Author Archives: Tanya Strydom

T-Party

Although I’m big enough of a person to admit that in Jurassic Park (1993) the scene with Dr Malcom or the whole ‘they DO move in herds‘ moment are probably way more iconic. Yet I’m still going to have to give a shout out to the T-rex dramatically roaring as the tattered “when dinosaurs ruled the earth” comes falling down behind her as one of the best moments of the film. And any other moment featuring the T-Rex throughout the film series if I’m being honest – the ending of Jurassic World (2015) anyone???

Jurassic Park (for its time) was surprisingly accurate based on our knowledge of dinos at that time – such as not being afraid to challenge the idea of some dinosaurs actually being birds. However, new knowledge has come to light that the solitary (and fearsome) T-Rex that they portrayed may actually have hunted as in packs – much like her co-stars the velociraptors or modern day wolves – and a big part of me hopes the directors would’ve at least considered a T-Rex pack…

AN ECOLOGIST’S RETROSPECTIVE ON JURASSIC PARK

A recent discovery of similarly aged Tyrannosaurus fossils at a dig site in Utah adds to an emerging pattern of mass burial sites of Tyrannosaurus and could be reflective of a much more social and gregarious species than what typically comes to mind when we thing of these once mighty beasts. One T-Rex must have been a terrifying encounter – let alone a whole pack of them!

The full article can de found here: https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.11013

I feel it is important to mention that I wrote this while sharing my desk with a (gorgeous) LEGO model of the T-rex from Jurassic Park – she approves of this article and demands that I get her some friends… Oh and that it is very important to mention that recent research shows that T-Rex do in fact have feathers but the artistic rendering skills need some time to get with the times – next time though!

Drop That Body

Image being able to ‘just’ get rid of your body (and regrow a replacement one of course) when it’s giving you a hard time. That would be amazing when the aches and pains become, well, a pain. Researchers have just discovered two species of sea slug that do exactly that! The two species have been shown to shed their entire body (including major organs with the exception of the brain) and grow a new one when their parasite load becomes too high. Iinstead of trying to fight off the parasites, they simply let them go.

While they are busy growing their new body they ‘steal’ energy by incorporating the chloroplasts from their algal meals – which is then used for photosynthesis (known as kleptoplasy). This is a big step up from the usual instances of species being able to regrow something after willingly shedding them (autotomy) – which usually involves shedding a limb/appendage…

The shedded bodies never regrow a head – which begs the question if the headless horseman features in any of the sea slugs horror story lore – or, you know, if there are just a whole host of bodies floating around…

The full research article can be found here: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2021.01.014

MMM FINAL: Harp-ooned

March is over and a new king of the mammals has been crowned – and thankfully it is a mammal and not a feathered dinosaur. Having found himself with the (randomly selected) home-turf advantage the red kangaroo delivered the final blow (literally) of this years MMM and sending the harpy eagle flying to the hills. Proving once again that species from the Red, in fur group are not afraid to resort to violence in order to come out on top

A big nod of congratulations to all of this year’s participants (as well as commentators) – we’ve certainly learnt some cool things! I for one am still recovering from the fact that vampire squid are 1) in fact a thing and 2) are neither squid nor vampire. Looking forward to seeing what MMM2022 has to bring

For a full play by play of the round 1 action check out the summaries (and associated links) see here.

Not sure what MMM is and want to join in and the madness? Have a look at http://mammalssuck.blogspot.com

Whack-A-Squirrel

The results are in for round 1. We had two major upsets, with the 14th seeded Solenodon outwitting the 4th seeded Malagasy Striped Civet in the ‘Tricksy Taxonomy‘ group, and the Crypt-keeper wasp (15th seed) outlasting the Masrasector nanubis (2nd seed) in the ‘Of Myths and Monsters‘ group. Yet the most shocking result comes from the ‘Red, in Fur‘ group.

In a gut-wrenching series of events the Red Hartebeest absolutely flattened the woefully out contested and outsized Red Squirrel. Turning this game from one of winner-takes-it-all to a game of whack-a-squirrel. We’re hoping the head of mammal safety will be looking into these events and that the appropriate actions are taken…

For a full play by play of the round 1 action check out the summaries (and associated links) see here.

Not sure what MMM is and want to join in and the madness? Have a look at http://mammalssuck.blogspot.com

MMM1: Vole-in-One

March Mammal Madness 2021 is finally upon us. We eased into things with a wildcard match-up between the home-field advantaged (and eventual winner) Southern red-backed vole and the Hopi chipmunk. These two ginger critters fought it out for the chance to take on the top seeded red kangaroo in round one.

For a full play by play check out the summaries (and associated links) see here.

Not sure what MMM is and want to join in and the madness? Have a look at http://mammalssuck.blogspot.com

Next Generation Field Courses: Enhancing ECR Development Through Open Science and Online Learning

This is a guest post by Jonathan von Oppen, Ragnhild Gya, Sonya Geange, Tanya Strydom, Sara Middleton and Brian Maitner.

Many careers in Ecology and Evolution begin with a trip to the field. Stumbling around a rocky beach or a fragmented grassland can be an awakening experience for a young researcher, as it’s often the first time a person perceives themselves as really doing science. Field courses, and of course field work, provide opportunities to inspire the next generation of biologists. These experiences allow people to engage with nature from a scientific perspective, experiencing the challenges and joys of translating biological theory into hands-on research. Project-based field courses in particular provide an opportunity to work through the research workflow in a supportive environment, and experience what it means to put together a meaningful experiment. As such, project-based field courses have been an important and well-established element in the training of early-career researchers (ECRs) not only in Ecology and Evolution, but across all scientific disciplines, from psychology to genetics. 

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Ecological Fortification

When we think of wolves, and more specifically what they like to eat, the first thing that comes to mind is often the image of a pack tirelessly hunting down large ungulates. It’s a high octane, endurance race to the death – one which also involves some tag teaming.

Well it turns out these endurance specialists are able to trade in their usual cursorial (fancy word for running your prey down) approach to hunting for a more ambush (less fancy word for sitting very still and jumping out on something) style depending on their choice of prey. Researchers found that when wolves turned their eyes to other prey types such as beavers, they adopted a sit-and-wait tactic more commonly seen in cats. They were often even observed waiting downwind so as to avoid the beavers keen sense of smell.

It’s cool to know that we are still learning new things about these charismatic and well studied animals – in this case their ability to ‘activate’ ambush mode should the need arrive.

Tanya Strydom is a PhD student at the Université de Montréal, mostly focusing on how we can use machine learning and artificial intelligence in ecology. Current research interests include (but are not limited to) predicting ecological networks, the role species traits and scale in ecological networks, general computer (and maths) geekiness, and a (seemingly) ever growing list of side projects. Tweets (sometimes related to actual science) can be found @TanyaS_08.

Pandungmonium

When the temperatures start to drop we tend to reach for our warmest coat – but what if we could get away with tricking our body that its not feeling cold?

Thats exactly what pandas do – by rolling in horse manure when the temperatures begin drop. You know how minty things or aloe vera makes us feel cooler or refreshed? Well, the horse manure does something similar but in the opposite direction – it stops the pandas from ‘feeling’ the cold. Researchers found that the horse manure contains compounds that suppress the nerves that tell your body that its feeling cold. By rolling in the manure the pandas expose themselves to these compounds and makes those cold winter nights just a little bit more bearable.

Although I do wonder how the others feel about the associated smell…

Tanya Strydom is a PhD student at the Université de Montréal, mostly focusing on how we can use machine learning and artificial intelligence in ecology. Current research interests include (but are not limited to) predicting ecological networks, the role species traits and scale in ecological networks, general computer (and maths) geekiness, and a (seemingly) ever growing list of side projects. Tweets (sometimes related to actual science) can be found @TanyaS_08.

Sweepstakes

Sometimes you need to pick your battles….

Dwarfism (or skeletal dysplasia) is a genetic condition rarely found in the wild – and observed in giraffes for the first time in 2017 and again (in a different population) in 2020. The fact that these free-ranging individuals have survived to adulthood (something that about only half of giraffe calves manage to do) suggests that they are still able to overcome threats to their survival (e.g. predation) despite their morphological differences. How they do this is of course of particular interest to researchers.

Read More: Mini Giraffes Spotted In Africa For The First Time Ever

Who knows – maybe they do have an advantage when it comes down to a fight….

Tanya Strydom is a PhD student at the Université de Montréal, mostly focusing on how we can use machine learning and artificial intelligence in ecology. Current research interests include (but are not limited to) predicting ecological networks, the role species traits and scale in ecological networks, general computer (and maths) geekiness, and a (seemingly) ever growing list of side projects. Tweets (sometimes related to actual science) can be found @TanyaS_08.

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