Explorer sticker to a person selected by my excel random number generator from all the correct replies. Contest closes Friday, November 23, at midnight. Email responses to kzelnio:at:gmail:dot:com. The winning response will be published on my blog and I might quote mine other interesting replies at my own discretion. The rules are that I am requiring a minimum 250 to maximum 500 word short answer on why this statement is misleading:
"The research found a type of sea scorpion that was almost half a yard longer than previous estimates and the largest one ever to have evolved."

Tuesday Toon

And we thought we had the upper hand over the arthropods for millions of years. They were just patiently biding their time knowing full well we would destroy ourselves.

From Gary Larson's Bride of the Farside.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Dissertation Blogging, Part 3: Community Structure at Lau Back-Arc Basin Vents

In preparation for my comprehensive examination next week and because its International Dissertation Writing Month, I will be posting my thesis proposal as I madly try to finish it all in time over the next few days. Feel free to question, correct, nitpick, criticize (constructively, I'm in a fragile state right now!), comment, praise me and make suggestions for improvement. And yes, I'm freakin' out!!!!

Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Seep Primary Production of POM
Community Structure Associated With Chemoautotrophic Foundation Species at the Eastern-Lau Spreading Center in Relation to Stress and Substrate

Only one paper has addressed the ecology here, published by Desbruyères et al. (1994) it was based on targeted collections and video observations of the North Fiji and Lau back-arc basins. More recently, Henry et al. (submitted) found significant differences between the physiological tolerances of the ELSC chemoautotrophs in laboratory experiments while Podowski et al. (submitted) have found significant differences in the in situ thermo-chemical environment associated between various ELSC community types including the three foundation species’ communities. Communities associated with A. hessleri are exposed to high H2S, low O2 and high temperatures, while communities associated with B. brevior are exposed to low H2S, higher O2 and much lower temperatures. The thermo-chemical tolerances of I. nautilei overlap these two extremes. This gradient is apparent in their stratification, often resembling a "bull's eye" pattern around a vent opening with A. hessleri at the center surrounded by I. nautilei and then B. brevior.

My work seeks to understand the structure of chemoautotrophy-based communities at the Eastern-Lau Spreading Center (ELSC) in greater detail through quantitative sampling of foundation species. Two main questions are guiding this research: 1) What is the role of substrate in community structure? and 2) Are communities associated with chemoautotrophic foundation species structured along stress gradients? The data I have collected to address these questions include biometric data and abundance, in addition to mass and shell volume of a subset of the three chemoautotrophic foundation fauna from each collection. All associated fauna from quantitative collections of each community type were identified, enumerated and weighed for biomass.

The first question is derived from the observation that there appear to be wider diffuse venting communities on andesitic substrate, whereas on basaltic substrates venting appeared more localized. These two lava types are closely related but differ in concentrations of metals (i.e. iron, magnesium, silica) and physical properties (i.e. permeability, fragility). Additionally, polymetalic sulfides created as a result of hydrothermal venting provide a third substrate, likely the most extreme with reference to temperature and exposure to metal, hydrogen sulfide and oxygen concentrations. Two of our four study sites are basaltic while the other two are andesitic, but sulfides occur at all four sites in the way “chimneys” (see picture below) though the ones I was able to obtain collections from are only from the two basaltic sites.

Hydrothermal chimney built up from deposition of polymetalic sulfides. Encrusted with vent fauna, dark snail appears to be all I. nautilei and mussel is B. brevior. Photo copyright C.R. Fisher/Ridge2000.

• Null hypothesis 1: Mussels are in the same physiological condition regardless of substrate
o Response: condition index (g AFDW/internal shell volume)
o Predictor: substrate type
[figure and part of discussion removed]
The data suggests that mussels from andesitic communities are in better physiological condition over basalt and sulfide communities.

• Null hypothesis 2: There is no difference in biomass and abundance of chemoautotrophic fauna between substrates
o Response: biomass (kg/m2) and abundance (No. of individuals)
o Predictor: substrate type
[figure and part of discussion removed]
Biomass was not significantly different between substrate and between site. Abundance is significant only between andesitic and sulfide substrates and weakly significant between Kilo Moana and Tu’i Malila. The null hypothesis is only weakly rejected in certain cases, perhaps due to uneven sampling or high variability within a substrate type or site.

• Null hypothesis 3: There is no difference in the diversity (excluding chemoautotrophic fauna) between substrates
o Responses: species richness, evenness, Shannon index, Fisher’s alpha
o Predictor: substrate type
[figure and part of discussion removed]
The use of the various community indices suggest that andesitic communities are higher in diversity and lower in dominance.

Null hypothesis 4: Community similarity is the same across substrate type
o Responses: presence/absence, abundance, biomass, trophic guild biomass
o Predictors: substrate type, community type
o Method: Bray-Curtis similarity cluster analysis, multi-dimensional scaling
[figure and part of discussion removed]
Andesitic sites cluster together with varying chemoautotrophic foundation species biomass, suggesting that andesitic communities of different heterogeneities tend to be assembled similarly. All sulfide communities analyzed are from hydrothermal vents at basaltic sites, which they tended to cluster together with. ABE has a lot of overlap with the basaltic/sulfide sites. Tu’i Malila has little no overlap with basaltic sites and little overlap with ABE, the other andesitic site. Kilo Moana, TowCam and ABE are all relatively closer together while Tu’i Malila is farther south and shallower. These plots suggest that distance may be more of a factor in determining community structure than substrate type.

The second question makes the assumption that each foundation species occupies a certain niche on a stress spectrum. As previously described, the work of Henry et al. (submitted) and Podowski et al. (submitted) has shown a well-defined gradient of thermo-chemical tolerance both in lab experiments and in situ thermo-chemical sensing of the environments occupied by the three foundation species. I will test whether their respective communities are structured according to foundation species thermo-chemical tolerances as a proxy for environmental stress. To do this, I assign the highest stress to communities associated with A. hessleri, intermediate stress to communities associated with I. nautilei and the lowest stress to communities associated with B. brevior. Several samples were either chosen as communities of mixed foundation species or discovered upon retrieval to be mixed communities. These communities are analyzed separately and considered as an intermediate between A. hessleri/I. nautilei and I. nautilei/B. brevior communities.

"Bulls eye" pattern of chemoautotrophic foundation species around a fissure with diffusive venting. Photo copyright C.R. Fisher.

• Null hypothesis 1: There is no difference in diversity metrics (excluding chemoautotrophic fauna) between chemoautotrophic community type
o Responses: species richness, evenness, Shannon index, Fisher’s alpha
o Predictor: foundation species type

• Null hypothesis 2: There is no relationship between diversity and biological characteristics of foundation species.
o Responses: species richness, evenness, Shannon index, Fisher’s alpha
o Predictors: shell length, shell volume, biomass, percentage of most dominant fauna

• Null hypothesis 3: There is no difference in the diversity, abundance and biomass of mussel communities between different physiological condition indices.
o Response: species richness, evenness, Shannon index, Fisher’s alpha
o Predictors: condition index (g AFDW/internal shell volume)

• Null hypothesis 4: There is no community structure across foundation species type.
o Response: presence/absence, abundance, biomass of non-chemoautotrophic foundation species
o Predictors: foundation species type

• Null hypothesis 5: Within mussel bed communities, there is no relationship between diversity, biomass and abundance of the associated community to the mussel’s physiological condition.
o Response: species richness, evenness, Shannon index, Fisher’s alpha
o Predictors: physiological condition indices

• Other objectives:
o Plot shell length frequencies to test if there are patterns to recruitment within and across site and substrate type
o Report sampling effort using rarefaction
o Test whether taxonomic diversity is significantly different across site, substrate and foundation species type
o Explore the use of additional multivariate techniques
o Compare results and species composition to other western Pacific back-arc basins to discern any patterns, as well as to other hydrothermal vent sites.

Literature Cited

Bergquist DC, Fleckenstein C, Szalai EB, Knisel J, Fisher CR (2004) Environment drives physiological variability in the cold seep mussel Bathymodiolus childressi. Limnology and Oceanography 49:706-715

Desbruyères D, Alayse-Danet A-M, Ohta S, Scientific Parties of BIOLAU and STARMER cruises (1994) Deep-sea hydrothermal communities in Southwestern Pacific back-arc basins (the North Fiji and Lau Basins): composition, microdistribution and food web. Marine Geology 116:227-242

Fisher CR, Childress JJ, Arp AJ, Brooks JM, Distel DL, Favuzzi JA, Felbeck H, Hessler RR, Johnson KS, Kennicutt II MC, Macko SA, Newton A, Powell MA, Somero GN, Soto T (1988) Microhabitat variation in the hydrothermal vent mussel, Bathymodiolus thermophilus, at the Rose Garden vent on the Galapagos Rift. Deep-Sea Research 35:1769-1791

Smith KL (1985) Deep-sea hydrothermal vent mussels: nutritional state and distribution at the Galapagos Rift. Ecology 66:1067-1080

Monday, November 19, 2007

Work With an Invert! - Beetle Systematics

Beetle Systematics

We require a highly motivated Postdoctoral Fellow to assist a
research team to conduct research on systematics of beetles
(Coleoptera), with specific emphasis on the comparative morphology
of beetles. The research will involve research, documentation and
scoring complex matrices of morphological characters and
participation in development of interactive keys to beetle families.
Field work within Australia will be required and extensive use will
be made of electronic data management, imaging and publishing
methodologies. The research will be based at the Australian National
Insect Collection.

The application deadline is 6 December 2007 with interviews in January 2008.

Here is a link to the application form and job description.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Dissertation Blogging, Part 2: Seep Primary Production of POM

In preparation for my comprehensive examination in less than 2 weeks and because its International Dissertation Writing Month, I will be posting my thesis proposal as I madly try to finish it all in time over the next few days. Feel free to question, correct, nitpick, criticize (constructively, I'm in a fragile state right now!), comment, praise me and make suggestions for improvement. And yes, I'm freakin' out!!!!

Part 1: Introduction


This chapter is completed and under internal review right now and will be submitted soon. Hence, I will not go into much detail about it right now, you'll have to wait till it gets published! Below is the abstract for the paper:
A Stable Isotope Bioassay for Seep Primary Production of Particulate Organic Matter

Hydrocarbon seeps provide a rich source of chemical energy in the aphotic, nutrient-poor deep-sea. Yet it is unclear how much chemosynthetic primary production enters the pool of particulate organic matter (POM) that can be utilized by suspension-feeding taxa. To address these questions, tissue stable carbon, nitrogen and sulfur isotope content was analyzed from suspension-feeding taxa at a hydrocarbon seep community dominated by the methanotrophic mussel, Bathymodiolus childressi, in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Two end-member stable isotope mixing models were used to determine the relative input of seep-derived POM to photosynthetic-derived POM that is assimilated into the tissues of the suspension-feeding community. Our results indicate that seeps play an active role in the production of POM, which is assimilated by suspension-feeders. Additionally, we constrain possible sources of nutrients to the POM pool.
OK, a little of the basics. A methane seep is an area where natural gas and oil diffuse from reservoirs below the sediment naturally. The seep I studied is called a brine pool. All you need to know if that a brine pool is weird, like an undersea lake of brine (see picture below). Salt concentrations ~120psu or about 4 times the salinity of seawater. The geologic history is complex, but has to do with a salt diapir from the depths of the sediment that recharges the brine pool. Particulate organic matter (POM) cold be anything with an organic origin but not currently alive; bacteria, dead piece of meat floating down from the surface, fish poop, mussel pseudofaeces, etc. This is filter-feeder food. Though passive predators, such as anemones, can phagocytose (engulf) these particles and take up dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC), this is a minor part of their diet. They are after all predators. I hypothesize that they are eating zooplankton hanging around the seeps. Unfortunately, no one has yet to study the zooplankton at the brine pool, so I do not know they exist there, but past experience shows me that where there is energy there is zooplankton! The zooplankton do feed from the POM pool. Hence passive predators are consumers of the POM indirectly. This is becuase stable isotope trophic fractionation for carbon, sulfur and nitrogen behave in a predictable manner (with some caveats). Meaning, "you are what you eat".

Brine Pool NR-1 "shoreline" composed of the methanotrophic mussel Bathymodiolus childressi with a syntactic foam marker visible. Density of mussels is ridiculously high (rope on marker is ~50cm). Photo copyright Ian MacDonald (TAMU).

I basically picked off filter-feeders (barnacles, sabellids, serpulids, sponge) and passive predators (anemones and hydroids) from foam markers at the brine pool, a few hundred km south of Louisiana. These markers had been down there since the early to late-mid 90s and recovered in 2004. Plenty of time to get fouled up! After torturing them a bit, I ground them up and sent them to get their isotopes analyzed. Previous authors have already determined the surface phytoplankton carbon and nitrogen stable isotope values right over our study site and the sulfur isotopes are known to generally be pretty similar from ocean basin to ocean basin (unlike carbon and nitrogen). These values became the photosynthetic end-member into the model. Another previous study by a member of our lab had determined the tissue stable isotope values of all 3 elements for B. childressi at the same location. These values became the methanotrophic end-member. Tissue stable isotopes from chemosynthetic (sulfide-oxidizing) clams and tubeworms were used as an input for thiotrophy. Thiotrophic input was deemed neglible because there were no standing stocks of thiotrophic organisms, though sulfide concentrations were elevated in the outer section of the gigantonormous bed of mussels and mats of sulfide oxidizer bacteria. I included it in my model for good measure and the model agrees with me.

If you plot the stable isotope values of carbon against nitrogen, a nice nearly-linear continuum between methanotrophy and photosynthesis is visible, suggesting mixing of sources in the POM pool. To make a long story short, the model results suggest that seeps play an active role in contributing to the pool of available POM, something close to a quarter. More later when its published!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Accretionary Wedge #3: Between a Rock and Squishy Face, Geology and Life

That is our sample size, our replicate number with 0 degrees of freedom. If you believe the most popular estimates, Earth is ~4.6 billion years old. For a long time only rock existed once the planet cooled. Out of rock came life. Perhaps not literally, but only certain raw materials were present to work with: Nitrogen, Oxygen, inorganic Carbon, Hydrogen, Sulfur. Perhaps metals provided the catalyst, perhaps the Flying Spaghetti Monster reached down to bless our planet with His noodly appendage. The answer isn't clear, but I can guarantee its written in the rocks.

Geology has had an intimate relationship with biology, a long term romance spanning at conservative estimate around 3 billion years. As the disciplines of each are concerned, they were inseparable until the mid-19th century. Both were included with the modern sciences and maths as the study of Natural History, a subset of Theology. Some might say that the discipline of Geology was born with the work of James Hutton and Alfred Gottleib Werner in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Later on with the work of Charles Lyell, which heavily influenced Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, Geology became a subject to study in its own right regardless of other subdisciplines of Natural History. Several years after which Biology was separated from Medicine and Natural History with the work of Darwin and Thomas Huxley and many others that followed into the 20th century.

Life exists, establishes and persists with geology's permission. Natural disasters can wreak havoc wiping generations of establishment and millenia of adaptation and diversity. Yet out of the ashes rises the phoenix and life reestablishes and re-adapts, and modifies the geological environment. Lichens break down rock into soil, plants establish their roots and suck out minerals and add organic carbon, microorganisms and meiofauna recycle and mobilize nutrients in the soil, animals enrich the soil both while living and dead. In the ocean, microscopic organisms extract calcium and silica to form tiny houses. These fall to the ocean depths as they die. After several thousands of years, this ooze layers on top of itself hardening and combining with weathered rock debris to form the substrate of Earth's most extensive habitat, the abyssal plain. Life may exist by geology's consents, but with a price.

The submissions received for this edition vary widely on the theme but are all enjoyable reads! For any new readers to the Accretionary Wedge, it is a geology-themed carnival started a couple months ago. Click on the link in the last sentence to find out more about it and consider submitting articles and hosting future editions.

Like me, Brian from Clastic Detritus has to write his dissertation. We can't just blog our lives away right? It also doesn't pay very well, or at all... But he was kind enough to take a break and submit an article on trace fossils he has found while doing his research. Check out the monster Ophiomorpha!

Also blogging on dissertation research, I present the introduction to my thesis proposal in the first part of a week long series of Dissertation Blogging as I prepare for my comprehensive exams in less than 2 weeks (I have to keep reminding myself). Prepare to be amazed by hydrothermal vents at back-arc basins!!

Chris from Zoogeomorphology Brilliant Mediocrity avoided talking about his thesis research, but captures the essence of the theme posting how life interacts with and modifies its environment using examples from beavers and whales.

Chris #2 from Highly Allochthonous, already completed his dissertation, takes a "grand and sweeping look at Geology and Life" and discusses how the air breathe became breathable in a BPR3-certified article.

Christopher (not to be confused with a Chris) from the Catalogue of Organisms highlights beautiful New Zealand serpentine soils and the plants the establish there. In an earlier post, he discusses a recent Nature paper on continental collisions with this loverly quote:
"Great chunks of the planet's surface get ripped up by colliding masses of rock bigger than all imagining, at scales at which living organisms just become negligible."
In a related post from earlier this year, brought to my attention by Yami from Green Gabbro, Joseph from the blog Science, AntiScience and Geology discusses research suggesting that the geochemical influx from the building of Gondwana may have triggered the Cambrian Explosion. Unfortunately, it seems seems these geologists may have disregarded some important biological information

Brian from the newly sexed up Laelaps, professes his love of squishy things and waxes beautifully and poetically on Aldo Leopald, the Book of Job, and Charles Darwin.

Julia at the Ethical Palaeontologist uses volcano farts as a segway segue into a discussion of volcanism and the public perception of climate change.

From the very cleverly titled All My Faults Are Stress Related, Kim ponders the granitic soil and its properties that make those oh so delicious blueberries grow there and be so... delicious!

Neil of Microecos reminds us to take a close look around us in public buildings. Fossils are everywhere in architecture and monuments!

Although Harold at Ontario-Geofish *claims* it happened to a friend, he discusses why one should go the emergency room and not try to solve medical problems with beer, especially urinary tract infections. Though not scientific, I thought there were lessons to be learned for field researchers in there.

Thats all for for edition #3 of the Accretionary Wedge. Next month's Wedge will be hosted at GoodSchist and please go the Accretionary Wedge page to submit ideas for the next and further editions.

Dissertation Blogging, Part 1: Introduction

*This marks my 200th post. In preparation for comprehensive examination in less than 2 weeks and because its International Dissertation Writing Month, I will be posting my thesis proposal as I madly try to finish it all in time over the next few days. Feel free to question, correct, nitpick, criticize (constructively, I'm in a fragile state right now!), comment, praise me and make suggestions for improvement. And yes, I'm freakin' out!!!!
Biodiversity of Chemosynthetic Communities at the Eastern-Lau Spreading Centre

Many communities persist due the presence of a foundation species. Dayton (1972) defined a foundation species as an large, influential species that has a positive effect on community inhabitants through modifying environmental parameters, species interactions and resource availability. It is hypothesized that foundation fauna can ameliorate abiotic stress by modifying the chemical and physical environment (Bruno et al. 2003). The refuge provided by the foundation species increases abundance, biomass and diversity of other associated species (Bruno & Bertness 2001). Many chemoautotrophic megafauna at hydrothermal vents are foundation fauna that live in environments with high concentrations of toxic chemicals, heavy metals, high temperatures and low oxygen concentrations. Chemoautotrophs may modify the physical and chemical habitat (Johnson et al. 1994, Shank et al. 1998) and provide structural heterogeneity (Govenar & Fisher 2007), making the local environment more amenable to less tolerant colonizers (Shank et al. 1998). My research aims to test hypotheses relating environmental stress to the species composition and diversity of chemosynthetic communities at the Eastern-Lau Spreading Center (ELSC). Additionally, I will investigate the trophic ecology and food web structure between communities associated with three chemoautotrophic foundation species.

This thesis work is part of a larger project investigating the geology, chemistry, microbiology and ecology of deep-sea hydrothermal vents at the ELSC. Back-arc basins are the result of a complex plate tectonics setting where two or more oceanic plates converge with one plate subducting beneath the other(s). The friction caused by the subducting plates’ movement melts the rock along the plate boundary causing a volcanic arc to form on the overlaying plate. On the backside of that arc, a spreading centre is created as a result of the extensional forces of the subduction. Where back-arc spreading occurs, the crust is thin and fragile (see figure below). Seawater seeps down into cracks and fissures and comes into contact with super-heated rock. The seawater is heated and rises, carrying reduced chemicals and heavy metals in solution, which exits the crust at the seafloor and precipitates out of solution creating hydrothermal vent chimneys. Bacteria have evolved metabolic pathways to utilize the energy from oxidizing some of these reduced chemicals such as sulfides and methane. Furthermore, several metazoans have evolved a symbiosis with these bacteria with the result being abundant communities surrounding many vents worldwide.

The hydrothermal vent ecosystem is based upon chemosynthetic primary production and offers an opportunity to empirically test various measures of the diversity-stress hypothesis. At the ELSC, 3 major chemoautotrophic foundation species occur in dense aggregations: the snails Alviniconcha hessleri and Ifremeria nautilei and the mussel Bathymodiolus brevior. Henry et al. (submitted) have found clear differences in the thresholds for maximum H2S and minimum O2 concentrations and maximum temperatures for the three foundation species. Podowski et al. (submitted) have found significant differences in situ of H2S, O2 and temperature measurements between each of these community types, supporting the hypothesis that each foundation species occupies a specific thermo-chemical microhabitat. Furthermore, they occupy a gradient of stress, similar to a “bull’s eye” pattern, with A. hessleri in the highest stress environment (high H2S, low O2, high temp.), B. brevior in lowest stress environment (low H2S, higher O2 and near ambient temp.) and I. nautilei occupying an intermediate position with overlap on both ends. This well-defined gradient allows me to test the relationship between species diversity and stress.

Bathymodiolus brevior (Mytilidae)

At vents, stress can be ameliorated by chemoautotrophic foundation species by removal of sulfide from the environment (Johnson et al. 1988, Johnson et al. 1994). Mussel beds in low vent flow at the Galapagos Rift Zone vents have been shown to diffuse venting laterally and removal experiments have shown that sulfide concentrations above the mussel bed are lower pre-removal (Johnson et al. 1994). Stress reduction, by way of vent flow diffusion and sulfide removal, should increase with biomass of the foundation species if facilitation were an important factor in structuring communities associated with a foundation species. I hypothesize that diversity should increase with foundation species biomass (greater stress reduction) to a point where the response curve asymptotes at the maximum local species diversity. If competitive exclusion played a role in structuring these communities, then according to theory diversity is predicted to be greatest at intermediate levels of stress (Bruno et al. 2003). Since I. nautilei inhabits an intermediate position in stress tolerance, I would expect to see its associated community have the highest mean diversity.

The ELSC is further characterized by two different substrate types: lava tends to exhibit more basaltic characteristics in the north and andesitic in the south. The physical and chemical properties of these lava types are subtly different, but may have implications for how the hydrothermal venting regime is distributed over space. Preliminary evidence suggests that andesite, a more pliable and porous lava type, diffuses venting laterally more than basalt. This has implications for the fauna living on each lava type. This observation leads to the prediction that communities on andesite hosted substrate will have higher biomass and greater diversity than communities on basalt hosted substrate. The effect of substrate may be confounded by lateral diffusion by beds of mussels, and presumably snails. Even so, the greater diffusivity of andesite may act synergistically the diffusive activity of the mussel and snail beds to increase the amount of habitat that can support their respective associated communities.

Ifremeria nautilei (Provannidae)

The communities associated with these foundation fauna are poorly documented and the biological literature for this area consists mainly of taxonomic descriptions and video observations. Rapid progress is being made in understanding the ELSC communities due to the 2005 and 2006 expeditions to the area. Podowski et al. (submitted) built upon the limitations imposed by the laboratory setting of Henry et al.’s (submitted) physiological work of the chemoautotrophic species by measuring in situ chemical concentrations and temperature measurements of communities as a whole. Though their findings were novel and furthered our understanding of these communities, but Podowski et al.’s work was limited to the 2-dimensional view of the surface of the communities. Thus, diversity was biased against smaller fauna and those that lived within the foundation species’ matrix and not at the surface. Inferences on abundance, biomass, diversity and trophic interactions to the communities as a whole are thus limited. In order to understand how the communities associated with chemoautotrophic foundation species are structured, I collected 36 quantitative whole-community samples nested within site, which is nested within substrate (basaltic or andesitic). Each community is based on collections of one of three chemoautotrophic foundation species, confirmed upon retrieval as dominants in terms of abundance and biomass. Mixed communities, defined arbitrarily as the dominant foundation species composing 75% or less of the total foundation species abundance or biomass, were collected a priori and discovered a posteriori upon retrieval. I recognize that sampling may be biased by collecting from sites where the research team concentrated most of their multidisciplinary studies and by collecting the communities observed to be best collected by our sampling device. Sampling is thus haphazard and not random.

Alviniconcha hessleri (Provannidae)

The hydrothermal vent food web is structured upon bacterially-derived chemoautotrophic primary production (Jannasch 1985). Bacteria may be free-living or in an endosymbiosis with a wide range invertebrates (Childress & Fisher 1992). There is evidence for the cycling of chemoautotrophic-derived nutrients through consumers at vents and exportation of these nutrients outside the vent system (Van Dover & Fry 1989, Fisher et al. 1994, Van Dover & Fry 1994, Bergquist et al. 2007). Tunnicliffe (1991) constructed the first general food web model of the vent ecosystem which was later expounded upon by Bergquist et al. (2007) for the Juan de Fuca vent ecosystem. Their models included 3 producer pools (subsurface bacteria, bacterial mats on the surface and symbiotic bacteria) and 4 consumer pools (grazers, scavengers/detrivores, suspension feeders, predators and endosymbiotic hosts) interacting through four trophic pathways. Bergquist et al. (2007) recognized the utility of investigating trophic structure in a quantitative community setting in order to compare those results to community characteristics, but their analyses were limited to only one community. In order to better understand the relationship between community characteristics and trophic structure, I will analyze stable isotopes of fauna from quantitative collections on both andesitic and basaltic substrates.

While identifying and enumerating species for the community ecology portion of my research, I became very interested in systematics. This is due to my own personal fascination with diversity and to the fact that many species remain undescribed. The ELSC fauna are taxonomically similar to fauna from other biogeographic provinces. One such example are species are shrimp in the family Alvinocarididae. They have so far been found only at gas/oil seeps and hydrothermal vents worldwide. I am describing, with a colleague from France, a new species of Alvinocaris from the ELSC that is morphologically most similar to A. lusca from the Galapagos Rift Zone and East Pacific Rise. This species phylogenetic placement, based only on the COI gene, is somewhat obscured and awaits further phylogenetic analysis with a wider array of nuclear and mitochondrial genes. Another interesting taxonomic group are the cnidarian fauna of the ELSC. The Cnidaria have not been reported to make up a significant portion of the community at vents in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Eight species from five biogeographic provinces have been described. Only recently have they garnered attention as dense communities of anemones been observed at Central Indian Ridge vents (Van Dover et al. 2001). Our recent expeditions to the ELSC have discovered another densely populated community of mixed anemones and zoanthids. With colleagues from the Ohio State University, I am describing seven new species of anemone and one new species of zoanthid. The zoanthid and four of the anemone species live within the influence of hydrothermal vent flow. An additional species is found both near vents and in the ambient deep sea community. The remaining 2 anemone species are found in the ambient deep sea community only. The proximity of these cnidarians to vent effluent suggests a link to chemoautotrophic primary production. The additions of these new species of shrimp and cnidarians from ELSC fills gaps in the western Pacific back-arc basins that aid in our understanding of the biogeography of hydrothermal vent fauna.

An additional study I have undertaken is a stable isotope bioassay for primary production of particulate organic matter (POM) at methane seeps in the Gulf of Mexico using filter-feeding taxa. Previous studies have focused on primary production from the standpoint of the chemoautotrophic symbioses or free-living bacteria found in and on top of the sediment at seeps. Little attention has been given to the role of seeps in creating POM that enters the water column, despite the observations of suspension-feeding invertebrates at and near seep communities (i.e. tubeworm aggregations, mussel beds). Since filter-feeders directly uptake the POM in the water column, their tissue stable isotope values are point estimates of the available POM at that time. Stable carbon, nitrogen and sulfur isotope ratios for methanotrophy at seeps are distinct from photosynthetic-derived nutrients that fall down from surface water. We can exploit this difference in food source “signatures” to approximate the input of seep-derived primary production of POM relative to photosynthetic primary production of POM. I used a 2 end-member stable isotope mixing model to approximate the relative contribution of seep-derived nutrients to the POM pool at a methane seeps. Interestingly, about ¼ of the POM can be attributed to methane seep primary production of POM. This is my first chapter, so it will comprise the next edition of Dissertation Blogging!

**Photographic images are copyright C.R. Fisher/Ridge2000 Program**

Literature Cited

Bergquist DC, Eckner JT, Urcuyo IA, Cordes EE, Hourdez S, Macko SA, Fisher CR (2007) Using stable isotopes and quantitative community characteristics to determine a local hydrothermal vent food web. Marine Ecology Progress Series 330:49-65

Bruno JF, Bertness MD (2001) Habitat modification and facilitation in benthic marine communities. In: Bertness MD, Steven D. Gaines, Mark E. Hay (ed) Marine Community Ecology. Sinauer Associates, Inc., Sunderland, MA, p 201-218

Bruno JF, Stachowicz JJ, Bertness MD (2003) Inclusion of facilitation into ecological theory. TREE 18:119-125

Childress JJ, Fisher CR (1992) The biology of hydrothermal vent animals: physiology, biochemistry and autotrophic symbioses. Oceanography and Marine Biology: An Annual Review 30:337-441

Dayton PK (1972) Toward an understanding of community resilience and the potential effects of enrichments to the benthos at McMurdo Sound. In: Proceedings of the Colloquium on Conservation Problems in Antarctica, p 81-96

Fisher CR, Childress JJ, Macko SA, Brooks JM (1994) Nutritional interactions in Galapagos Rift hydrothermal vent communities: inferences from stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analyses. Marine Ecology Progress Series 103:45-55

Govenar B, Fisher CR (2007) Experimental evidence of habitat provision by aggregations of Riftia pachyptila at hydrothermal vents on the East Pacific Rise. Marine Ecology 28:3-14

Jannasch HW (1985) The chemosynthetic support of life and the microbial diversity at deep-sea hydrothermal vents. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 225:277-297

Johnson KS, Childress JJ, Beehler CL, Sakamoto CM (1994) Biogeochemistry of hydrothermal vent mussel communities: the deep-sea analogue to the intertidal zone. Deep-Sea Research I 41:993-1011

Johnson KS, Childress JJ, Hessler RR, Sakamoto-Arnold CM, Beehler CL (1988) Chemical and biological interactions in the Rose Garden hydrothermal vent field, Galapagos spreading center. Deep Sea Research Part A Oceanographic Research Papers 35:1723-1744

Shank TM, Fornari DJ, Von Damm KL, Lilley MD, Haymon RM, Lutz RA (1998) Temporal and spatial patterns of biological community development at nascent deep-sea hydrothermal vents (9deg.50'N, East Pacific Rise). Deep-Sea Research II 45:465-515

Tunnicliffe V (1991) The biology of hydrothermal vents: ecology and evolution. Oceanography and Marine Biology: An Annual Review 29:319-407

Van Dover CL, Fry B (1989) Stable isotopic compositions of hydrothermal vent organisms. Marine Biology 102:257-263

Van Dover CL, Fry B (1994) Microorganisms as food resources at deep-sea hydrothermal vents. Limnology and Oceanography 39:51-57

Van Dover CL, Humphris SE, Fornari D, Cavanaugh CM, Collier R, Goffredi SK, Hashimoto J, Lilley MD, Reysenbach AL, Shank TM, Von Damm KL, Banta A, Gallant RM, Götz D, Green D, Hall J, Harmer TL, Hurtado LA, Johnson P, McKiness ZP, Meredith C, Olson E, Pan IL, Turnipseed M, Won Y, Young III CR, Vrijenhoek RC (2001) Biogeography and ecological setting of Indian Ocean hydrothermal vents. Science 294:818-823

*This post was updated on Nov. 30 after I made substantial changes to my thesis proposal after reading comments from my advisor.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

I Really Am A Genius

cash advance

Cash Advance Loans

Just because my ego needs to be inflated more. Like Björn Brembs says, "it probably means incomprehensible".

Tuesday Toon

Another classic from Gary Larson's Bride of the Far Side.

Invertebrates 3: Vertebrates 1

Rick has gotten a point for the vertebrates. Although a cheeky one at that. An epic battle between an octopus and moray in which the weakened octopus escapes the wrestling clutches of the moray with the ink tactic only to be picked off by a couple of spectator fish. But inverts won the battle in this one, just not the war. Hence, I concede.

Invertebrate 3: Vertebrates 0

First I brought you Octopus vs. Shark
Then came Centipede vs. Mouse
and now...

Centipede vs. Bat

When will this madness stop!! The absence of sound on this pirated YouTube video only makes it more eerie. For those wanting to hear David Attenborough's soulful narration, go here. This is a giant Amazonian centipede (genus Scolopendra, probably S. morsitans) taking down a bat in midflight. Sweet.

Thanks to Ed Yong for bringing this to my attention.

Glamorous Insects!

A friend sent me this webpage from Dark Roasted Blend on Glamorous Insects. Though they are not all insects, these unbelievable macro photos are better than National Geographic quality. I will steal one just to get you to go over there and see the rest! I really love the mantids.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Invertebrates 2: Vertebrates 0

If you aren't keeping score, Invertebrates 1: Vertebrates 0 was an octopus taking down a shark. Here we have a Vietnamese Giant Centipede (named Father Christmas by the proprietors of the YouTube video), Scolopendra subspinipes, taking down a typical mouse. This video was being watched by my intro bio students this morning while doing a "Diversity of Life" lab. This group was doing the animals and picked out the leech to do there class presentation on over any vertebrates. I am proud I must say. When discussing the leech reproduction, they referred to it "sexytime". Nice.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Carnival of the Godless

One of my favorite blogs, Aardvarcheology, has the latest and greatest Carnival of the Godless up! Included is my Vlog on why the spineless are atheist.

Let It Be Known...

... that today, November 11th 2007, my nearly 2-year old son uttered the following words from mouth: "Octopus". Well it sounded more like "ockpoos". I am so proud. His first invertebrate was "fly" (meant for butterfly and fly), followed by "snail" and "shell". I think it is about time we start working on latin names.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Reasons Why I Am Lame

Yes, I know. This "science" blog 'highlighting all the news and views of the underappreciated majority" is been a little light on the science, news and views. Like any non-computer backboned human(oid), I get busy from time to time. What has been keeping my tongue is mainly teaching, grading and meeting with students and studying and assignments for my Molecular Evolution class. Of course, I am plodding away on my research getting some cool results that I hope to blog about this week.

But the main thing that will be keeping me until November 27th is writing my thesis proposal, making a presentation and studying for my comprehensive exams! (trembling in fear) Yes you can probably figure out that I'm a nervous wreck right now. These are the big ones, there's no turning back now. Passing these exams is extremely important for several reasons. Many of the grad student readers that are further along in their studies understand and can maybe relate themselves. On the plus side, I get a big raise if I pass! The format at Penn State's Dept. of Biology is for me to give a 20 min. presentation of my thesis and then get grilled on anything the committee wants to grill me on. I gave myself a tough committee too, it will not be easy.

So I'll still blog here and there as I've been doing for a couple weeks. It is sort of my refuge from the stark reality of life-changing examinations right now. But anything that will take substantial time gets a backburner for the next 2 weeks. Wish me luck!

Spineless Song of the Week - Vlog: I Leave A Little Light On

I wrote this song to compliment my post on firefly light production costs and evolution and finally got around to recording it. This was NOT the one I wanted to put up, but Linda insisted I upload this version. She was naturally biased as it features accompanying vocals and a cameo from our daughter. I was playing guitar and singing this song for her while watching her, hoping she would stay quiet (first mistake), but it is pretty cute to hear happy baby screams in the middle of the song. So enjoy!

I Leave A Little Light On
I leave a little light on, so you can find
I’ll be waiting on this leaf flashing in time
But please don’t be too long
Or I might be dead and gone
So darling can’t you see
That my little lightning
Will guide you through the darkness under my wing

Third molt and you can plainly see
I’m not just a larvae like everybody
I’m glowing real nice, all sugar and spice
Munching on a leaf enjoying my life
But I hope you and I
Can get together and light up the sky
Just another moult just a little more time
Till I get you and you get mine

I leave a little light on....

I turn lucerifase on and off
Chemicals, no bacterial stuff
Don’t cost that much, but it sure ain’t cheap
I give myself away. Bad guys I’ll meet
But for you I’d do anything its true
A firefly for you I’ll prove
Anything is possible, anything at all
I’ll flash three times in a row

I leave a little light on....


The Boneyard, 9th edition, is up at The Catalogue of Organisms for all your 6,000 year old earth delights.

The Accretionary Wedge is coming to The Other 95% on Nov. 15th! I have not gotten very many submissions yet. The theme is "Geology and Life" or "Between a Rock and a Squishy Face", asking bloggers to dig deep into their souls and write posts reflecting the intersection of Biology and Geology. Personal experiences, current research, field work, or anything that crosses these seemingly disparate but all too entwined disciplines that I hold dear to my own heart are welcome! I am planning a special post for the occasion as well.

Send your entry to kaz146:at:psu:dot:edu with the appropriate subject line.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Thanks Deep Sea News!

I was one of the winners in Deep-Sea News' random draw contest for donating to their DonorsChoose campaign. Though I received this awesome cephalopod t-shirt from the Monterey Bay Aquarium as the prize, it was my honor to help support class projects involving the marine realm. Coming from landlocked Iowa, I understand the importance that having these kinds of opportunities can have both as a teacher and as a student. Thanks Deep Sea News, not for the t-shirt but for supporting marine education in the United States! Craig's and Peter's commitment to education and the ocean is refreshing amidst the current climate of both issues in the US. Hey DSN, expect a little kickback from The Other 95 for all your efforts!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Get Money, Work With Mollusc - Its That Easy!

On behalf of the Malacological Society of London, I would like to remind you of the pending deadline (December 15th) for the Society’s Research Grants and Travel Awards.

Research Grants:
The Research Grants scheme was established to commemorate the Society’s Centenary in 1993. Under this scheme the Society anticipates making at least five awards per year, each with a value of up to £1,000, to support research on molluscs that is likely to lead to publication. Grants are preferentially conferred on students and researchers without professional positions, but without regard to nationality or membership of the Society. Preference is also given to discrete research projects that fall within the subject areas covered by the Society’s journal, Journal of Molluscan Studies. Applicants should bear in mind these criteria when submitting an application. In addition applications will be assessed in terms of scientific merit, significance and financial value of the research project, and the degree to which the proposed research will benefit the scientific aspirations of the applicant.
Successful applications to the Research Grants scheme that are concerned with the study of Bivalvia may be awarded as Sir Charles Maurice Yonge Awards.

Travel Awards:
Travel Awards are available as bursaries to support attendance at a conference or workshop relevant to malacology. Grants are preferentially conferred on students and researchers without professional positions. The maximum amount for one of these awards is £500 and the Society anticipates that at least five awards will be made annually. In years when a UNITAS Congress is held, a number of these awards are likely to be used to support student participation at this meeting. Preference will be given to members of the Society.
Successful applications for Travel Awards that are concerned with the study of Bivalvia may be awarded as Sir Charles Maurice Yonge Awards.

For further details on the above schemes (Application forms, guidance notes etc) please visit the Society’s web-page:

Work With an Invert! - Marine Inverts

Alas, I will still be PhDless by June 2008...


The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) is seeking a
scientist to fill a tenure track position in the field of invertebrate
systematics, with emphasis on living marine taxa, beginning July 2008.
The successful candidate will be appointed at the rank of assistant
curator with salary commensurate with experience and accomplishment.
Candidates will be expected to develop an externally funded research
program in systematics and/or phylogenetics of invertebrates including
field work and the use of diverse character systems (such as
development) and ability to oversee relevant segments of museum
collections and staff. Areas of taxon research focus can include any
metazoan marine invertebrate group. Applicants must have a strong
commitment to the use and continued development of museum collections as
a complement to their research programs.

Application materials should include: curriculum vitae,
statement of research interests and goals, teaching statement for
graduate instruction in the AMNH Richard Gilder Graduate School, and
copies of publications relevant to the application, and names and
contact information of at least three individuals able to comment on the
capabilities of the candidate. The deadline for submission of
application materials is December 14, 2007. Interviews will be
conducted by early 2008 in conformance with AMNH recruitment and
conflict of interest policies. Materials should be sent to Chair, Marine
Invertebrate Search, Division of Invertebrate Zoology, The American
Museum of Natural History, New York, NY 10024. Alternatively
application materials may be directed to egaughan:at:amnh:dot:org.

*Closing date for submission of materials is December 14, 2007.
Electronic submissions encouraged and preferred.*

New Aquatic Invasives Listserve

Monitor and discuss issues in aquatic invasive species by simply signing up to a new listserve focused just on that!

For anyone interested in the topic of non-native species, new forum
AQUATIC-ALIENS has just been launched.

This new forum can be used to post news items etc. of interest to people
working in the area of aquatic (marine & freshwater) invasive species.

Tangled Bank #92

Good ole Paddy has the 92nd edition of the Tangled Bank up and its a real scare!

So I hung up the plastic bats and spiders, carved the pumpkins, mixed the punch, cut the sandwiches into tiny triangles and sent out a hundred gory invitations. And who shows up at the party but a bunch of scientists.

Oh just great - now it’s bad dancing, taxonomy jokes and quantum physics discussions until the sun comes up. Ah well, at least nobody will be talking about their mortgages.

Linnaeus' Legacy in the Blogosphere

Christopher at the Catalogue of Organisms has outdone himself and created a fantastic new blog carnival devoted to the study of biodiversity, with taxonomy and systematics at its core. He hopes to keep it alive and is looking for submissions and hsots. Yours truly will be hosting in February. This is great idea that fills a niche for the important yet often overlooked science of biodiversity. Here is an excerpt from Linnaeus' Legacy #1, and head over there today to get a fresh look at the blogosphere's best writing in biodiversity, taxonomy and systematics.

Next year also happens to be the 250th anniversary of the official beginning of zoological nomenclature, with the publication of the 10th edition of Linnaeus' Systema Naturae (the botanists were a bit quicker off the mark, and they trace things back to Linnaeus' Species Plantarum of 1753). It therefore brings me great pleasure to unveil the first installment of Linnaeus' Legacy. Hopefully this will be a monthly review of recent posts on the subject of biodiversity past and present, the study of said biodiversity and the questions of how to understand, describe and communicate about it. Posts will be accepted on all aspects of taxonomy and systematics, from the esoteric (species concepts, classificatory principles) to the pragmatic (new discoveries in the world of systematics) to the didactic (communicating about taxonomy). Since he established the practice of binomial nomenclature (originally intended to be simply a short stand-in for much longer, more official-sounding names), this is indeed Carl Linnaeus' legacy, though I'm not certain he'd appreciate everything we're doing with it.


Wifey pulled this little guy off my back as I was stretching after a run through the woods. Very cute little bugger! I am guessing it must a moth of some kind. Any of my readers have a clue?

The little caterpillar is trying to show me on the map where he fell on me from.

I put it back outside on a fern, it wasn't doing very well and probably didn't survive for much longer. As an afterthought, a fern was probably a poor choice to put him on...